Technological developments


Start date:


The impact of new technology on psychological research (1900-2000). The technology available for psychological research can have an important impact on the type of research undertaken, and the questions posed. For instance: 1975: Development of Beta VCR system by Sony (Japan) and the VHS system by Matsushita (Japan). The development and widespread availability of video cameras and players made observation a widely available methodology for a generation of psychologists. In part this was the result of affordability and transportability – videos were cheap and relatively unobtrusive. It was also because video is relatively easy to time-stamp, rewind and fast-forward, making careful analysis possible. Andrew Whiten, in his reply to request for information to EPoCH, stated: suspect it is not well enough recognised how far video has transformed both the observational and experimental work that I and like-minded scientists have been able to undertake in the later part of the twentieth century and since. Instead of fleeting, once-only perceptions of behaviour, the luxury of repeated viewings (at different speeds if required) has allowed us to become 'superhuman' in the new depth of analysis of complex behaviour that we can achieve.

1951: UNIVAC, the first commercial computer demonstrated at the US Census Bureau in Philadelphia 1965: The Minicomputer – Digital Equipment's PDP-8 1982: The personal computer: The use of computer technology in research has had a pronounced effect in a large number of areas, including the ability to conduct large scale factor analysis (something almost unimaginable when hand calculations would mean months or years of work), laboratory experiments of, for instance, reaction time measured in milliseconds by computer, and flight and driving simulators. Statistics, testing, experimental instrumentation, artificial intelligence, and teaching are some of the areas of psychology affected by the widespread availability of computers. Computers, and more specifically the Internet, have also enabled academics to communicate and collaborate more easily. The Internet is also becoming a popular laboratory for conducting research, allowing for wide sampling of a more general population than the undergraduates normally studied.\n1975–present: advances in brain imaging. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the only way to study neuropsychology was through case studies of brain damage. In a few cases, patients would present with localised brain damage, allowing the researcher to make generalisations about the functions of specific areas of the brain based on the deficits recorded in the individual patient. Later, as brain surgical techniques advanced, researchers were able to extrapolate brain function, often again from single case studies or small groups of patients, following for instance, surgical section of the corpus callosum or lobotomy.

At the same time, groups of patients with neurological disorders could be tested for cognitive deficits, yielding important discoveries for neuropsychology. However, advances in scanning technology and techniques (e.g. MRI or PET scans) at the end of the 20th century have allowed researchers to pinpoint areas of brain damage, allowing more precise, and non-invasive, studies of the links between the brain and cognitive and social abilities. Developments in measures of brain activity level and location also allow for more precise study of the neurological structures underpinning psychological function in 'normal' people engaging in everyday activities. The impact of new scanning techniques for neuropsychology has been likened to the invention of the telescope on astronomy.

2000: The mapping of the human genome. A working draft of the entire human genome sequence was announced in June 2000, which, alongside new techniques for genetic sampling, has also made possible further studies into the role of genetics in psychological characteristics and psychopathologies