Hugo Munsterberg is a German American psychologist. He was one of the pioneers in applied psychology and also extended his research and theories to industrial or organizational psychology, legal, medicine, clinical, educational and business settings. He made significant contributions to Clinical Psychology. In his work with mental patients, he discounted the unconscious postulated by Sigmund Freud. Rather he believed that all psychological processes had a parallel physical process in the brain, and thus that mental illness had a physical cause.
He is considered by many “the father of industrial psychology,” whose work in this area paved the way for the modern industrial-organizational psychology. His research on eyewitness testimony set up some fundamental insights in forensic psychology. There, he brought attention to the role of experience and memory on the perception and recall of events, showing that different people will describe the same event quite differently.
Despite the breakout of world war one, he stayed loyal to Germany which led to many controversies, overshadowing his professional achievements. His work was later influential and inspired many.
Hugo was born into a merchant family in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), then a port city in West Prussia. His father Moritz was a famous lumber merchant and his mother Minna Bernhardi was a renowned artist and musician. She was Moritz second wife and had two kids of her own, Hugo and Oscar, and from Moritz’s first wife, there were two kids, Otto and Emil, who would be Hugo’s step brothers. He married a distant cousin, Selma Doppler of Strasbourg.
His family had a great interest in the arts and Hugo was encouraged to explore music, literature, art, poetry, foreign language and acting. When he joined the University of Leipzig, he attended a lecture of Wilhelm Wundt which played an important role in his development of interest for the subject of psychology. He eventually became Wundt’s research assistant. He received his Ph.D. in physiological psychology in 1885 under Wundt’s supervision at the age of 22. Possibly following Wundt’s advice Munsterberg decided to study medicine and in 1887 received his medical degree at the University of Heidelberg. He also passed an examination that enabled him to lecture as a privatdocent at University of Freiburg. While at Freiburg he started a psychology laboratory and began publishing papers on a number of topics including attentional processes, memory, learning, and perception.
In 1891, Hugo was promoted to assistant professor and attended the first International Congress in Psychology in Paris where he met William James, who invited him on the following years to the United States at Harvard University to be the chair of the psychology lab for a three-year term. He accepted the offer and spent the next three years successfully being the chairman of the psychology lab at Harvard. He went to America learning English very fast and his classes were very popular with the students which resulted in students from James classes joining Hugo’s.
In 1898, he was elected the President of the American Psychological Association. In 1908, he went to become the President of the American Philosophical Association and affiliated with many organizations including the Washington Academy and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the organizer and vice-president of the International Congress of Arts and Sciences at the Saint Louis World’s Fair of 1904, vice-president of the International Psychological Congress in Paris in 1900, and vice-president of the International Philosophical Congress at Heidelberg in 1907. In 1910, he was appointed exchange professor from Harvard to the University of Berlin. During that year he founded the Amerika-Institut in Berlin. During the whole period of his stay in the United States, he worked for the improvement of the relations between the United States and Germany, writing in the U.S. for a better understanding of Germany and in Germany for a higher appreciation of the United States.
Because of his work in applied psychology, Munsterberg was well known to the public, academic world, and scientific community. The outspoken views of Munsterberg on the issues of the upcoming the First World War raised storms of controversy about his ideals and position.
At his death, the general attitude towards Munsterberg had changed and his death was relatively unnoticed due to his pro-German attitudes and his support for German policies. He remained an experimental psychologist and director of Psychological lab at Harvard until his untimely death during a lecture, on the lecture platform due to stress in the year 1916.
Views on Women
He held controversial views of women. He thought they were incapable of rational thinking and thus not attend graduate school or be allowed to serve on juries. He was against women teaching at academic institutions as he thought that is was a bad role model for boys.
Contributions to psychology
His contributions to the science of psychology included educational, clinical, industrial, and forensic. He has published many books such as Psychotherapy (1909) for clinical psychology, Psychology and Industrial Efficiency (1913) for industrial psychology, On the Witness Stand (1908) for forensic psychology.
In his work On the Witness Stand was a landmark discussing the field of psychology in legal proceedings and one of the foundational works in the field of forensic psychology. In the book, he addressed many topics which are still relevant to this day.
