International and Computer Connections in Psychacoustics – Part I

Robert Traynor
July 19, 2011

One of my first professorial assignments was to teach a Hearing Science Course at the University of Northern Colorado. As most new professors will agree, first course preparations are among the most difficult of their career and this particular assignment required a huge amount Psychology by S.S. Stevens (Pictured on the left).  Dr. Stevens (known as Smitty to his friends) presented the latest thinking of, in his words, a “community of experts”.  In the Preface he indicated that no single specialist could marshal the erudition required for an inventory of experimental psychology’s facts and findings (Stevens, 1951).  This treatise in experimental psychology was a compilation of the information available until the late 1940s.  Of course, it’s now a new century and new group of new Experimental Psychology scholars as well as their research has grown Stevens’ single volume of 36 Chapters and 1435 pages in 1951 to 4 volumes of about 800 pages each.of readingand interaction with the classics in the field Psychacoustics. In the mid-1970s, probably the most technical discussions of these topics, then a part of Experimental Psychology are offered by JCR Licklider, Hallowell Davis and Georg von Bekesy in their chapters for the first edition of the Handbook of ExperimentalAmong the many classic discussions of basic psychoacoustic research in this volume, Audiologists will note the chapters by Georg von Bekesy, pictured right), a contemporary and Harvard colleague of Stevens’ titled the Mechanical Properties of the Ear.  Additionally, JCR Licklider (“LCD” or “Lick” to his friends),pictured left, worked with Stevens at Harvard during WWII, offered two chapters; The Basic Correlates of Auditory Stimulus and The Perception of Speech both becoming the scientific basis for future audiology (and Speech-Language Pathology) textbooks.  Hallowell Davis (Hal to his friends and pictured right), offered the chapter Psychophysiology of Hearing and Deafness, preparing for the way for his collaboration on a number of editions of Hearing and Deafness with S. Richard Silverman at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis.  Much of the material in these references and from research and clinical application of these concepts by these pioneer authors and their students, led to the research and audiological concepts of today.

As clinicians we think of these individuals as scholars of the basics before there really was a field of Audiology, but in the basic science of what we do every day, they are true also fathers of the profession, along with CC Bunch and his student, Raymond Carhart. While we often study the concepts and the physical laws that are the basics of our profession, we do often not look at the beginnings of studies that have shaped the concepts that have become the field of Audiology.

Hearing International wanted to know where & when the basics of Experimental Psychology (and subsequently, Audiology) begin?  Was there an International connection?  If so, how did this field get the USA?  And …What could one of these classic authors possibly have to do with THE INTERNET AND COMPUTERS?

Looks like it all started back in the 1700s with Viktor Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777), a Swiss Physician, Anatomist, and Naturalist.  Dr. von Haller served as the Chair of Medicine, Anatomy and Botany and Surgery at the University of Gottingen (Germany) and his book, Elementa Physiologiae Corporis Humani was a major textbook of anatomy during the 18th century.  The quantity of work achieved by Dr. Haller in the seventeen years during which he occupied his Gottingen professorship was immense and contributed greatly to the sciences physiology and anatomy.  Gaining prominence in the 1830s at the University of Berlin was Johannes Peter Mueller (1801-1858), producing 267 papers in his short 56 year lifetime and a textbook of anatomy and physiology that was the bible of the field through the 19th century, he is often compared to Dr. von Haller in terms of research and
publication production.  Müller made contributions in numerous domains of physiology, in particular increasing understanding of the voice, speech, and hearing, as well as the chemical and physical properties of lymph, chyle, and blood.  The appearance of his magnum opus, Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen, between 1833 and 1840 (translated into English as “Elements of Physiology” and published in London 1837-1843) marked the beginning of a new period in the study of physiology. In it, for the first time, the results of human and comparative anatomy, as well as of chemistry and other departments of physical  science, and tools like the microscope, were brought to bear on the investigation of physiological problems.

