International and Computer Connections in Psychoacoustics – Part II

Robert Traynor
July 27, 2011

In Part I last week, we left this discussion of the internationial connections in Experimental Psychology and Psychacoustics as an Englishman Edward Tichener (1867-1927) (pictured right) became interested in the writings of Wundt (pictured left) and later went to study with him in Leipzig, Germany.  After his study with Wundt, he began his distinguished career by teaching his version of Wundt’s ideas as a professor of Psychology at Cornell University.  

Titchener derived his ideas from Wundt in that the basic components of the mind could be defined and categorized so  that the structure of mental processes and higher thinking could be determined, a psychological concept called Structuralism.  In 1905, a young engineering student took Tichener’s basic psychology course as an elective. Although young EG Boring (1886-1968) ultimately finished his Electrical Engineering degree in 1908 and worked at Bethleham Steel for a time, he was extremely impressed with Tichener and the field of Psychology.  After studying with with Tichener in his lab at Cornell and receiving a doctorate in 1914, Boring spent four additional years as an instructor at Cornell. 

Boring (pictured left) ended up at Harvard University teaching his interpretation of Tichener’s version of Wundt’s philosophy and during WWI, assisted with the US Army’s intelligence testing, becoming chief psychological examiner at Camp Upton, Long Island.  Although he was active in the development and conduction of these examinations, he remained skeptical of these examinations throughout his career. From the 1920s until his death in 1968, Boring was considered “Mr.Psychology” and one of the influencial leaders of Experimental Psychology from the 1920s through the 1960s.  One of Boring’s students at Harvard that became influencial at the institution and throughout the field was (non other than) Stanley Smith Stevens.

S.S. Stevens’ (pictured right) college career began like many of us.  Although he was accepted at Harvard Medical School he demurred on the grounds that the required payment of a $50 fee and the need to spend the summer taking a course in organic chemistry seemed equally unattractive. But he did decide to study at Harvard, and duly enrolled in the School of Education as the easiest (and most economical) path to Harvard’s resources. For Stevens the transforming experiences were E. G. Boring’s course on perception and his service as Boring’s unpaid research assistant. By the end of his second year, Stevens had earned a PhD in the Department of Philosophy (from which the Psychology Department emerged a year later).  A year studying physiology under Hallowell Davis and another as a research fellow in physics led to appointment at Harvard  in 1936 as an instructor in the Psychology Department, where he remained until his death on January 18, 1973 in Vail, Colorado. 

In a 2001 biography, Teghtsoonian indicates that Stevens revived a view broached by some in the nineteenth century, but also created a body of evidence that firmly established what is sometimes called the Psychophysical Power Law and sometimes Stevens’s Law. Steven’s Law concerns the relation between the strength of some form of energy, such as the sound pressure level of a tone, and the magnitude of the corresponding sensory experience, loudness in this example.  Or for audiologists, the fact that 6 dB of intensity is twice a loud…How many times have you used that in your career!

Stevens’ collaboration with Hallowell Davis (pictured right) in the late 1930s resulted in Hearing:  Its Psychology and Physiology, a book that for many years was the fundamental source on the topic and has been ranked by some scholars as second only to the work of Helmholtz in its originality and breadth.  In addition to his measurements of loudness, he did important work on auditory localization, and on the relation of pitch to intensity. At the request of the US Army Air Corps he established the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory at Harvard in 1940 (collaborating with LL Beranek’s Electro Acoustic Laboratory) to study the effect of noise on pilot psychomotor efficiency. As its director, he has many achievements and contributions to the knowledge in hearing and other areas, but is also responsible for his work on measurement.  Teghtsoonian (2001) indicates that Steven’s work on measurement is often quoted but seldom read. The work on measurement has led to the classic methods used today for research:

Stevens’ Classification of Scales (after Stevens, 1959,
p.25, 27)
Scale Operation Examples Location Dispersion Association Test
Nominal Equality Numbering of players Mode     Chi-square
Ordinal Greater or less Hardness of minerals
Street numbers
Raw scores
Median Percentiles Rank-order correlation Sign test
Run test
Interval Distance Temperature: Celsius
Position, Time
Standard scores(?)
Arithmetic mean Standard deviation Product-moment correlation t-test
Ratio Ratio Numerosity (Counts)
Length, Density
Position, Time
Brightness: brils
Geometric mean
Harmonic Mean
Percent variation    

So at this point we have a direct international line from Wundt to SS (Smitty)Stevens……..and No wonder Harvard was the center of the hearing universe during WWII.

