Qualitative Experiments in Psychology: The Case of Frederic Bartlett's Methodology

Brady Wagoner


In this article, I explore the meaning of experiments in early twentieth century psychology, focusing on the qualitative experimental methodology of psychologist Frederic BARTLETT. I begin by contextualizing BARTLETT's experiments within the continental research tradition of his time, which was in a state of transition from a focus on elements (the concern of psychophysics) to a focus on wholes (the concern of Gestalt psychology). The defining feature of BARTLETT's early experiments is his holistic treatment of human responses, in which the basic unit of analysis is the active person relating to some material within the constraints of a social and material context. This manifests itself in a number of methodological principles that contrast with contemporary understandings of experimentation in psychology. The contrast is further explored by reviewing the history of "replications and extensions" of BARTLETT's experiments, demonstrating how his methodology was progressively changed and misunderstood over time. An argument is made for re-introducing an open, qualitative and idiographic experimental method similar to the one BARTLETT practiced.

URN: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1503239


experimentation; Bartlett; history of psychology; idiographic analysis; remembering; holistic methodology

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17169/fqs-16.3.2367

Copyright (c) 2015 Brady Wagoner

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