Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett

The British psychologist Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett (1886-1969) made his main contribution through the development of applied experimental psychology in Britain during and after World War II.

Frederic Bartlett was born on Oct. 22, 1886. He was educated privately and at St. John's College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow. Strongly influenced by the physician, ethnologist, and psychologist W.H.R. Rivers, Bartlett showed early leanings toward anthropology; but circumstances, not the least of which was the outbreak of World War I, led him to a career in psychology. After the war Bartlett returned to Cambridge, succeeding C.S. Myers as director of the psychological laboratory in 1922 and becoming professor of experimental psychology in 1931, a post which he held until his retirement in 1952. He died at Cambridge on Sept. 30, 1969.

Bartlett's early interests lay in the experimental study of perception and memory. He distrusted the over analytical approach of the German workers and endeavored to make the conditions of his experiments as lifelike as possible. In his book Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology (1932), which had considerable influence, he brought together the results of a long series of experiments. Bartlett laid special stress upon the extent of reconstruction, and even invention, that takes place in recall and upon the part played by attitude, interest, and social convention in governing it. He later carried further the approach developed in Remembering to the study of other higher mental processes, in particular, thinking, and published a short book on the subject, Thinking: An Experimental and Social Study (1958).

Problems in Applied Psychology

On the outbreak of World War II, Bartlett turned over the resources of his laboratory almost entirely to applied work, and problems were brought to him in ever-increasing numbers by the armed services and by various government bodies. These problems were concerned with such matters as equipment design, training methods, fatigue, and personnel selection. To tackle them, Bartlett brought together a noteworthy group of young experimental psychologists under the leadership of K.J.W. Craik. Many of these were subsequently incorporated into the Medical Research Council's Applied Psychology Research Unit, of which Bartlett assumed direction after Craik's death. While mostly concerned with applied work, Bartlett was always alert to its potential scientific value and its importance for developing realistic theories of human behavior.

Outside experimental psychology, Bartlett retained his interest in anthropology, publishing the book Psychology and Primitive Culture (1923) and sponsoring the influential collective volume The Study of Society: Methods and Problems (1939). In his numerous papers on social issues, he invariably stressed the extent of common ground and the need to develop more disciplined research methods.

Bartlett played a leading part in the growth and development of psychology in Britain for more than 40 years. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1932, received seven honorary degrees, and was knighted in 1948.

Further Reading on Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett

Bartlett wrote a short account of his early life and of the history of the Cambridge Psychological Laboratory up to 1935 in Carl Murchison, ed., A History of Psychology in Autobiography, vol. 3 (1936). Muzafer Sherif, Social Interaction: Process and Products (1967), discusses social psychology and mentions Bartlett's contributions.

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