Chapter 6

Creation of the International Union of Scientific Psychology

International Congresses of Psychology 12–13

After the end of World War II in 1945, a consensus emerged that the time had come to organize an international union of psychology. The idea of such a union had been broached at the 1st International Congress of Psychology in 1889, but it was clearly premature then, as we noted in Chapter 3 . Now several factors converged to make the union timely. The end of the war inaugurated a major period of growth and development of psychology and its spread around the world. Among the features of this growth were increasingly large international congresses and the formation of many national psychological associations. UNESCO was also fostering the formation of international unions, as we saw in Chapter 2 .

The minutes of the International Committee, meeting at the 12th International Congress of Psychology at Edinburgh in 1948, state the matter tersely:

It was voted to present the question of an International
Scientific Union of Psychologists to the psychological
organizations of the various countries by the respective
representatives on the Committee and to report the result to
the Executive Committee (Twelfth International Congress of
Psychology, 1950
, p. xiii).

Professor Herbert S. Langfeld of Princeton University, New Jersey, was now Permanent Secretary of the International Committee, having succeeded Edouard Claparède who had died in 1940. Langfeld organized the planning for the Union. As Henri Piéron, first President of the Union, stated, it was at the Edinburgh congress that, thanks to the activity of Herbert Langfeld, it was possible to create the International Union of Scientific Psychology within the framework of UNESCO (Piéron, 1954 , p. 404). “Create” may overstate the matter, but draft statutes for the Union were discussed at the Edinburgh congress.

Initial national members of the Union

By early 1950, the following seven national societies had stated their decision to join the Union: the psychological societies of Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Sweden, and the American Psychological Association (Piéron, 1948 , p. 685—The volume of l’Année Psychologique for this reference is designated 1948, but it was printed in 1950, and Piéron must have added this information in 1950). By the time of the 1951 congress, 11 national psychological societies were original members of the Union, the seven just named plus psychological societies of the Netherlands, Japan, Norway, and Switzerland. As is the rule for international unions, only one psychological society or association per country could join. Over the years, there has been a steady growth in membership of the Union, as can be seen in Appendix E .

The name of the Union

At the discussions at the congress in 1948 at Edinburgh that led to the formation of the Union, one subject was the name to give it. Obvious possibilities were the International Union of Psychology, to correspond with the international congresses of psychology, or the International Psychological Union, which is how Langfeld referred to it before the Edinburgh congress (Langfeld, 1948a , p. 497). No contemporary accounts of the discussion seem to exist, but as Joseph Nuttin, a member of the international committee in 1948, later recalled, three eminent French-speaking psychologists dominated the discussion and insisted that the term psychology be qualified (Nuttin, 1992 , pp. 39–40). These were Henri Piéron of France, Albert Michotte of Belgium, and Jean Piaget of Switzerland. Concerned about the scientific status of psychology in their countries, all three felt the need to separate the Union from two tendencies that still threatened scientific psychology in some European countries: (1) certain literary or philosophical forms of psychology, and (2) certain psychotherapeutic practices. English-speaking psychologists allowed themselves to be persuaded, and the Union was formed with the name International Union of Scientific Psychology/Union Internationale de la Psychologie Scientifique. By 1960 American and English psychologists were to change their minds and call for a modification in name, as we will see in Chapter 8 .

Adoption of the Statutes

At the 13th International Congress of Psychology, Stockholm, 1951, the Executive Committee discussed the proposed Statutes of the Union, which had been circulated in advance (Piéron, 1948 , p. 685), and adopted them without major change. The Statutes were then referred to the newly formed Assembly of the Union, which “ratified this action and commended the Committee for its excellent work” (Thirteenth International Congress of Psychology, 1952 , p. 9). The Assembly consisted of 78 members, almost all of whom had been members of the 12th International Committee chosen at the Edinburgh congress in 1948 (see Appendix A.12 ). The largest number of Assembly members was from the USA (23); the next largest delegations were from Great Britain (11) and France (9), and Germany and Italy had 4 each. Four of the Assembly members were women. At the 14th and later congresses, in conformity with the statutes, each national member of the Union named one or two delegates to the Assembly.

