Simonton, D. K. (2002).
Great Psychologists and Their Times: Scientific
Insights into Psychology’s History.
Washington, DC: APA Books.
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, and psychologists.
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 development.
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
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
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 posthumous
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 discipline?
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.
Return to main page