About this time I would be getting bored and asking….Why do I care?  Bear with me it gets better!   

Dr. Mueller’s concepts had much do with the original autopsy of Ludwig von Beethhoven and other famous people of the 19th Century around the world.  Believe it or not…..Mueller was the doctoral advisor for none other than Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821-1894),pictured right, the father of resonation and number of other Physical Laws, such as the Law of the Conservation of Energy and Helmholtz Free Energy. During his time as a professor, Helmholtz has two famous students.  The first of which Heinrich Hertz (1832-1894) [no not rental cars, think Frequency or Hz].

The second of Helmholz’s notable advisees,Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), did much of Helmholtz’s work in the sensory physiology lab.  According to Cherry (20110), Wilhelm Wundt graduated from the University of Heidelberg with a degree in medicine. He went on to study briefly with Johannes Muller, at the University of Berlin, and then on to work with Helmholtz. Wundt’s work with these two individuals is thought to have heavily influenced his later work in experimental psychology. While Helmholtz felt that the mind and body were one, Wundt was of the opinion that the mind was a separate science.  After taking a position at the University of Liepzig, Wundt founded the first of only two psychology labs in existance at that time.  Psychology, and therefore, Expemental Psychology, gets its start as a field of science separate from philosophy and physiology.  Wundt (left) established the psychology journal, Philosophical Studies and later wrote the Principles of Physiological Psychology (1874)Wundt also established experimental procedures in psychological research.  A pioneer in psychological research was one of Wundt’s students, EB Tichenger (1867-1927) (Right).  An English scholar at Oxford University became interested in Wundt’s writings, translating the third edition of the Principles of Physiological Psychology into English.  However, the psychology of Wundt was not enthusiastically received at Oxford, so Tichener resolved to to to Leipzig and work with him directly.  There, he took his doctorate completing a dissertation on binocular effects of monocular stimulation.  Tichener accepted a professorship at Cornell University in 1892 (The US Connection) and for 35  years Tichener (on the right) presided over psychology at Cornell, where he was an institution unto himself, arrogantly lecturing in his academic robes and tolerating no dissent.  One of his students, EG Boring (1886-1927) (left) was interested in sensory and percepual aspects of human behavior.  He became a professor of Psychology at Harvard.

More about Tichener, EG Boring, and their connections to contemporary Psychacoustics and, the bonus, (possibly the winning question in the AAA Trivia Bowl) which of all these famous Experimental Psychologists have something to do with the INTERNET AND COMPUTER CONNECTIONS …next week in Part II of International and Computer Connections in Psychoacoustics – RMT



Cherry, K., (2011). Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920),, Retrieved from the World Wide Web May 21, 2011:

Davis, H., (1951). The Pyschophysiology of Hearing And Deafness, In S.S. Stevens Handbook of Experimental Psychololgy, John Wiley & Son: New York.

Kemp, D., (2011) Professor Ronald Hinchcliffe, The Independent, Retrieved from the World Wide Web May 12, 2011:

Licklider, J.C.R., (1951). Basic Corrleates of the Auditory Stimulus, In S.S. Stevens Handbook of Experimental Psychology, John Wiley & Son: New York.

Luce, R., & Naren, L. (1999). Social Psychology of Stereotypes: Biography of SS Stevens, Retrieved from the World Wide Web, May 12, 2011:

NNDB (2011).  Albrecht von Haller.  Soylent Communications:  Retrieved from the World Wide Web:  July 16, 2011:

Stevens, S.S., (1951). Preface. Handbook of Experimental Psychology, John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Watts, G. (2011). Ronald HinchCliffe, The Lancet, Retrieved from the world Wide Web May 12,

Zimmer, H. (2006).  Johannes Peter Mueller.  Profiles in Cardiology, Clin. Cardiol. 29, 327–328, 2006.   Retrieved from the World Wide Web:  July 16, 2011:

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