The Statutes adopted in 1951 are reproduced in Appendix C1. The Statutes were to be changed from time to time to adapt them to changing circumstances, and Rules of Procedure were added in 1960. The current Statutes, most recently modified in 1996, are given in Appendix C2. Here we give the first two articles of the 1951 Statutes, which state the nature and aims of the Union:

Article 1—The International Union of Scientific Psychology is
a group uniting the national Societies and Associations of the
adhering countries, having for their aim the development of
studies and scientific researches in psychology, whether
biological or social, normal or pathological, pure or applied.

Article 2—The aims and objects of the Union are as follows:

  1. To contribute to the development of intellectual exchange and scientific relations between psychologists of different countries and in particular the organization of Congresses whether general or specialized on definite subjects to be determined.
  2. To contribute to scientific documentation by fostering international exchange of publications, of books, and of reviews, of film and of bibliographies.
  3. To aid scholars of different countries to go abroad to universities, laboratories and libraries, etc.
  4. To foster the exchange of students and of young research workers. (Thirteenth International Congress of Psychology, 1952 , p. 14).

Administration of the Union

Herbert Langfeld (1879–1958): First Secretary-General of the International Union of Scientific Psychology, 1951–1954.

The administrative seat of the Union was located at Princeton University, NJ, that is, at the office of the Secretary-General, Herbert Langfeld (Piéron, 1948 , p. 685). The statutes of the Union stated “The Central Headquarters of the Union will be fixed by a decision of the General assembly.” For most of the life of the Union, the location of its secretary-general has served as its administrative seat, and only in 1992 did the Union fix a legal venue. The limitations of financial resources for administrative and other purposes has been an ongoing problem.

From the founding of the Union, its Assembly determined the sites and dates of future international congresses of psychology, and its Executive Committee consulted with the local Organizing Committees of the successive congresses. The International Congress Committee, which had been responsible for the continuity of the 2nd through the 11th congresses, dissolved or, more accurately, metamorphosed into the administrative bodies of the Union. Herbert Langfeld, who as Permanent Secretary was the chief administrative officer of the International Committee, became Secretary-General of the Union. Eleven of the 15 officers and members of the first Executive Committee of the Union had been members of the Executive Committee of the International Committee, and two others had been members of the International Committee. (See Appendix B for all officers and members of the Executive Committee, 1951–2000).

The Subcommittee on Social Research

The first Executive Committee of the Union established a Subcommittee on Social Research, consisting of two of its members, Jean Piaget and Otto Klineberg, to “represent the Union in all contacts with the Department of Social Sciences of UNESCO and with other international organizations in the field of the social sciences” (Thirteenth International Congress of Psychology, 1952 , p. 10). Over time, the Union developed formal links with several other international organizations and agencies, including the International Social Science Council, the International Council for Science (ICSU), the United Nations (UN), and the World Health Organization (WHO). These links have helped the Union to create opportunities for psychologists to participate in international projects and to inform international bodies about the contributions and expertise of psychologists and psychological research.

The 12th International Congress of Psychology, Edinburgh 1948

The 12th International Congress of Psychology took place after a change of site and years of delay. As described in Chapter 5 , it was originally planned for Vienna in 1940 but then the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, and in 1939 the International Committee decided to move the congress to Edinburgh for 1940. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 caused an indefinite postponement of the congress. Psychologists of countries that were still non-belligerents early in the war, the USA and Italy, proposed to organize the 12th congress, but the complicated political and military situation prevented this (Piéron, 1938 , p. 982). The 12th congress finally took place in Edinburgh, on July 23–29, 1948.

Professor Emeritus James Drever Sr of the University of Edinburgh had been designated President of the congress, and he played an active role in the Organizing Committee, but ill health prevented him from attending the congress. The presidential address, which he had prepared, was presented

James Drever Sr (1873–1950): President of the 12th International Congress of Psychology, Edinburgh, 1948.

by his son and successor as professor of psychology at Edinburgh, James Drever Jr. The General Secretary of the congress was Professor Godfrey Thompson of the University of Edinburgh. Dr Mary Collins of the University of Edinburgh was an assistant secretary and editor of the proceedings. Herbert Langfeld, Secretary-General of the International Committee, paid tribute to the organizers of the congress:

The task of organizing an International Congress is
not an easy one. It was particularly difficult in this
period of world confusion. That the congress was a
success is due to the self-sacrificing efforts of a small
group of men: Professor Godfrey Thompson, James
Drever, James Drever Jr, and their local committee
(Langfeld, 1948b , p. 579).