Hugo pointed out rational and scientific ways of probing facts attested by human witness by application of experimental psychology to the administration of law. Hugo argued that the lawyer, judge and jurymen were sure that they did not need the help of the newly emerged science of psychology and had trusted their legal instinct and their common sense, and if a time comes where the jurist needs the concession of spirit of modern psychology, the public opinion would exert some pressure.
Hugo dealt with topics such as -Illusions, memory of the witness, traces of emotion, untrue confessions, suggestions in court, hypnotism and crime, prevention of the crime.
This is one of the most important topics in his book which was related to the ideas of sensation and perception of modern times. Illusions are biased by individual differences. They are unintentional mistakes of the sound mind. What is taken for granted is that we perceive our surrounding uniformly. There is a great difference in a man’s perception. Capabilities and habits of the individual also influence the way they perceive. In an experiment held by him, he found that even students made mistakes when it was a basic stimulus. He extended these findings into forensic psychology into the witness memory. The witness could easily make mistakes regarding the details of the crime. The perception of the witness might be correct but the later reproduction may have mistakes. Each individual would give different false details due to individual differences. He made an argument that witness memory is prone to error and should be scrutinized.
Memory of the Witness
Inspite best intentions, good memory and calm mood, a whole series of confusions, illusions, forgetting, wrong conclusions and yielding with suggestions were mingled with what the individual had to report. The fact that the courts all over the world, have their witness take an oath where they say the truth but not always, there are combinations of memory and illusions, of knowledge and suggestion and of experience and wrong conclusions. Not every sworn in statement is accepted in absolute reality as contradictions between the witnesses are too familiar. Confidence in the reliability of memory is so general that suspicion of memory illusions evidently plays a small role in the mind of the jury and cross-examining lawyers are dominated by the idea that a false statement is the result of the product of intentional falsehood. The witness is known to put their best effort in putting out the truth in the nest way possible.
He also stated how suggestibility can influence multiple aspects of legal proceedings. He wrote about how witness suggestibility may be less problematic as their memory of the event is already in question.
Traces of emotions
Hidden feelings betray itself often against the will of the individual. It may be easy suppress the conspicuous movements by which we usually accentuate the emotions. The mental life, which includes perception, attention, thought, feeling and will, play an important role in the court procedure. Thought one might suppress the show of emotions from the outside, psychologists can register the symptoms of inner excitement and more than that, show the effects of feelings and emotions which cannot be seen through mere observation. Instruments can be used to find even the slightest change in emotions. Pleasurable and unpleasant moods portray themselves in opposite movements-impulses of which the individual is unaware of. Heart beat(sphygmographs), movement of the eyeballs, respiration(pnemograph), temperature, polygraph, etc. are checked by psychologists. This information can be used when statements are made on the witness stand.
Of course, in a criminal procedure there cannot be any better evidence than a confession, provided that it is reliable and well proved. If the accused acknowledges in express words the guilt in a criminal charge, the purpose of the procedure seems to have been reached; and yet at all times and in all nations experience has suggested a certain distrust of confessions. The earnestness with which caution is urged is decidedly different at different periods; the danger of accepting confessions seems to have been felt more strongly at some times than at others. it referred to possible promises or threats by other members of the community. No doubt, the chances for such influences were different, too, at various times and in different social conditions. The self-sacrificing desire to exculpate others has played its role occasionally also. In short, there is no lack of social motives to make it conceivable from the start that an accused makes of his own accord a confession against himself which is not true. The untrustworthiness of memory under all such conditions has nothing whatever to do with the intentions and the veracity of the witness. The average man knows anyhow very little of the working of his own mind and his particular variations escape his attention.
He argues against the notion that hypnotism should be used in court proceedings. Not only will the jury be unlikely to believe if the witness testimony if induced during a hypnotic state but also it would only be reliable if the witness had been in a hypnotic state during the crime. He also argued that hypnotism could serve a role in the crime.
Prevention of the crime
He wrote about the prevention of crime in the sociocultural level. He blamed the society for the creation of criminal behavior, mainly through negative events and experiences. He stated that people may have a biological predisposition for crime, but the environment shapes an individual. A criminal is someone who fails to control his impulses. He argues for the power of social hygiene to teach those individuals to control their criminal impulses, and that emphasis on punitive justice should be decreased
Till this day, his works remain a foundation for the science of forensic psychology.
Navya Sudheer, 2nd September 2017