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G. Stanley Hall: biography and theory of the founder of the APA

G. Stanley Hall: biography and theory of the founder of the APA

May 6, 2024

The psychologist and educator Granville Stanley Hall (1846-1924) was one of the pioneers of psychology in the United States, which would become the nucleus of this science in later decades. He not only trained several renowned psychologists, but also he founded laboratories, journals and the American Psychological Association .

While the theories and views of Stanley Hall have not resisted the progress of the discipline, this author was instrumental in the establishment of scientific psychology as we know it today, especially in the field of youth development. Let's see what their main contributions were.

  • Related article: "History of Psychology: authors and main theories"

Biography of Granville Stanley Hall

Granville Stanley Hall was born in Ashfield, Massachusetts in 1846. He studied at Harvard University with William James in the first course of Psychology in the United States, and was the first American to obtain a PhD in this discipline.


He lived in Germany for a while, where he studied at the University of Berlin and collaborated with Wilhelm Wundt in his laboratory in Leipzig. Later he returned to his native country, where he taught Philosophy and English Language until he was hired as a professor of Psychology and Pedagogy at Johns Hopkins University.

In 1883 he founded the first laboratory of Psychology in the United States, in 1887 he created the American Journal of Psychology and also had a key influence in the creation of the American Psychological Association, of which he was president for 31 years. He was also the first president of Clark University, founded in 1889.

During his long and prolific career Hall focused on development throughout the life cycle , especially in the early stages, and in the education of young people. He was also interested in the theory of evolution and the psychological explanation of supernatural beliefs, including religion and spiritualism.


The theory of recapitulation

At the conceptual level, Stanley Hall's best-known contribution is his theory of recapitulation, which states that the ontogenetic development recalls the phylogenetic . This means that the changes that people experience throughout the life cycle are equivalent to those that occurred with the evolution of our species.

According to this author, during the first years of life humans differ little from other animals, but upon reaching adulthood (and with the help of education) we reach all the cognitive potential of the species, mainly related to the ability to reason properly .

Stanley Hall described different characteristics of the development in the early stages of life , who were the ones who focused their interest, although towards the end of his life he also theorized about old age.


  • Related article: "The 9 stages of the life of human beings"

1. Early childhood

In the first stage of life, approximately until 6 or 7 years, children perceive the world above all through the senses; the reasoning is still very immature, and the influence of socialization is very limited.

Stanley Hall considered that in this period people we are very similar to animals , specifically to the apes, which he saw as ancestors of human beings. In early childhood children have a lot of energy and their body develops very quickly.

This phase, then, would be characterized by the little that is processed by the information that arrives on the world, taking those data "as they come". That is, there would be an absence of abstract thinking.

2. Second childhood

By age 8, children's brains are practically the same size as adults' brains; is at this age when must begin formal education , according to Stanley Hall. However, he felt that primary and secondary education should be a preparation for life in society instead of focusing on traditional subjects such as mathematics.

This author affirmed that the incomplete development of reasoning makes preadolescents amoral and have a tendency to cruelty. The role of adults in this period should focus on taking care of the physical health of the child, rather than trying to develop a moral conscience or acquire skills and knowledge.

3. Adolescence

Like Freud, Stanley Hall was one of the first psychologists to defend that in adolescence Sexuality becomes a central aspect of life . Because of this, he promoted the education separated by sexes to favor the learning of morality and of the tools for life in society, possible now by the maturation of reasoning.

This was one of those situations in which psychology was mixed with the political, and of course, many criticisms arose due to the poor foundation of the ideas arising from psychoanalysis and the educational consequences of establishing a separation of these characteristics.

The legacy of Stanley Hall

G. Stanley Hall was decisive for the foundation of psychology as a science and as a profession , as well as for the emergence of developmental psychology. His views and, above all, his promotion of the study in this field influenced authors such as Jean Piaget, who elaborated one of the most relevant theories about developmental stages.

During his long period as a teacher, Stanley Hall taught and mentored many psychologists and philosophers who would have a major importance in the progress of psychology, very remarkable during the following decades. Among them are James McKeen Cattell, Lewis M. Terman, John Dewey, Henry Goddard and Arnold Gesell.

On the other hand Stanley Hall was also key in the arrival of psychoanalysis, orientation with which he shared different points of view, to the United States. In 1909 invited Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung to Clark University , where they gave a series of lectures that had a great influence on American psychology, despite the refusal of many experts to the unscientific methods of psychoanalysts.

In addition to the American Journal of Psychology, Stanley Hall founded three other journals, of which he was also editor: Pedagogical Seminary, American Journal of Religious Psychology and Education and Journal of Race Development. Regarding the latter, it should be noted that Stanley Hall defended the eugenic perspectives and the superiority of the white race.

Granville Stanley Hall is remembered above all for his role in the founding of the American Psychological Association and his long term as president, a role he fulfilled since the founding of the APA in 1892 until his death in 1924. Currently this organization constitutes the largest community of psychologists and influential of the world.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Sigmund Freud: life and work of the famous psychoanalyst"

John Dewey: Biography, Education, Quotes, Theory, Beliefs, College, Facts, Ideas (2003) (May 2024).


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