Registration at the congress

The congress attracted 688 registrants. The largest number, 393 (57%), came from Great Britain. Other major representations were from the USA (10%) and France (5%). Belgium, Egypt, the Netherlands, and India and Pakistan (the latter two listed as a single entry) each accounted for about 3% of the members. There were, however, few delegates from Eastern Europe and none from the USSR.

The widespread international attendance, with members from 35 countries, was aided by a fund to assist delegates from countries with economic difficulties to attend. This fund originated with a sum of £823 received from the American Psychological Association, a balance from the Yale Congress of 1929. The APA stipulated that none of the fund was to go to American delegates, and the British similarly restricted it to non-British delegates. Most of the fund was expended to assist delegates, and the remaining £211 was retained, with agreement of the APA, to assist attendance at future congresses. The next congress and several later congresses also allotted funds to aid attendance from countries with financial problems.

Program of the congress

The presidential address of James Drever Sr, entitled “Scottish psychology since Hume,” took up the philosophical background of psychology, discussing the work of such eminent Scottish philosophers as David Hume, Thomas Reid, Thomas Brown, and Alexander Bain. In contrast was Herbert Langfeld’s lecture, “Psychology in America today.” Langfeld noted that, “Psychology has come a long way from mental philosophy. In America it is now firmly established among the biological sciences, and, like the other sciences, should look back with sympathy and understanding upon its place of origin” (Langfeld, 1950 , p. 11). Langfeld also commented on the growing importance of social psychology, clinical psychology, assessment, and human engineering. He noted the growing support of industry and of several agencies of the US government for psychological research. In response to the “violent” growth of psychology since the end of the war, the APA has “enlarged into a super-organization principally to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding group of professional psychologists” (Langfeld, 1950 , p. 18); it established its central office in Washington where the Executive Secretary could be in touch with government agencies, and recruited a full-time staff of 10.

The two other major addresses were given by Albert Michotte of Belgium and Sir Frederic Bartlett. Michotte’s presentation consisted of a series of film presentations of phenomena of visual perception with commentaries. These had to do with concepts of the physical world such as maintenance of identity of objects in spite of modifications, continuity of object existence despite discontinuities of their presence, and kinds of actions that objects exert on others. Copies of the film were offered to those interested. Bartlett’s address was entitled “Challenge to experimental psychology.” Bartlett noted that whereas in the past critics challenged the idea of controlled studies of human action and thought, at present many groups were urging psychology to take on various intractable problems. For example, during the war the armed services had set up Personnel Research Committees, and these committees were continued after the end of the war. Even in peacetime, nearly all the main departments of organized human activity were looking for help from psychology. Bartlett urged that in trying to help solve these problems, strict adherence to the standards of experimental psychology must be maintained.

The remainder of the program consisted of discussions of 5 themes and 130 individual papers. The five themes were the following: (1) Prefrontal leucotomy. (2) Tension among groups. (3) Influence of parental unconscious. (4) Psychology in government services. (5) Primary social attitudes. The most frequent topic of communications was psychometrics, with 17% of the papers; other frequent topics were clinical psychology (10%), and general psychology (10%), and personality, social psychology, and sensation and perception, with 9% each (Montoro González, 1982 , pp. 198–199). Except for the main addresses, the papers were published in the proceedings in the form of abstracts of about one page each. Papers were published in English, French, and German.

The small size and tardy appearance of the proceedings reflected post-war conditions in the UK. The 152-page proceedings volume was less than one third of the size of the volumes for the two preceding congresses. The Secretary-General of the congress regretted that the proceedings appeared 2 years after the congress, the delay caused by shortage of paper and lack of skilled printers (Thompson, 1952 , p. 292).

