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Granville Stanley Hall

social perception psychology american university adolescence

1844-1924
American psychologist.

Granville Stanley Hall played a decisive role in the organization of American psychology. He invited Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to America, thus contributing to the diffusion of psychoanalysis. Above all, he gave a crucial impetus to the study of the child and the life cycle (his last psychological book dealt with senescence, the process of becoming old). Hall stressed the social relevance of empirical developmental research, and authored the first major treatise on adolescence. His theories and methods have since been superseded, but the lifespan, stage-based perspective typical of this thinking became a central component of modern psychology.

Hall was born in 1844 in rural Massachusetts, the son of educated farmers. He studied at Williams College and at the Union Theological Seminary; in 1878 he received a Ph.D. from Harvard University for a thesis on the role of muscular sensations in space perception. He then studied with Wilhelm Wundt and Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz in Germany. He joined

Granville Stanley Hall (The Library of Congress. Reproduced with permission.)

Johns Hopkins University in 1884, set up one of the first psychology laboratories in the U.S., and established the American Journal of Psychology to promote experimental psychology. In 1889, he became the first president of Clark University, which awarded many of the early American doctorates in psychology. He led a popular child-study and educational reform movement, which he supported through his journal Pedagogical Seminary. He inspired and was the first president of the American Psychological Association. Hall died in 1924.

Hall studied childhood by means of questionnaires (a method he pioneered) on topics such as children's play, lies, fears, anger, language, and art. He distributed them among teachers, thus amassing huge amounts of data. The backbone of Hall's thinking was the concept of recapitulation, according to which individual development repeats the history of the species. As supposedly apparent in children's games, childhood reflected primitive humanity. The following, "juvenile" stage corresponded to an age when humans were well adjusted to their environment and displayed tribal inclinations; it was therefore suited to the formation of groups adapted to the child's "social instinct." Adolescence was a "new birth" that brought forth ancestral passions, an age of "storm and stress" characterized by conflicting moods and dispositions, a capacity for religious conversion, and an unlimited creative potential. Hall claimed that it was essential to channel these energies (especially sexual), and that it was "the apical stage of human development" and the starting point "for the super anthropoid that man is to become." His idealized and lyrical depiction of adolescence synthesized common nineteenth-century ideas about youth into a evolutionary framework and, while conveying nostalgia for a lost closeness to nature, provided an increasingly urban and industrialized society with a confident image of its own future.

Further Reading

Hall, G. S. Adolescence: Its Psychology and its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. 2 vols., New York: Appleton, 1908.

——. Life and Confessions of a Psychologist. New York: Appleton, 1923.

Ross, D. G. Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

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