Women in Psychology - Margaret Washburn

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Women in Psychology – Margaret Floy Washburn
May 23, 2011
Women in Psychology
Margaret Floy Washburn was an accomplished and highly-recognized woman within the field of psychology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her interests were equally divided between science and philosophy and thus, Washburn made the decision “…to pursue “the wonderful new science of experimental psychology…” (Goodwin, 2008, pg. 200, para. 2). Under the tutelage of E. B. Titchener, a British psychologist, Washburn became the first woman to receive a doctorate in psychology in the year 1894 – a monumental feat at the time. Her field of study was “…of the effects of visual imagery on tactile sensitivity” (Goodwin, 2008, pg. 200, para. 2). Washburn’s career included “…an APA presidency in 1921, co-editorship of the American Journal of Psychology…and election to the prestigious National Academy of Science in 1931” (Goodwin, 2008, pg. 200, para. 3). With insight into Margaret Floy Washburn’s life and her reasoning behind the pursuit of psychology as a separate and formal science and discipline, her status as a pioneer in the field is indeed warranted. Washburn’s Theoretical Perspective

Margaret Washburn was recognized primarily for her work in animal psychology. The Animal Mind, which she published in 1908, was the first book by an American in this area of study and remained the customary comparative psychology manual for over 25 years. The Animal Mind was a compilation of experimental studies exploring the existence of conscious processes such as learning and attention in animals. “It [The Animal Mind] was notable for its exclusion of evidence based solely on anecdotal data; Washburn included only the results of experimental research” (Goodwin, 2008, pg. 200, para. 4). In her writings, Washburn developed her theory of consciousness in depth and investigated various topics such as distinctive differences, color vision in animals, visual preferences for colors and sounds, after-images, and psychology of the emotional processes.

Washburn eventually moved away from Titchener’s structural psychology, becoming disapproving of its diminution of the mind into parts. Her second book, Movement and Mental Imagery, summarized her motor theory of consciousness. “This theory emphasized the importance of motor movements in all psychological processes, but particularly in learning, attention and emotion” (Rodkey, 2010, para. 3). Under this theory, Washburn noted the aptitude of animals to distinguish movement at a distance and suspend their responsive actions. This delay produced motor excitation, which prepared the animals for action at a future point and time. Through these studies, Washburn found that higher mental processes only occur when an animal, human, or other organism is presented with a distal incentive to which it can postpone its reaction. Further, she found that the understated physical movements before action as well as the competing corporeal movements which restrain action, allow an individual to attend to the stimulus, make choices, and learn. Washburn’s Contributions to Psychology

Margaret Floy Washburn’s interest with the study of the mind attributed to a 43 year career, lasting from 1894 – 1937. Indeed, she was a leading woman pioneer in the field of psychology. Washburn is quoted as once saying, “Nothing in the world is so compelling to the emotions as the mind of another human being” (Goodman, 1980, pg. 1, para. 2). This statement provided testimony and gave insight into how she became an influential psychologist in the field of psychology as a separate discipline in the early part of the 20th century. Appreciation can be given to Washburn’s lifelong fascination with the minds of animals and humans. Through her studies, she was convinced that experimental psychology was the appropriate means in which to explore the topic.

“Washburn’s status as an influential psychologist was first documented in 1903 when she was...
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