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January 30: The First American Pop Psychologist

January 30, 2016

JosephJastrowJoseph Jastrow, the first American to receive a doctorate in psychology, in 1883, and the first to bring psychology into popular parlance through articles, books, and lectures, was born in Warsaw on this date in 1863. A member of the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin, he built the first psychology laboratory that investigated the human senses, including hypnosis and deception, as well as optical and psychological illusions. In showing that the human senses (and intuitions) are not reliable for ascertaining truth, he was a pioneer of modern skepticism. Jastrow lost his son in World War I and his wife shortly after, which led to his own mental collapse. In the course of his recovery, he moved further away from experimental research and became a full-time popularizer of psychological insights and skepticism with such books as Fact and Fable, a syndicated column called “Keeping Mentally Fit,” and appearances on the new medium of radio. Jastrow was head of the psychological section of the World Columbian Exposition in 1893, and a charter member of the American Psychological Association, of which he became president in 1900. He died at 80 in 1944. To see a quick clip of an optical illusion designed by Jastrow, look below.

“The world is as large as the range of one’s interests. A narrow-minded man has a narrow outlook. The walls of his world shut out the broader horizon of affairs. Prejudice can maintain walls that no invention can remove.” —Joseph Jastrow