Chronos and Psyche

Chronos and Psyche: The History of Physiological and Psychological Time Experiments

Henning Schmidgen


Reaction-time experiment with Hipp chronoscope (Wundt 1874)

This project dealt with the emergence and development of reaction-time experiments in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The reaction-time experiment has a key importance for the history of psychology and the cognitive neurosciences: starting in the 1880s, reaction-time measurements were widely conducted in order to determine the temporal relations in the human brain and nervous system. These measurements generated a wide range of hypotheses on the anatomical structures and physiological functions involved in reaction processes and provoked sometimes far-reaching arguments about the nature of human consciousness, thought, and voluntary action.

  • “Zur Genealogie der Reaktionsversuche in der experimentellen Psychologie,” in: C. Meinel (ed.), Instrument-Experiment: Historische Studien, Berlin: Diepholz – Verlag für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und der Technik, 2000.
  • “Of Frogs and Men: The Origins of Psychophysiological Time Experiments, 1850–1865,” in: Endeavour 26 (2002), no. 4, pp. 142-148.
  • (ed.) Experimental Arcades: The Materiality of Time Relations in Life Sciences, Art, and Technology (1830–1930), Preprint 226. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 2002.
  • “Time and Noise: The Stable Surroundings of Reaction Experiments, 1860–1890,” in: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 34 (2003), pp. 237-275.

Funding Institutions

Volkswagen Stiftung, Hannover