Reflections on Early Days: ‘…such a light blue tinge’

Sometime after I took over as Secretary of the EPS in 1974, I was told by a former Treasurer that in the 1960’s the Officers had had a good clear-out of old correspondence. This lost archive had included a letter of resignation from H. J. Eysenck, in which he had declared that he ‘no longer wished to be a member of a group with such a light blue tinge’. Certainly, the published Proceedings of the EPG for 1952 record that ‘The resignation of Dr. H. J. Eysenck (Institute of Psychiatry, London) was accepted’ (Quarterly Journal, 1953, vol. 5, p 39). In October 1994 I wrote to Professor Eysenck asking if he could reconstruct his criticisms for the historical record. Within a few days I received his detailed reply and he has kindly agreed to its reproduction here. – JDM

Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5
1st November, 1994

Dear Dr. Mollon,
Thank you for your letter of 24th October 1994. I do remember the occasion of my resignation, and the reasons. As you will know, when I graduated there was a distinct hostility between experimental psychologists, represented by Bartlett and Cambridge generally, and correlational psychologists represented by Burt and University College, London, respectively. It seemed to me absurd that two obviously essential and valuable aspects of psychology should be ignorant of the contributions made by the other side, and openly contemptuous of it. The position was really quite ridiculous. I had several postgraduate students from Cambridge who told me they had one hour of statistics during their undergraduate time, and in London we only had one hour dealing with all of conditioning and learning theory! I was determined that the only course to follow was to combine these two aspects of psychology, very much in the way that Cronbach later on suggested in his 1957 APA Presidential Address.
When the Experimental Psychology group split off from the BPS, I was hoping that it might act as an agent for such a coming-together of the two branches of scientific psychology. However, I was very disappointed to see it was in effect merely an effort to start a Cambridge-led and dominated group which would proclaim the one-sided efforts of traditional fundamentalists, leaving out the contribution that might be made by paying attention to genetic factors, individual differences, etc.
I was at the time particularly concerned to give an experimental underpinning to the newly-emerging profession of clinical psychologists, i.e. its foundations in conditioning and learning theory, etc., combined in this with the individual differences that are so apparent in this field. I encouraged Monty Shapiro, whom I had just appointed to run the Clinical Section, to apply for membership of the Experimental Psychology group, knowing that he was particularly interested and active in carrying out experimental work in the clinical field. His application was rejected, and I felt that to be a good reason for resigning, as it seemed to me to betray a very rigid and narrow concept of experimentation.
Some Cambridge people of course have done important work in trying to bring about such a reconciliation; my old friend, Don Broadbent, is an outstanding example. But on the whole the situation, although somewhat improved, still seems to me sadly dichotomous. Perhaps I should have persevered and tried to make the Experimental Psychology group less introverted, but I had a lot of other things to do at the time, and I left people like Irene Martin, to do what they could. I have never underestimated the importance of purely experimental research, but I am more convinced than ever that we will never have a proper unified psychology until this particular dichotomy is resolved.
All best wishes,
Yours sincerely,
H. J. Eysenck

  1. History of the EPS: Beginnings
  2. History of the EPS: Meetings
  3. History of the EPS: Overseas Contacts
  4. History of the EPS: Publications
  5. History of the EPS: Membership
  6. Reflections on the Early Days: Past Perceptions
  7. Reflections on the Early Days: The EPS and the EPG
  8. Reflections on the Early Days: ‘….such a light blue tinge’
  9. Oral History
  10. List of EPS Officers and Committee Members