“Gross well says that children are young because they play, and not vice versa; and he might have added, men grow old because they stop playing, and not conversely, for play is, at bottom, growth, and at the top of the intellectual scale it is the eternal type of research from sheer love of truth.”
Adolescent and child psychologist Stanley Hall: A Pioneer of Evolutionary Psychology
Stanley Hall earned the first doctorate in psychology ever awarded in the United States in 1878. As psychology was still in its infancy there, he then studied at the University of Berlin. When he returned, he created the first psychology laboratory in the U.S. at Johns Hopkins University. He started the American Journal of Psychology in 1887 and went on to become the first president of the American Psychological Association in 1892. He also served as the first president of Clark University from 1889 to 1920.
While president of Clark University, he contributed to the development of the field of educational psychology. He was one of the first to study the effects of adolescence on education, and invited both Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung to participate in a lecture series on that subject.
Controversies Surrounding Stanley Hall
A number of Hall’s theories proved to be controversial. One of those was the theory of recapitulation, first developed by Ernst Haeckel, who said that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny“. Ontogeny is the growth and development of an individual organism, while phylogeny is the evolutionary history of an entire species. According to this theory, which has since been largely discredited, each developmental stage of an individual represents a stage in the evolutionary history of the species.
Some of his theories are more controversial today than they were at the time. For example, he believed that males and females should be separated during adolescence in order to successfully adapt to their gender roles. He believed that men and women had distinctly different physical, mental and spiritual roles, that women were inferior to men and that their education should not include any corrupting influences that would encourage independence.
His influence as an adolescent and child psychologist helped shape educational policies that reflected his beliefs. As an adolescent and child psychologist, he believed that puberty was a time of “storm and stress” characterized by conflict, mood swings and risk-taking behavior. His most well-received book was “Adolescence–Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, and Religion“.
Margaret Mead and Albert Bandura were among his most vocal critics. Bandura believed that his theory about the difficulties of adolescence would create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mead, through her anthropological research of adolescence in other societies, concluded that the majority of the difficulties faced by adolescents is the result of civilization.
Further, he believed that those who were “defective” whether physically, intellectually, or emotionally would interfere with natural selection and weaken the race. Those who were deemed fit had the responsibility of having more than one child. He once said that
“Being an only child is a disease in itself.”
Finally, he felt that emphasizing individual rights would lead to the fall of civilization.
Lasting Contributions of Stanley Hall
While many of Dr. Hall’s theories seem to lack compassion, he did recognize the difficulty of the requirement of the educational system for adolescents to remain still for long periods of time. He advocated that more physical movement be incorporated into the educational system, and may well be responsible for the creation of both recess and physical education. He was quoted as saying that
“Constant muscular activity was natural for the child, and, therefore, the immense effort of the drillmaster teachers to make children sit still was harmful and useless.”
Ironically, despite his stance on issues of race, Hall served as a mentor for Francis Cecil Sumner , the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in psychology. Sumner served as chair of the psychology department of Howard University from 1928 to 1954. During his academic career, he taught many, such as Kenneth B. Clark, who went on to become highly influential in struggle for civil rights. Because he spoke four languages, he also served as a translator and abstractor for psychological journals.
Despite what his critics called his lack of objectivity and flawed data collection methods, Hall remained highly influential as an adolescent and child psychologist and is still the second most cited “expert” in his field. He agreed with Freud’s theory that children are born sexual beings and should therefore receive sex education. He also believed that the best way to determine what to teach children next was to first determine what they already knew. This educational principle has proven to be effective and is still used in both academics and business training courses.
Fortunately for women, adolescent and child psychologist Stanley Hall may have been the first to advance psychological theories, but he wasn’t the last.