Random Thoughts

Notes on an Argument for Mind

... a very nice discovery

by Ed Boyd

To my great surprise and pleasure, when browsing in the Melrose Library, I stumbled on “An Argument for Mind” by Jerome Kagan. I have been going through this delicious book by Kagan who in loving detail discusses his fifty years of psychological research. This is a text written in plain English that everyone will easily understand. It, too, is filled with homey details that give us a good look at the person, Jerome Kagan.




I had met Kagan when I was the Director of the Walter Dearborn School, one of the three Schools for Children run by Lesley College. This was in the sixties and I remember being very impressed by Kagan. Later, in the eighties, I got to know Jerry Kagan a lot better as we both were very interested in the Higashi School, a Japanese program for autistic children. I remember meeting in his office at Harvard to interview American candidates for the Higashi School which was about to be transported here to the United States. I am on the brink of eighty and have long since lost contact with the Higashi School and Kagan, too. We have not talked in twenty years so it is very nice to be in touch again with Jerry through his book.

It is not my intention to give a review of this book but I do see we have the same interest in measuring personality. Kagan discusses the devices that have been used for measuring personality, The Thematic Apperception Test and The Rorschach Ink Blot Test. In both of these tests the clinician is after measuring motives and conflicts.  The T.A.T consists of a set of cards that portray human figures in a variety of settings and situations. A subject is asked to tell a story about: the event shown in the picture; what has led up to it; what the characters in the picture are feeling and thinking; and the outcome of the event. In the Rorschach there are ten blots, a few with colors. The only cue is the examiner asks, “What might this be?” The examiner is encouraging, being careful not to prompt ideas.

The problem with these tests, Kagan asserts, “…there was insufficient evidence to support the basic assumption behind their use.”  Jerry Kagan writes, “I remember being criticized by a Yale professor in a graduate seminar because of my interpretation of a Rorschach protocol I had gathered on a client attending a clinic. The woman saw female genitals on several ink blots; convinced that she was trying to shock me with her permissive attitude toward sexuality, I told the class that she wished to present a persona of sexual freedom. ‘Absolutely not’, the professor insisted, ‘Anyone who sees genitals is psychotic.’”

Kagan continued, “One memory from my hundreds of administrations of the T.A.T. to the plebes (West Point) remains clear…I remember the story the plebe told of the blank card because the unusual degree of humility and self-abasement. The plebe imagined an Army-Navy game in which Army was behind 7-6, was on the Navy’s five-yard line, and time left for one more play. The Army quarterback selected the wrong play, and Army lost the game. Peter Dawkins, the young man who told the story, became an all-American quarterback for Army…”

Jerry Kagan went on to say, “Although both tests are used less often today, they remain popular with clinicians who have responsibility of diagnosing motives and conflicts. An inadequate method is better than no method at all…” (See page 51-54, An Argument for Mind.)

This subject interests me because until 1995 I was still using these methods from time to time. I, too, became very skeptical about the use of these methods though I was obligated to use them. A problem for me was that the protocols were to be administered and then an expert was to decide what they meant. If the expert got out of the wrong side of the bed on a given morning the interpretation might be different. Toward the end of my career I developed a habit of giving the TAT and Rorschach, interpreted the results and then discussed the results with clients. My habit became one where I would offer an interpretation to a client but in the same breath I would ask, DOES THIS SEEM LIKE YOU. This made a major impact on my thinking as I began to connect more with clients where I had administered these tests. Ten years ago, when we decided to give up our large house and move to a condo, I shredded all my notes and records. I do remember one client who just sort of stared at the wall sort of in a stupor. I finally prompted him gently and he said, “Wow, I did not think anyone could ever understand me. Doc, that’s me.”

Too often a clinician would make up his mind about a client and leave it at that. I discovered that when I got into a discussion of what I had found in his responses, the client would see himself in what I reported or discuss something even more relevant to what I had found.

Reading Jerry Kagan’s book gave me a lift, brought me to life. I have been away from psychology work for about fifteen years. Jerry Kagan’s writing was just plain invigorating!  

Jerome Kagan, An Argument for Mind, Yale College, c.2006.


December 3, 2010           


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