Biography of Psychologist G. Stanley Hall

G. Stanley Hall center
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G. Stanley Hall was a psychologist perhaps best-known as the first American to earn a Ph.D. in psychology and for becoming the first President of the American Psychological Association. He also had a significant influence on the early development of psychology in the United States. Through his work as a teacher, he influenced a number of other leading psychologists including John Dewey and Lewis Terman.

According to a 2002 review of eminent psychologists of the twentieth century, Hall was ranked as the 72nd most-cited psychologist, a ranking he shared with his student Lewis Terman.

Best Known For

  • Became the first President of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1892
  • Founded the first American psychology laboratory at John Hopkins University
  • First American to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology

His Early Life

Granville Stanley Hall was born on February 1, 1884. He grew up on a farm in Ashfield, Massachusetts. His father was a politician and his mother a teacher, an upbringing that had an early influence on his love of learning. He initially enrolled at Williston Academy in 1862, but later transferred to Williams College. After his graduation in 1867, he attended Union Theological Seminary. His initial studies and work centered on theology.

However, like many students of this time period, he was inspired to turn to psychology by Wilhelm Wundt's Principles of Physiological Psychology. While it was still a very young field, but his readings inspired him to make the switch from philosophy to psychology.

Hall went on to earn a doctorate in psychology from Harvard University under psychologist William James and Henry P. Bowditch. G. Stanley Hall holds the distinction of being the first American to be granted a Ph.D. in Psychology. Hall also studied briefly in Wundt's experimental lab, noted as the first experimental psychology laboratory in the world.

Career and Accomplishments

When he returned to the U.S. after his time working with Wundt, Hall presented a series of lectures focused on education and then went on to publish his first written work, an analysis of German culture. 

While G. Stanley Hall initially began his career teaching English and philosophy, he eventually took a position as a Professor of Psychology and Pedagogics at John Hopkins University. Among his many accomplishments was the creation of the American Journal of Psychology in 1887.

During his time at John Hopkins, he also established the first experimental psychology laboratory in the United States.

In 1888, Hall left John Hopkins University and in 1889 he became President of Clark University, where he would remain for the next 31 years.

Hall's approach represented a transitional period in psychological thought. Many of his ideas were still rooted in his conservative, Victorian upbringing, but marked by the influence of more modern 20th-century thought. 

These were a time of great professional triumph, but the period was marked by personal tragedy. In 1890, his wife and eight-year-old daughter both died of accidental asphyxiation. Later, his second wife was admitted to a mental hospital after years of erratic behavior.

Hall had a wide circle of friends and professional acquaintances throughout the world but also had his critics. He was professionally prolific, writing extensively and also founding a number of journals and associations.

In 1892, Hall was elected as the first president of the American Psychological Association. In 1909, he famously invited a group of psychologists including Sigmund Freud to speak at Clark University. The trip was Freud's first and only visit to the United States.

Contributions to Psychology

G. Stanley Hall's primary interests were in evolutionary psychology and child development. He was heavily influenced by Ernst Haeckel's recapitulation theory, which suggested that embryonic stages of an organism resemble the stages of development of the organism's evolutionary ancestors, a theory that is today rejected by most evolutionary scientists.

Hall was also a eugenicist, often opening expressing his views in writing. He also led a number of organizations devoted to eugenics. The eugenics movement suggested that the human population would be improved by promoting groups judged as being genetically superior to others.

While much of Hall's work is considered outdated and unscientific by today's standards, some of his writings on adolescence remain relevant. Hall devoted a large amount of his work to understanding adolescent development, particularly in the area of aggression. He is often referred to as "the father of adolescence" thanks to his early interest and emphasis on this critical point in development.

He described two different types of aggression, which were relational aggression and physical aggression. Where he suggested that physical aggression was more common among males, he believed that females were more likely to exhibit relational aggression. This type of aggression involves tactics such as social exclusion and gossip.

Perhaps his greatest contribution was to the development and growth of early psychology. By the year 1898, Hall had supervised 30 out of the 54 Ph.D. degrees that had been awarded in the United States. Some of those who studied under his influence include Lewis Terman, John Dewey, and James McKeen Cattell.

Hall's contributions helped establish psychology in the United States and paved the way for future psychologists.

He died on April 24, 1924, at the age of 80.

Select Publications

  • Hall, G.S.. (1904). Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education. 2 vols. New York, Appleton.
  • Hall, G. Stanley. (1906). Youth: Its Education, Regiment, and Hygiene. New York, Appleton.
  • Hall, G. Stanley. (1911). Educational Problems. 2 vols. New York, Appleton.

A Word From Verywell

G. Stanley Hall was instrumental in the development of early psychology in the United States. He is known for his many firsts, including being the first American to earn a Ph.D. in psychology, the first to open a psychology lab in the U.S., and the first president of the APA. In addition to his many accomplishments, he helped pave the way for future psychologists who also left prominent marks on the history of psychology.

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