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


  • Brady Wagoner Aalborg University




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


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


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Author Biography

Brady Wagoner, Aalborg University

Brady WAGONER is professor of psychology and director of the MA and Doctoral programs in cultural psychology at Aalborg University. He completed is Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, where he was co-founder of the F.C. Bartlett Internet Archive and the journal Psychology & Society. His research interests include cultural psychology, memory, imagination, cultural diffusion, creativity, metaphor and social change—subjects on which he has published a wide range of articles and books. He is currently finishing three books: "The Constructive Mind: Frederic Bartlett’s Psychology in Reconstruction" (Cambridge University Press), "The Psychology of Imagination: Social and Cultural Perspectives" and "The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Memory" (Oxford University Press).




How to Cite

Wagoner, B. (2015). Qualitative Experiments in Psychology: The Case of Frederic Bartlett’s Methodology. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 16(3). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-16.3.2367



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