Simonton, D. K. (2002).
Great Psychologists and Their Times: Scientific
Insights into Psychology’s History.
Washington, DC: APA Books.
SYNOPSIS (with detailed notes, tables, figures, and complete
Part I. THE SCIENTIFIC HISTORY OF PSYCHOLOGY
The book begins with two chapters that define the terms of the
discussion. What does it mean to attain eminence in psychology? How can
the history of psychology be subjected to scientific analysis?
Chapter 1. Eminence in Psychology (notes)
In this introductory chapter I examine the various ways that
individuals can contribute to the emergence of psychology as a science. In
particular, it discusses the contributions of philosophers, scientists,
Chapter 2. History and Science (notes)
The second introductory chapter defines the different means by which
psychology’s history might be understood. Special emphasis is placed on
the following alternative perspectives: genius versus zeitgeist as causal
agents; internal versus external influences; presentist versus historicist
narratives; idiographic versus nomothetic analyses; quality versus
quantity in phenomena; deterministic versus stochastic descriptions. The
chapter concludes with a discussion of how the psychology of science, and
especially the psychology of psychological science, can provide scientific
insights into the figures who have contributed most to psychology’s
Part II. LIFETIME OUTPUT OF PSYCHOLOGISTS AND THEIR IMPACT ON THE FIELD
Chapter 1 only scratched the surface of a complex and difficult issue:
What must a psychologist do to attain a high degree of recognition in the
field? The three chapters of Part II subject this question to much greater
Chapter 3. Individual Differences in Productivity and Eminence (notes)
Individuals vary greatly on most psychological attributes and
behaviors, and psychologists are no exception. Here I review the two main
ways that psychologists can differ with respect to their influence on the
discipline. First, I review what has been learned about creative output,
including the cross-sectional distribution, the relation between quantity
and quality, the longitudinal stability of individual differences,
contrasts in the type of contribution, and the basis for long-term
influence. Second, I examine what we know about differences in eminence.
In particular, I look at the degree of consensus, the cross-sectional
distribution, the correlation between eminence and lifetime productivity,
and the stability of eminence across time.
Chapter 4. Longitudinal Changes in Creativity (notes)
One of the oldest research topics in psychological science is the
relation between age and achievement, so it is reasonable to ask about the
nature of this relation for great psychologists. I specifically examine
the typical career trajectory in output, discuss the relation between
quantity and quality of output, and look at how the age curve varies
according to the type of contribution. I then integrate these results with
those of the previous chapter by presenting a cognitive model of
individual differences in career development.
Chapter 5. The Creative Product in Psychology (notes)
This treatment of output and impact concludes by switching the unit of
analysis from psychologists to the products on which their reputations
rest. I begin by reviewing what we have learned about highly successful
research programs, and then turn to the issue of why some publications
have more impact than others.
Part III. PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO GREATNESS AS A
Presumably, individual differences in output and impact are ultimately
grounded in the psychological characteristics of the psychologists. In
other words, great psychologists differ from their less-renowned
colleagues on the basis of various personal attributes that contribute in
some way to creative productivity.
Chapter 6. Cognition (notes)
One obvious possibility is that the attainment of distinction depends
on the possession of exceptionally high degrees of intellectual ability.
After investigating the psychometric and historiometric research on this
question, I turn to another possibility, namely that it depends on
specific mental strategies and processes. I conclude with a discussion of
how the impact of three cognitive attributes – intelligence, imagery, and
versatility – vary across scientific disciplines. Do great psychologists
think like other great scientists?
Chapter 7. Disposition (notes)
It is often claimed that creativity entails personality disposition
than just a cognitive capacity, a claim that is examined in the current
chapter. Do great psychologists exhibit a characteristic set of
personality traits, whether motivational or social? A complete response to
this question leads to a treatment of the "mad-genius" issue, a classic
controversy that assumes an ironic form when applied to psychology’s
history. Did the principal figures in the emergence of psychology have an
inclination toward psychological disorders?
Chapter 8. Worldview (notes)
Part III concludes with a look at the belief systems that underlie the
life and work of any creative person. I begin by examining whether great
psychologists exhibit any distinctive religious leanings. From there I
treat the relation between a psychologist’s long-term impact on the field
and his or her philosophy of psychological science. Which theoretical or
methodological orientations are most conducive to a psychologist’s
Part IV. LIFE-SPAN DEVELOPMENT OF GREAT PSYCHOLOGISTS
The preceding two parts focused on individual differences. Where do these
individual differences originate? Can we identify developmental factors
that set certain individuals on the path toward distinction in the
Chapter 9. Family Background (notes)
The quest for developmental correlates begins in the home environment,
including such aspects as socioeconomic class, religion, ethnicity, and
geographical origins. Special attention is given to the possible influence
of two distinct factors: birth order and traumatic experiences.
