Linnda R. Caporael

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Linnda Caporael is a professor at the Science and Technology Studies Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Educational background[edit]

Linnda R. Caporael is a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the department of Technical Studies and Science. She received her PhD in Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and she also studied human ethology at the Institute of Child Development at the University of London. She is a Fulbright-Hayes Scholar and a visiting scientist in the Dept. of Invertebrate Paleontology and in the Dept. of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. She researches culture from a biological persepective and biology from a cultural perspective.[1]

Contribution to Historiography of Salem Witch Trials[edit]

In April 1976, Caporael added a perspective to the historiography of the Salem Witch Trials, when she proposed that they were caused due to an outbreak of ergotism. Ergotism is a disease that results from eating rye bread that has been contaminated by the fungus, ergot. Her evidence for this theory include, growing conditions, localization, and symptoms. Ergot can cause hallucinations, crawling sensations in skin, tingling in fingers, headaches, and vomiting. According to Caporael, this theory could explain the victim's behaviors in the trials.[2]. In December, 1976, psychologists, Nicholas P. Spanos and Jack Gottlieb, refuted Caporael's theory by arguing that there was no evidence for symptoms of convulsive ergotism in Salem and no evidence that the growing conditions were prime for ergot.[3]. In 1982, historian, Mary Matossian, defended Caporael's theory by restating that the weather conditions were prime for growing ergot and that the symptoms of ergot matched the symptoms of the victims.[4]. A year later in 1983, Nicholas Spanos challenged Matossian saying that her information was misleading, irrelevant, and incorrect.[5].


Caporael is interested and has studied the following topics:

  • Evolution of human sociality.
  • Group coordination.
  • Social identity.
  • Behavioral decision-making.
  • The attribution of human characteristics to animals.
  • Machines and artificial agents.
  • Evolutionary and technological designs.
  • The design of culturally "fit" artifacts.

Published works[edit]


  1. ^ Rensselaer. "Linnda Caporael." Accessed April 17, 2017.
  2. ^ Caporael, Linnda. 1976. "Ergotism: The Satan Loosed in Salem?". Science. 192, no. 4234:21-26.
  3. ^ Spanos, Nicholas, and Jack Gottlieb. 1976. "Ergotism and the Salem Village Witch Trials". Science. 194, no. 4272: 1390-1394.
  4. ^ Matossian, M K. 1982. "Ergot and the Salem Witchcraft Affair". American Scientist. 70, no. 4:355.
  5. ^ Spanos, Nicholas. 1983. "Ergotism and the Salem Witch Panic: A Critical Analysis and an Alternative Conceptualization". Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. 19, no. 4:358-369.

External links[edit]