April 27, 2009

Psychology Exam — 1891

Johns Hopkins undergraduate students studying psychology today are likely to be preparing for their spring examinations in that subject, just as students did in 1891.

A copy of questions on the psychology examination given May 25, 1891, is on file in the Hamburger Archives of the Eisenhower Library. Also in the archives is the Johns Hopkins Circular for that year, which describes the course given “five hours a week through the year.”

It was offered by Edward H. Griffin, professor of the history of philosophy and dean of the faculty. The Philosophy Department gave courses in psychology, logic and ethics. Griffin earned his bachelor’s degree at Williams College in 1862 and his master’s there in 1865. He received a doctor of divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary in 1880.

Griffin described his course in The Circular as giving “a general view of the results of the new method of study of the recent investigations in regard to the quality of sensations, the duration of psychic acts, etc.” His course guide said that if any psychology students wished to take an “extra course,” they could enroll in a series of 12 lectures and demonstrations offered by Professor Henry Newell Martin, chair of the Biology Department. The course would include “lectures and demonstrations on the anatomy and physiology of the muscular and nervous systems.”

Griffin presented these questions to his students 116 years ago:

“I. Give arguments in proof of the distinction between psychological and physiological facts. Show that the interpretation of consciousness is difficult, because its data are liable to be confused with product of association and inference, and because of the very nature of reflection.

“II. Criticise the statement that reflex action is a sentient process. Distinguish between the affective and the presentative elements in sensation, and divide the senses into classes on the basis of this distinction. Show the importance of refined discrimination in respect to quality, quantity and duration of sensations.

“III. Through what sensations do the first experiences of space arise? What qualities of objects can, originally, be perceived only through touch? How explain the fact that these seem to be perceived through sight also? Why do we constantly, and almost exclusively, employ the ‘visual atlas’ rather than the tactual?

“IV. Show that the presentations and representations are liable to be confused (l) when the intensity of the image is great, (2) when the sensation is feeble. What are the leading varieties of memory? What are qualities of a good memory?”

Dean Giffin retired from the university in 1915 having served on the faculty for 16 years.