A founder of the academic discipline of psychology in the United States and the first promoter of the scientific study of the child, Hall received a doctorate in philosophy at Harvard with William James. In 1888, he became president and professor of psychology at the new Clark University. At Clark, where he remained for the rest of his career, Hall trained such prominent child psychologists as ARNOLD L. GESELL, Henry H. Goddard, and Lewis M. Terman. He authored hundreds of books and articles, established several academic journals, helped organize the American Psychological Association, and brought SIGMUND FREUD and Carl Jung to Clark in 1909. Hall's ideas shaped CHILD PSYCHOLOGY from the 1880s through the 1910s.
Hall popularized an instinct psychology that stressed the importance of natural impulses and biological imprinting. He thought that a child's innate nature unfolded over time through an evolutionary process, in which the development of the child recapitulated the development of the human race. Young children were like "primitive races" who advanced as they grew, achieving the level of the most "civilized races" by adulthood.
This theory of human growth had practical applications. Parents who understood what behavior to expect at certain ages could guide their children appropriately. Hall argued that young children were like animals who should be treated with indulgence and freedom. He recommended that children be kept away from school until the age of eight, since formal schooling might harm a young child's development. Young children should roam the countryside to learn the ways of nature or satisfy their instincts in informal settings free from adult standards of proper behavior. Guided by their own natural impulses, children would pass through the stages of childhood to become self-controlled adults.
In the early twentieth century Hall turned his attention to ADOLESCENCE, a term he introduced into widespread use. In his monumental study Adolescence (1904), he described a period of turmoil in which a child's instinctive, primitive nature struggled with more evolved characteristics. Hall concentrated on boys as he analyzed this critical stage of physical, mental, and emotional development.
Hall's ideas were widely disseminated and influenced the early child study movement, particularly the work of the National Congress of Mothers (later the Parent-Teacher Association), founded in 1897 as the first national group devoted to parent education. Hall was a frequent speaker at the organization's conventions and served as its chief scientific authority. Members of the group became participants in Hall's research, filling out detailed questionnaires about their children's behavior and speech for his research projects.
The instinct theory of child development came under attack in the 1920s as a new progressive orientation in social science stressed environmental over biological explanations of human development. Hall's research methods were challenged as unscientific, impressionistic, and sentimental. CHILD STUDY leaders in the 1920s adopted more rigorous scientific techniques and highlighted cultural influences on child development. By the 1920s, Hall's studies were largely discredited, though his ideas continued to have an influence on views of development as well as adolescence.
See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of.
Ross, Dorothy. 1972. G. Stanley Hall: The Psychologist as Prophet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Schlossman, Steven L. 1976. "Before Home Start: Notes toward a History of Parent Education in America, 1897–1929." Harvard Educational Review 46: 436–467.