Canadian Journal of Psychology: 1974 - 1979

Students in Tom Bauslaugh's 2nd Class
Department of Psychology
Simon Fraser University

Canada from 1974 to 1979 is a country that seems both familiar and foreign to a more modern perspective. Many of the ideas about the world that we now take for granted were just becoming established at that time. The social confusion of the 1960's was not so far away- the 1970s was a period of taking the radical ideas of the previous decade and integrating them into a working system

The world of psychology ran parallel to this in form if not in content. The behaviorist perspective upon psychology ruled the 1960's. By the beginning of the 1970's however a new perspective was emerging in force, one that carried on in the scientifically rigorous framework that behaviorism had established, and yet one that none the less examined internal human experience. The 1970's witnessed the paradigm of cognitive psychology being established within the larger emerging field of cognitive science.

Within experimental psychology the central story is the rise, development, and articulation of cognitive science, a field incorporating cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, and psychology's long lost parent field, philosophy of mind. Cognitive science offered a sophisticated and appealing definition of mind as computer, and by the mid-seventies it had become the only game in town for scientific psychology. (Leahey, 1992, p. 346)

This shift however did not occur in a vacuum. The gradual growth of the cognitive perspective swam in a sea of social and cultural influences. Perhaps the most pervasive of these was the energy crisis of the 1970's.

...the Arab oil embargo had suddenly and spectacularly worsened the existing oil shortages in the world, shocking us all into the realization that our reserves of fossil fuels were limited and that we'd have to begin husbanding them carefully if we were to maintain our living standards. (Maclean's, January, 1974)

This crisis had an influence upon government, business and science across North America. Canada was in a position unique of all the first world countries, for though not particularly rich in oil deposits Canada's size and resource base put it in a position to adapt to the oil embargo. The government, not surprisingly, encouraged such adaptation. In reference to a specific export plan:

Government officials have said in private meetings with company and association executives that their aim is two-fold: to encourage further exploration among mining companies and to try to establish a healthy secondary processing and manufacturing base in Canada. (Maclean's, January 1976)

Given this emphasis, the attraction to a cognitive model of psychology becomes more understandable. The cognitive models of the mid to late seventies were very much resource based models. They were almost industrial in their structure; hypothetical propositions of how the resource of information is processed by a limited amount of cognitive energy and how this resource would pass through different systems of refinement.

The revolution that had begun in the 1950s had now put cognitive processes at the forefront in the field of psychology. Stimulus-Response psychology was now able to look inward once more; it appeared to have come back to its roots, where Wundt and Titchner had began. Neomentalism, as refereed to by Paivio, called the cognitive revolution a move back toward "the introspective psychologies of Titchener and William James"(1975). Part of the new bent to which theories of the mind were subjected. One would find it hard to speak of cognitive psychology without mentioning computers, both computer simulation -the attempt to mimic human potentials and deficits - and pure AI -its goal being efficiency. Computer models were used to hypothesize about the structures and the processes of human beings.

The language used to describe cognitive processes came from computer language. The idea of inputs and outputs can be seen clearly in the Atkinson and Shiffron model of memory processing (1968 in Matlin). However, though their model describes three separate memory processes: Sensory memory, Short-term memory, and long-term memory, the focus in Canadian psychology during 1974-1979 was mainly on the sensory and short-term memory systems. Research and experimentation in psychology could hardly avoid the shadow cast by the energy crisis. The predominating Zeitgeist can be seen in the push for efficiency. Such studies like those by Chizuko Izawa focusing on list lengths and the effect the length has on memory retention. "When" the "list was either too short or too long, where learning was, respectively, either too easy or too difficult, performance differences were observed" (Izawa, 1974). Not since George Miller's magical number, +7, had there been such a focus on the ineptness of cognitive processing. Miller, Galanter, and Primbram (1960, in Benjafield, p294) had drawn experimenters attention to cybernetics more than ten years earlier; yet during the latter 1970s these issues were still being subjected to the scrutinization of psychologists. Although the general milieu was very much the same the specific subject of interest had changed. The sensory processes were still of great interest to cognitive psychologists, yet the particular area of interest was now imagery - - mental representations within the individual of things that are not present (Matlin, p173). Pioneering this area was Allan Paivio; many researchers followed suit. Paivio and Bleasdale (1974) was focusing on the duration of visual short-term memory. With the focus on imagery came a return to some of the Gestaltists ideas. However, there appeared to be a lack of published material in The Canadian Journal of Psychology representing this implicit influence.

