Coloured thinking

Jules Davidoff delivered the C.S. Myers Lecture at the 2004 Annual Conference.
CHARLES Myers became one of the founding fathers of British psychology (see Costall, 1998) as a result of going on an expedition to the Torres Straits (off New Guinea) organised from Cambridge University. As Richards (1998) wrote, ‘for Myers the Expedition was an epochal experience, deciding him on a psychological career’. However, it is interesting to note the different outcome of that expedition for Myers (and also for Rivers, one of the founders of the BPS) compared with that for McDougall (also a founder of the BPS). McDougall, and hence perhaps his pupil Cyril Burt, saw evidence in their data for the genetic determination of cross-cultural cognitive differences. Myers, and hence perhaps his pupil Frederic Bartlett, saw the methodological impossibility of satisfactorily transferring experimental psychology from the laboratory to the field. Myers realised that their data were unreliable. As Richards wrote of the published work from the expedition, ‘the Reports thus became a virtuoso exercise in the art of writing up unsatisfactory research as positively as possible short of outright dissembling’ (p.145).

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