Experimental cognitive psychology research is a hidden force in our online lives. We engage with it, often unknowingly, whenever we download a health app, complete a Facebook quiz, or rate our latest purchase. How did experimental psychology come to play an outsized role in these developments? Experiments of the Mind considers this question through a look at cognitive psychology laboratories. Emily Martin traces how psychological research methods evolved, escaped the boundaries of the discipline, and infiltrated social media and our digital universe.
Martin recounts her participation in psychology labs, and she conveys their activities through the voices of principal investigators, graduate students, and subjects. Despite claims of experimental psychology’s focus on isolated individuals, Martin finds that the history of the field—from early German labs to Gestalt psychology—has led to research methods that are, in fact, highly social. She shows how these methods are deployed online: amplified by troves of data and powerful machine learning, an unprecedented model of human psychology is now widespread—one in which statistical measures are paired with algorithms to predict and influence users’ behavior.
Experiments of the Mind examines how psychology research has shaped us to be perfectly suited for our networked age.
Emily Martin is professor emerita of anthropology at New York University. Her many books include Bipolar Expeditions (Princeton). Twitter @hanmuli
“Venturing into the uncharted territory of the psychology lab, Emily Martin brilliantly illuminates the social processes and hidden practices that produce knowledge about the individual human subject. She argues convincingly that in our use of social media—informed by psychology’s logic and findings—we all risk becoming so many disciplined and manipulated experimental subjects. Experiments of the Mind is a nuanced, sympathetic, and masterful account of our current condition.”—Elizabeth Lunbeck, author of The Americanization of Narcissism
"Experiments of the Mind is an exceptional behind-the-scenes exploration of a science that has come to inform so much of our lives. Emily Martin’s superb book reminds us how disciplines have evolved through choices about their methods, and how these choices have impacted the world."—Jill G. Morawski, author of Practicing Feminisms, Reconstructing Psychology
“In Experiments of the Mind, Emily Martin brings her unique blend of observational acuity, analytical precision, and generosity of spirit to bear as she immerses herself in the laboratory life of experimental psychology. This beautifully written book reveals the mundane craftwork embedded in the psychological technologies fundamental to our digital present and shows that we have all become ‘psychological subjects.’”—Nikolas Rose, author of Our Psychiatric Future
"This book is engaging and accessible, and also theoretically informed and insightful. Experiments of the Mind will appeal to a wide audience, from general readers to researchers and scholars across the social sciences and humanities. I deeply enjoyed reading it."—Lucy A. Suchman, author of Human-Machine Reconfigurations
“This timely book uncovers the social and moral practices of experimental psychology and demonstrates their current implications, particularly in the commercial design of technology. As Emily Martin demonstrates, those ways of standardizing and individualizing behaviors are also how we unknowingly form our lives and ourselves. Experiments of the Mind is a rare accomplishment.”—Morten Nissen, Aarhus University