Was John B. Watson Inspired by Anna Wyczółkowska and Her Studies in the Mechanism of Speech?

Cezary W. Domański


In 1913, an article by Anna Wyczółkowska entitled Theoretical and experimental studies in the mechanism of speech was published in the Psychological Review. It contains the results of her studies on internal speech and thought, which had been carried out by the author seven years earlier, in the psychological laboratory of the University of Chicago. John B. Watson was a participant in the study. Wyczółkowska believed that Watson was inspired by her research. Thanks to his participation, he gradually began to move away from his original interest in animal psychology, towards behaviourism. In his Behaviorist Manifesto published in the same year, Watson took, as one of the arguments for the rightness of his programme, the assumption that the thought process is really motor habits in the larynx, improvements, short cuts, changes, etc. According to Wyczółkowska, it was obviously inspired by her research. Her aforementioned article is still cited in the psychological literature today, and belongs to the canon of the most important early experimental studies in the field of research on thinking and speech processes. This text discusses the relationship between the research conducted by Wyczółkowska and some assumptions of behaviourism. Furthermore it presents the story of Wyczółkowska’s life, her scientific work, social commitment to women’s university education, and activities in the Polish American community.

Słowa kluczowe: classic studies of the motor theory of thinking, internal speech, women in the history of psychology, Anna Wyczółkowska, John B. Watson, behaviourism.

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