Joseph Jastrow

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Joseph Jastrow

Joseph Jastrow (January 30, 1863 – January 8, 1944) was an American psychologist, noted for inventions in experimental psychology, design of experiments, and psycho-physics. Jastrow was one of the first scientists to study the evolution of language, publishing an article on the topic in 1886. He also worked on the phenomena of optical illusions, and a number of well-known optical illusions (such as the Jastrow illusion) were either discovered or popularized in his work.

Schooling and appointments[edit]

Jastrow was born in Warsaw, Poland. A son of Talmud scholar Marcus Jastrow, Joseph Jastrow was the younger brother of the orientalist, Morris Jastrow, Jr. Joseph Jastrow came to Philadelphia in 1866 and graduated at Penn in 1882. Jastrow was a fellow in psychology at Johns Hopkins (1885–86), during which time he assisted C. S. Peirce with experiments in psycho-physics that introduced randomization and blinding for a repeated measures design.[1] From 1888 onwards, Jastrow was a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Professor Jastrow was head of the psychological section of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. He served as president of the American Psychological Association for the year 1900. He contributed to Science, the Psychological Review, and to other periodicals.

He died in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.[2] His wife was Rachel Szold, a sister of Henrietta Szold.

Anomalistic psychology[edit]

Jastrow was one of the founding members of the American Society for Psychical Research.[3] The early members of the society were skeptical of paranormal phenomena.[4] Jastrow took a psychological approach to psychical phenomena. By 1890 he had resigned from the society.[3] He became an outspoken critic of parapsychology.[5] In his book The Psychology of Conviction (1918) he included an entire chapter exposing Eusapia Palladino's tricks.[6]

Jastrow was a leading figure in the field of anomalistic psychology.[7] His book Fact and Fable in Psychology (1900) was a debunking of the claims of all kinds of occultism including Spiritualism, New Thought, Theosophy and Christian Science. In the 1920s he wrote a newspaper column Keeping Mentally Fit to spread the work of psychology and challenge the claims of Spiritualism. He also published a number of articles debunking paranormal claims in magazines such as Harper's Magazine and Popular Science in an effort to expose the general public to research in psychology.[8] He wrote that psychical researchers are wrong for endorsing cases of paranormal phenomena; psychological factors can explain them.[9]

He studied the psychology of paranormal belief and viewed paranormal phenomena as "totally unscientific and misleading," being the result of delusion, fraud, gullibility and irrationality.[10]


His publications include:

  • Charles Sanders Peirce and Joseph Jastrow (1885). "On Small Differences in Sensation". Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 3: 73–83. 
  • Time Relations of Mental Phenomena (1890)
  • Epitomes of Three Sciences (1890)
  • Fact and Fable in Psychology (1900)
  • The Subconscious (1906)
  • The Qualities of Men (1910)
  • Character and Temperament (1914)
  • "Charles Peirce as a Teacher" in The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, v. 13, n. 26, December, 723–726 (1916). Google Books and text-string search.
  • The Psychology of Conviction (1918)
  • The House that Freud Built (1932)
  • Wish and Wisdom: Episodes in the Vagaries of Belief (1935)
  • Story of Human Error (1936)


  1. ^ The Peirce-Jastrow experiment is increasingly recognized as the first properly randomized experiment, which led to psychology (and education) having laboratories for and textbooks on randomized experiments (decades before Ronald A. Fisher):
  2. ^ John F. Oppenheimer. (1971). Lexikon des Judentums. Bertelsmann. p. 321. ISBN 978-3570059647
  3. ^ a b Wade Pickren, Alexandra Rutherford. (2010). A History of Modern Psychology in Context. Wiley. ISBN 978-0470276099
  4. ^ John Melton. (1996). Psychical Research in Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. Gale Group. ISBN 978-0810394865
  5. ^ Paul Kurtz. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books. p. 551. ISBN 978-0879753009
  6. ^ Joseph Jastrow. (1918). The Psychology of Conviction. Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 101-127
  7. ^ Leonard Zusne, Warren H. Jones. (1989). Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking. Psychology Press. pp. 10-12. ISBN 978-0805805086
  8. ^ Steven C. Ward. (2002). Modernizing the Mind: Psychological Knowledge and the Remaking of Society. Praeger. pp. 144-145. ISBN 978-0275974503
  9. ^ David J. Hess. (1993). Science In The New Age: The Paranormal, Its Defenders & Debunkers, (Science & Literature). University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 27-28. ISBN 978-0299138240
  10. ^ Lawrence R. Samuel. (2011). Supernatural America: A Cultural History. Praeger. pp. 9-10. ISBN 978-0313398995

External links[edit]

Educational offices
Preceded by
John Dewey
9th President of the American Psychological Association
Succeeded by
Josiah Royce