Chapter 10. Career Training (notes)
Despite the impressive inventory of family-background variables, some
other developmental factors must participate as well, and certainly career
training is among them. Most of the chapter concentrates on various
aspects of formal education, including the highest degree obtained, the
level of scholastic performance, the rate of educational progress, the
prestige of the instructional institutions, and, most critical, the
distinction of the mentors. The chapter ends with a look at the
consequences of self-education and professional marginality – two means of
obtaining an expertise that departs from mainstream training in the field.
Chapter 11. Maturity and Aging (notes)
Once a psychologist’s career begins, how does it develop? How does the
career of a great psychologist differ from those of less illustrious
colleagues? What place does marriage and family have in a highly
accomplished career? Does one’s personal life have to be sacrificed for
professional attainment? And what happens at the end? Are great
psychologists blessed with lives not just productive, but long besides?
Chapter 12. Nature versus Nurture (notes)
The most difficult developmental question was saved for last: the
nature-nurture issue. I first examine this question in a more general way,
by discussing the genetic basis of creative genius. Modern behavior
genetics is shown to provide a reasonable solution to the
genes-versus-environment debate. I then scrutinize a more specific case of
the nature-nurture issue: the relation between gender and genius. In
particular, I evaluate whether the relative dearth of women in the annals
of psychology has a biological or cultural foundation.
Part V. SOCIOCULTURAL CONTEXT OF PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE
In the last part of Chapter 12 I argued that the low representation of
women among great psychologists says more about the sociocultural system
than about women per se. The impact of the internal and external milieu
now becomes the subject of the three chapters that make up Part V.
Chapter 13. Internal Milieu (notes)
To a certain extent the emergence of notable psychologists may depend
on intellectual movements or trends within psychology itself. This
possibility is examined in terms of the sociocultural phenomena and
processes suggested by Kroeber, Comte, Kuhn, Hegel, and Merton. Part of
this discussion includes an examination of what this research implies
about psychology’s status as a scientific enterprise.
Chapter 14. External Milieu (notes)
Although Chapter 13 made it manifest that psychology’s history is
shaped by internal forces, that conclusion does not rule out the effects
of external forces as well. In this chapter I review what we have learned
about how the political, social, cultural, and economic Zeitgeist can
impinge on psychological science. Some of these effects are quantitative
in that they determine the number of great psychologists that are likely
to appear at a given time and place. Other effects are qualitative, that
is, they leave an impression on the very content of psychological thought.
Chapter 15. Genius versus Zeitgeist (notes)
The preceding chapters may leave the impression that Genius is totally
at the mercy of the Zeitgeist. This conclusion is unjustified on both
theoretical and empirical grounds. On the theoretical side, there are
several reasons why the notable contributors to psychology cannot be
completely explained in terms of a sociocultural reductionism. Instead,
individual and situational factors operate in a complex interactive
system. Something of this complexity is illustrated in two empirical
studies of the operation of the Ortgeist and Zeitgeist in the careers of
great psychologists, scientists, and philosophers.
Part VI. IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FIELD OF PSYCHOLOGY
After having reviewed all the empirical literature on great psychologists
and their times, it becomes necessary to discuss the consequences of this
body of work for the discipline of psychology.
Chapter 16. Research and Teaching (notes)
Discussion of these implications begins with an overview of the many
important issues that still deserve more empirical investigation.
Moreover, I discuss the problem of trying to provide comprehensive
theoretical interpretations of all of these diverse results. The answers
to these empirical and theoretical questions may also have consequences
for the teaching of psychology at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
Especially provocative is the possibility that this research can be used
not only to make each psychologist a better scientist, but also to make
psychology a better science.
*Although this book is considered by its author to be the best he has ever
written, it is unfortunately out of print. APA Books at the very outset
incorrectly advertised it as an edited volume dealing with the history of
psychology rather than a single-authored text discussing the history of
psychology from the perspective of the metasciences, and especially the
psychology of science. Indeed, according to Google Scholar, the book does
not even exist! To remedy this rather unfortunate fate, the author has here
posted virtually the complete text, tables, figures, and references, albeit
the text in the form of his original notes. Nothing important is missing.
For errata, go here.
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