experiments of the mind

the discipline of experimental cognitive psychology contains a powerful set of concepts and practices that play an active role both in research laboratories and in the daily lives of many people. The discipline of experimental psychology propels our concepts of the mind and the person in particular directions. This book follows a series of ethnographic clues that show where the discipline came from and how it is implicated in digital media like Facebook and Twitter and corporate internet platforms like Amazon or Google.

At its beginning, my ethnographic research in psychology labs felt a bit misguided. I struggled to maintain my sense of purpose because my anthropology colleagues and friends were frequently mystified by my choice of subject.

They found the topic of experimental psychology frankly boring, and when it evoked memories of introductory courses in psychology in college, they also found it old-fashioned and passé. Their reaction was not novel: more than one hundred years ago, William James spotted the beginning of experimental psychology in Germany and thought its large-scale, statistical methods would tax anyone’s patience to the utmost. Scornfully, he imagined these psychological experiments would create tedium that could only be borne by Germans, since they were incapable of being bored.

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