Of course most audiologists remember Joseph Carl Robnett (JCR) Licklider (1915-1990) (pictured right) as the author of the famous chapter in the first edition of SS Stevens’ Handbook of Experimental Psychology.  He attended Washington University in St. Louis where he received three bachelor’s degrees in physics, math, and psychology.  JCR Licklider was not really a direct decendent of Wundt, studying at the University of Rochester where he did his doctoral work in psychoacoustics (the psychophysiology of the auditory system),  graduating in 1942 at the height of the WWII effort in the United States.  That same year, he went to work at Harvard’s Psychoacoustics Laboratory where he worked with SS Stevens, Hallowell Davis and other famous “psychologists” working on problems related to hearing and its perception.  He was especially involved in a project for the Army Air Corps (later called the US Air Force) to find solutions for the communication problems faced by crewman in noisy bomber aircraft.  Here was Licklider’s connection with Wundt, his ideas and the derivation of them through Tichener, Boring, Stevens and Davis. ….. And to those of us that benefit from the legacy of his studies and those of the others involved in hearing  research during WWII, we all owe a great deal as the fundamentals of our discipline (Audiology) were created by their dedication and hard work.  Their students were indeed extremely lucky and blessed to have worked with the masters and creators of the fundamentals for a new discipline…If Carhart is the Father of Audiology, then truly these pioneers gave him the tools to create the field.

OK… for the Punch Line……How is this connected to computers and the Internet?

 J.C.R. Licklider (Lick) moved to MIT in 1950.   In the late 50’s and early 60’s he begins publishing his the early ideas behind the Internet. By 1957, while vice-president of Bolt Berank and Newman he published a paper, “Man-Computer Symbiosis” in 1960. Internet consists of ideas not inventions. He foresaw the need for networked computers with easy user interfaces. His ideas foretold of graphical computing, point-and -click interfaces, digital libraries, e-commerce, online banking, and software that would exist on a network and migrate to wherever it was needed. He has been called, “Computing’s Johnny Appleseed,” a well-deserved nickname for a man who planted the seeds of computing in the digital age. (Waldrop, 2000).

According to all, “Lick” was a warm person and “humble to a fault.” It seems fitting to end this tribute to  those that established the fundamentals of our profession with a quote from him:

It seems reasonable to envision, for a time 10 or 15 years hence, a ‘thinking center’ that will incorporate the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval.

The picture readily enlarges itself into a network of such centers, connected to one another by wide-band communication lines and to individual users by leased-wire
services. In such a system, the speed of the computers would be balanced, and the cost of the gigantic memories and the sophisticated programs would be divided by the number of users.

–  J.C.R. Licklider, Man-Computer Symbiosis, 1960

.….And now in the words of the late, great Paul Harvey, Now you know the REST of the story….RMT


— Next week Hearing international will feature a submitted article by Maree Harper, Audiologist from New Zealand and the Founder of  Her title:  Acouple of Interesting Things. -RMT



Cerullo J.  (1988). “E. G. Boring: Reflections on a descipline builder” American Journal of Psychology, No. 101.

JCR Licklider, (1960).  Man-Computer Symbiosis

Stevens S. S. (1959). Measurement, psychophysics and utility. In C. W. Churchman & P. Ratoosh (Eds.), Measurement: definitions and theories. New York: John Wiley, Chp. 2. Retrieved from the World Wide Web July 27, 2011:

Teghtsoonian, R. (2001).  S.S. Stevens Biography. In  Smelser, Neil J.; and Paul B. Baltes (2001). International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Amsterdam, New York: Elsevier. pp. 15105–15108.  Retrived from the World Wide Web July 27, 2011:

Waldrop, M. “Computing’s Johnny Appleseed.” Technology Review, Jan/Feb 2000. Retrived from the World Wide Web July 27, 2011:

Wright, B. (1997).  Stevens Revisited. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 11:1, pp. 552-553. Retrievedfrom the World Wide Web: July 27, 2011:

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