As well as being influenced by the social and economic reality of the 1970s cognitive psychology also drew upon a rich heritage of academic change. This was the case for cognitive psychology as well the notions that led up to it. New schools of thought often develop due to the perceived weaknesses of the dominant discipline. When behaviourist psychology was prevalent, some psychologists believed that it was too narrowly focused on observable processes; there was a feeling that unobservable processes were also important and necessary for psychologists to study. Psychoanalysis was criticized for being unfalsifiable, as well as placing too great an emphasis on biological processes; for example, Freud's idea that personality was largely determined by a young age. This idea disturbed many because it implied that people had no control over many aspects of their lives. As a result, a movement was growing that claimed the importance of social factors to development. The fields of sociology, anthropology and social psychology were becoming more popular because they proposed social forces that were a significant factor in personality development (Schultz, 1992). As an example, the rise of social psychology can be demonstrated in the theories of Karen Horney and Alfred Adler. Consequently these disciplines differed from psycholanalysis and behaviourism by suggesting that humans should be studied from a social perspective instead of just a biological viewpoint. Adler's social psychology was also known as "individual psychology" (Schultz, 1992). This theory emphasized social factors and was attractive to many because it was optimistic, and suggested that humans were consciously in control of their goals and the development of their personalities. Adler proposed a model based upon the creative power of the self. This concept is very different from behaviourism and psychoanalysis.

Karen Horney's theories pointed out the weaknesses of psychoanalysis, as well as its inherent sexism. She also differed with Freud by believing that biological and physical factors were not the whole story of personality development; like Adler, she emphasized the importance of social influences. With the rise of social psychology, there was a corresponding increase in people believing in human potential, and the idea that they had the power to change what they were dissatisfied with in their lives.

Humanistic psychology developed in the early 1960's. During this time, many groups organized and began to fight for their rights; visible minorities, women and homosexuals are several examples. Humanistic psychology may represent the dissatisfaction with "mechanistic and materialistic aspects of contemporary Western culture" (Schultz, 1992, p. 507). Humanism criticized behaviourism and psychoanalysis and defined itself in opposition to these two prevailing views. Humanistic psychology preferred a holistic approach and focused on consciousness, free will, creativity, and the importance of the individual. Examples of humanistic psychologists are Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. It can be seen that many aspects of humanistic psychology anticipated the rise of cognitive psychology; namely, its emphasis on consciousness, individual responsibility, human potential, and so on . Gestalt psychology also influenced the increasing relevance of cognition to psychology. As Hearst writes, cognitive psychology's: "emphasis on organization, structure, relationships, the active role of the subject, and the important part played by perception in learning and memory- reflects the influence of its Gestalt antecedents" (Hearst in Schultz, 1992, p. 518).

The most important psychologists considered to promote the development of cognitive psychology are George Miller and Ulric Neisser (Schultz, 1992). Miller was interested in comparing the human brain to a computer, as well as the study of memory, language, developmental psychology, perception, and so on. Generally, cognitive psychology was a study of the mind.

Neisser admits he was influenced by Gestalt psychology. Murray claims that Gestalt psychology influenced the rise of the study of cognition because it continued to study consciousness in spite of the popularity of behaviourism. The current emphasis on cognitive psychology due to a cyclical nature of psychology, returning to the study of cognitive processes that began with Wilhelm Wundt.

The Canadian Journal of Psychology has chronicled a period of transition during the latter half of the seventies. In looking at the zeitgeists of the time, it is commendable to find evidence of psychology responding to the need for research that the present requests.


Benjafield, J. G. (1996). A History of Psychology. Allyn & Bacon.

Izawa, C. (1974). Retention Interval Hypothesis and List Lengths: Comparison of Anticipation and Study-Test Procedures. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 29, 214-224.

Paivio, A. (1974). Neomentalism. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 29, 263-291.

Paivio, A., & Bleasdale, F (1974). Visual Short-Term Memory: A Methodological Caveat. Canadian Journal of Psychology , 29, 24-31.

Leahey, T. H.. A History of Modern Psychology. Prentice-Hall Inc, 1991.

Matlin, Margaret W. (1994). Cognition. Hart, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

MacLean's. (1974), January. ed. Robert Lewis.

Murray, D. J. (1995). Gestalt Psychology and the Cognitive Revolution. Great Britain: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (1992) A History of Modern Psychology. USA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.