THE ROLE OF AGOSTINO GEMELLI IN THE EVOLUTION OF PSYCHOLOGY IN ITALY

DANIEL M PIETRZAK, Fordham University

Abstract

The author attempted to determine the role played by Agostino Gemelli (1878-1959) in the evolution of psychology in Italy during the almost half-century he dedicated to this discipline. To accomplish this it was necessary not only to assess the contributions of Gemelli to psychology, but to consider these endeavors in the light of the socio-cultural context in which they took place. Structured interviews of Gemelli's former disciples and colleagues, analyses of his writings, both for content and for themes or prescriptions, examination of critiques written both during and after his lifetime: these were the main tools employed in the study.^ Franciscan priest, founder of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, member of the National Research Council in Italy, President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Agostino Gemelli considered himself foremost a psychologist. His impressive career in psychology was multidimensional.^ As experimenter, he studied perception and emotional behavior. Perhaps his most original work involved the electroacoustical analysis of language using oscillograms or photographic reproductions of the fluctuation of sound-waves under varying subjective and objective conditions, as recorded on a cathode tube. In his research he moved from a more atomistic to a more molar interpretation of his data, considering perception, for example, as ultimately a manifestation of one's entire personality.^ Gemelli delved into areas of applied psychology: aeronautical medicine, criminology, educational psychology. E. Spaltro, current president of the Italian Psychological Association and former disciple of Gemelli, sees his most anticipatory work in the field of industrial psychology, where, according to the proposal of Gemelli, the psychologist would join forces with the sociologist, the economist, and the political scientist to create a more humane world of work.^ Defining psychology as a science "sui generis," Gemelli insisted on man's being studied both in his "internal" and "external" dimensions. Psychology's methodology, consequently, must be multiplex, in that no valid method should be overlooked which aids in penetrating more deeply into the mystery of man. Gemelli was able to incorporate insights from psychophysics, introspection, behaviorism, and Gestalt psychology. He saw the ultimate aim of psychologists to consist in providing a holistic and integrated study of man in his soggettivita, in that unique dimension proper to each person which coordinates the various functions of the individual--a concept much akin to Allport's proprium.^ Finally, Gemelli was a "main of action" in promoting the growth of psychology. Neither the attacks of neo-idealist philosophers nor the political pressure of the Fascist government could thwart his zeal. He worked successfully in overcoming resistance to psychology also in Catholic circles. Through the Institute of Psychology with its renowned laboratory, through books and articles, through encounters he sponsored, Gemelli fostered communication exchange among psychologists and other scholars. His later years were spent broadening the vision and scope of psychologists and pointing out what they and only they could and should contribute to the life of the nation.^ If a "great man" is someone, as E. G. Boring notes, whose insights are crucial and lead to long continued progress in new directions, then Agostino Gemelli would certainly qualify for the title. Whatever be his limitations, personal and professional, he continued until his final days to add his unique and irreplaceable contribution toward the evolution of psychology in Italy and indirectly in the rest of the world. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, General

Recommended Citation

PIETRZAK, DANIEL M, "THE ROLE OF AGOSTINO GEMELLI IN THE EVOLUTION OF PSYCHOLOGY IN ITALY" (1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8123564.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8123564

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