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Topic section: The Tool User
TOPIC SECTION:
The Tool User
The last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed great reforms in the treatment and management of the population. Innovative educational l
Picture: 02A_10288979.jpg
Phrenological head measurer, c.1850.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
egislation created a need for facts and theories about the mental capacities of young children. Fears over ‘the state of the nation question’ created a demand for data on the health of the nation’s soldiers. Asylum reformers called for new knowledge of the causes and treatment of insanity. All these movements required novel tools of interpretation and intervention. Psychology was ready to provide them.

Tools can be used to study psychological problems such as depression or anxiety

The Tool User is a pragmatist: what counts is what works. It is hardly surprising, then, that this model is normally applied in administrative and practical contexts: places central to the maintenance of order in industrial society such as classrooms, hospitals, factories and barracks.

Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky placed the idea of the psychological tool at the centre of his work. He
Picture: 02B_10284221.jpg
Phrenology's once radical claim - that the brain is the organ of mind - has now become a matter of common sense.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 believed that tools are bridges between the self and others: ‘The central fact about our psychology is the fact of mediation.’ According to Vygotsky, tools include ‘various systems for counting; mnemonic techniques; algebraic symbol systems; works of art; writing; schemes, diagrams, maps, and technical drawings; all sorts of conventional signs, and so on’.

Language is the most important psychological tool for Vygotsky. Not only does language mediate thoughts, feelings and behaviours, it also makes self-awareness possible. Initially used as a means of communication between the adult and the child, language is gradually internalised as the child’s own thought.

Psychological tools can also be pen-and-paper tests, charts of normal development or statistical techniques. Tools can be used to study psychological problems such as depression or anxiety, but they can measure normal and abnormal functioning alike. Some tools assess the mental development of babies, others measure adult intelligence. All psychological tools share the goal of gaining insight into mental life in order to change it for the better.

 
 
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Topic section: The ‘Puzzle Solver’
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The model of human as Puzzle Solver was promoted late in the nineteenth century by Wilhelm Wundt. His focus on behaviour and its successor, behaviourism, has now been superseded by cognitive neuroscience.  > more

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Topic section: The Story Teller
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The model of Story Teller underpins psychoanalysis. This has influenced philosophy, cultural studies and English literature – and is now making a belated return to psychology.  > more
 
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