The psychologist and educator Granville Stanley Hall (1846-1924) was one of the pioneers of psychology in the United States, which would become the core of this science in the following decades. Not only did he train several renowned psychologists, but he also founded laboratories, journals and the American Psychological Association .

Although Stanley Hall’s theories and views have not resisted the progress of the discipline, this author was instrumental in establishing scientific psychology as we know it today, especially in the field of youth development. Let’s see what his main contributions were.

Biography of Granville Stanley Hall

Granville Stanley Hall was born in Ashfield, Massachusetts in 1846. He studied at Harvard University with William James in the first course of Psychology in the United States, and was the first American to obtain a doctorate in this discipline.

He lived in Germany for a while, where he studied at the University of Berlin and collaborated with Wilhelm Wundt in his laboratory in Leipzig. He later returned to his native country, where he taught philosophy and English language until he was hired as a professor of psychology and pedagogy at Johns Hopkins University.

In 1883 he founded the first psychology laboratory in the United States, in 1887 he created the American Journal of Psychology and was also a key influence in the creation of the American Psychological Association, of which he was president for 31 years. He was also the first president of Clark University, founded in 1889.

During his long and prolific career Hall focused on development throughout the life cycle , especially in the early stages, and on the education of young people. He was also interested in the theory of evolution and the psychological explanation of supernatural beliefs, including religion and spiritualism.

The theory of recapitulation

At a conceptual level, Stanley Hall’s best known contribution is his theory of recapitulation, which states that Ontogenetic development is reminiscent of phylogenetic development . This means that the changes that we experience as people throughout the life cycle are equivalent to those that took place with the evolution of our species.

According to this author, during the first years of life we humans differ little from other animals, but when we reach adulthood (and with the help of education) we reach the full cognitive potential of the species, related mainly to the ability to reason properly.

Stanley Hall described different characteristics of development in the early stages of life , which were the ones that focused his interest, although towards the end of his life he also theorized about senescence.

1. Early childhood

In the first stage of life, up to approximately 6 or 7 years of age, children perceive the world primarily through the senses; reasoning is still very immature, and the influence of socialization is very limited.

Stanley Hall considered that in this period people are very similar to animals , specifically to apes, which he saw as ancestors of human beings. In early childhood children have a lot of energy and their bodies develop very quickly.

This phase, then, would be characterized by how little information about the world is processed, taking that data “as it comes”. That is, there would be an absence of abstract thought.

2. Second childhood

At the age of 8, children’s brains are practically the same size as those of adults; it is at this age that should begin formal education , according to Stanley Hall. However, he believed that primary and secondary education should be a preparation for life in society rather than focusing on traditional subjects such as mathematics.

This author claimed that incomplete development of reasoning makes pre-teens amoral and prone to cruelty. The role of adults during this period should be to care for the child’s physical health, not so much to try to develop a moral conscience or acquire skills and knowledge.

3. Adolescence

Like Freud, Stanley Hall was one of the first psychologists to argue that in adolescence sexuality becomes a central aspect of life . Because of this, he promoted education separated by sexes in order to favour the learning of morality and the tools for life in society, now possible due to the maturation of reasoning.

This was one of those situations in which psychology was mixed with politics, and of course, many criticisms appeared due to the lack of foundation of the ideas that emerged from psychoanalysis and due to the educational consequences of establishing a separation of these characteristics.

The Legacy of Stanley Hall

G. Stanley Hall was instrumental in the foundation of psychology as a science and as a profession , as well as in the emergence of developmental psychology. His views and, above all, his promotion of the study of this field influenced authors such as Jean Piaget, who developed one of the most relevant theories on the stages of development.

During his long period as a teacher, Stanley Hall taught and tutored many psychologists and philosophers who would be of crucial importance in the progress of psychology, most notably during the following decades. Among them, James McKeen Cattell, Lewis M. Terman, John Dewey, Henry Goddard and Arnold Gesell stand out.

On the other hand, Stanley Hall was also key in the arrival of psychoanalysis, an orientation with which he shared different points of view, to the United States. In 1909 he invited Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to Clark University , where they gave a series of lectures that had a great influence on American psychology, despite the rejection by many experts of the unscientific methods of psychoanalysts.

In addition to the American Journal of Psychology, Stanley Hall founded three other journals, of which he was also editor: Pedagogical Seminary, American Journal of Religious Psychology and Education, and Journal of Race Development. In relation to the latter, it should be noted that Stanley Hall defended eugenic perspectives and the superiority of the white race.

Granville Stanley Hall is best remembered for his role in founding the American Psychological Association and his long tenure as its president, a role he played from the founding of the APA in 1892 until his death in 1924. Today this organization constitutes the largest and most influential community of psychologists in the world.