Social occasions

On the first evening of the congress, the delegates were welcomed at a reception offered by the university. The next evening there was a party for the congress members. At this time, as Godfrey Thompson stated in his résumé of the congress, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Arthur Woodburn,

entertained to dinner in the banqueting hall of the Castle
some fifty senior members of the Congress and some
twenty representatives of the public life of Scotland. This
dinner will live in the memory of those privileged to attend.
Mr. Woodburn’s speech, at once learned, witty, and
charming; the austere vaulted room with its historic
memories; the stroll in the starlight on the battlements before
coffee; the visit to the specially opened shrine which is
Scotland’s memorial to her fallen in war, these made a deep
impression on all.

Limitations of accommodation perforce restricted the castle dinner to a small number, and to men only. Simultaneously, however, Mrs Godfrey Thompson gave a dinner in Mackie’s Restaurant, Princes Street, to a similar number of wives and women members ...

The final social event ... was the City reception on the last
evening in the spacious Assembly Halls ... We were received
by a long line of ballies and councillors in their robes,
flanked by halberdiers, and the Lord and Lady Provost in the
centre. There was Scottish dancing, the singing of Scottish
songs, and other enjoyable entertainment. ... And at the end
a warm-hearted parting speech from the Lord Provost, three
cheers led by the gigantic City Officer, and Auld Lang Syne
(Twelfth International Congress of Psychology, 1950 ,
p. xvii).

Decision on the site of the 13th congress

David Katz (1884–1953): President of the 13th International Congress of Psychology, Stockholm 1951. Became first Treasurer of the IUSP, 1951–1953.

At the meeting of the International Committee, invitations were received to hold the 13th congress in Stockholm and in the United States. In offering the invitation from Sweden, Professor David Katz stated that the crown prince was willing to serve as patron and the Swedish government offered the sum of 14,000 crowns toward the organization of the congress (Katz, 1950 ). It was voted unanimously to hold the congress in Stockholm in the summer of 1951.

The 13th International Congress of Psychology, Stockholm 1951

The 13th congress was held in Stockholm on July 16–21, 1951 with Professor David Katz as President. Katz had been the first to hold the chair of psychology and education at the University of Stockholm, and he was a past president of the Swedish Psychological Association. The King of Sweden, who had been crown prince in 1948 when he expressed his willingness to serve as patron, renewed his acceptance. The Secretary-General of the congress was Professor Gösta Eckman, director of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Stockholm and secretary of the Swedish Psychological Association. The inaugural meeting took place in the Building of Parliament, and so did three main evening lectures.

Attendance at the 13th congress

The registration included 658 members and associates, coming from 30 countries (Thirteenth International Congress of Psychology, 1952 , p. 286). Twenty per cent came from Sweden, 14% from Great Britain, 10% from the USA, 8% each from Denmark and Norway, and about 6% each from Finland, France, and Germany. Members from the Northern Psychological Cooperation Committee (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) together accounted for 40% of the total attendance. Brazil showed a greater attendance than at any previous congress with 5%. As at the previous congress, India and Pakistan (counted together) and Egypt each accounted for about 3% of the delegates. And also as at the previous congress, there were few delegates from eastern Europe and none from the USSR.

Program of the congress

Three prominent psychologists gave plenary lectures on three evenings. Professor Godfrey Thompson, of Edinburgh, gave the first evening lecture, entitled “Factor analysis, its hope and dangers.” Professor Burrhus Frederick Skinner, of Harvard University, gave the second plenary lecture, entitled “The experimental analysis of behavior.” Professor Henri Piéron of Paris gave the final plenary lecture, entitled “La psychophysiologie générale de la douleur” (General psychophysiology of pain).

In addition to the lectures, there were 149 individual papers, which required parallel sessions. According to Montoro González (1982 , p, 211) the distribution of topics was rather similar to that of the previous congress: the largest number of papers concerned psychometrics (17%); next came clinical psychology (13%), sensation and perception (11%), and general psychology (11%). Langfeld (1951 , p. 662), using a somewhat different system of categorization, gave the following analysis, and added some interesting information:

One hundred and sixty-one papers were presented during
the six days. A breakdown into topics shows the following
figures: Clinical and abnormal—39 papers; social,
personality, and language—28; educational and child—19;
general and theory—15; perception—14; learning—13;
sensory—11; tests and measurement—10; comparative—5;
applied—4; physiological—3. There were few applied papers,
probably because the International Congress of Psycho
technics followed directly after this Congress. The room was
generally full for papers on clinical and social psychology,
while those persons presenting papers on sensory
psychology were left with few listeners.

The individual papers were presented in the proceedings in the form of abstracts of about a page in length. Papers were given at the congress in English, French, and German. The assembly voted to include Spanish as one of the official languages at future congresses.

Social occasions

As at other congresses, there were several social occasions. After the first plenary lecture on Monday, the city of Stockholm offered a reception in the Town Hall. On Wednesday evening, there was a boat trip to the 18th-century Drottningholm Castle where the delegates attended an 18th-century theatrical presentation. Nearly 300 delegates participated in the general dinner on Friday.

Financial results

The congress fared well economically. As mentioned previously, the Swedish government provided a grant of 14,000 crowns. Membership fees amounted to 27,000 crowns. The previous congress had provided a surplus of 11,000 crowns which, together with private gifts, was used to aid foreign delegates. It was hoped that after final expenses and printing of the proceedings there would be some surplus to carry over to the next congress.

Decision on the site of the 14th congress

The proceedings stated the decision briefly in a way that requires further explanation:

The Assembly accepted the invitation of the Canadian
Psychological Association for 1954 provided that the
American Psychological Association became a joint sponsor
of the Congress (Twelfth International Congress of
Psychology, 1950
, p. 9).

Normally the United States would have been the host for the 14th congress, because the USA as well as Sweden had offered to host the 13th congress. In fact, the Council of the APA had voted in 1951 to invite the International Congress of Psychology and the CPA to meet with the APA in 1954 in New York, just as the International Congress had met with the APA in 1929. But the motion of the Council had a proviso attached: “if the McCarran Act is modified in such a way as to avoid embarrassment to APA guests.” The McCarran Act forbad entrance to the USA to members of the communist party. By 1952 the McCarran Act had not been modified and there was no indication that it soon would be, so the APA Board of Directors voted to join the CPA in a plan, initiated earlier by the CPA, whereby the CPA and APA would be joint hosts in Montréal for the 1954 congress; it also voted to inform New York hotels with which it had previously corresponded that it would not need rooms for a meeting in 1954 (Adkins, 1952 , p. 664).

The formation of the International Union inaugurated a new era for psychology

The formation of the International Union gave psychology a recognized international voice, for the first time. At the 13th congress, the executive committee of the Union established a subcommittee on Social Research to “represent the Union in all contacts with the Department of Social Sciences of UNESCO and with other international organizations in the field of the social sciences.” Gradually, the Union became recognized by international agencies as the representative body of international psychology.

Under the auspices of the Union, the timing of international congresses became more regular, the congresses became larger and more international in participation, and a systematic way was developed for the national psychological communities to participate in devising the program of the next congress.

The formation of the Union was one of the factors that led to a rapid increase in the number of national psychological organizations beginning in the 1950s. In some cases the Union gave guidance in formulating the statutes of a national society in a way that made it eligible for membership in the Union.

Soon after the formation of the Union, it participated with four other non-governmental social science organizations in the founding of the International Social Science Council (ISSC) in October 1952, following a Resolution adopted at the VI UNESCO General Conference in 1951. Jean Piaget and Otto Klineberg—both members of the Executive Committee of the International Union of Psychological Science—were elected President and Vice-President, respectively. Otto Klineberg had just finished an assignment in Paris with UNESCO to help establish its Social Science Department. During 1948–49, Klineberg was acting head of the new department until a permanent head could be appointed, allowing Klineberg to return to Columbia University. He served again at UNESCO in 1953–55 as Head of UNESCO’s Division of Applied Social Sciences. On both occasions, he promoted the development of ISSC and the critical involvement of the Union as a leading member. As of 1999, ISSC includes 14 international organizations representing social science disciplines. In 1992 a new ISSC constitution was adopted which provides for national and regional member organizations such as national academies of science and similar bodies; there are now 16 such member organizations plus 16 associate member organizations.

In countries or regions that were not yet prepared to host an international congress, the Union has fostered national and regional development of psychology by holding regional psychological meetings.


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