The Eugenic Legacy in Psychology and Psychiatry

Background: Assumptions about genetic differences in human mental characteristics can be traced in large part to the eugenic movement, ascendant at the turn of the 20th century.

Material: This paper offers historical case studies, of `innate general cognitive ability’ and `psychiatric genetics’, in order to appraise the eugenic legacy in current psychology and psychiatry.

Discussion: Reviewing the work of representatives, Cyril Burt, Franz Kallmann and Eliot Slater, along with their research networks, it is argued that eugenics remains a quiet but powerful background influence in modern-day psychology and psychiatry.

Conclusion: At the turn of the 21st century, eugenics remains an important area of inquiry, reflection and education for those in the inter-disciplinary field of social psychiatry.

It also remains a “quiet but powerful” influence in the psychology of academics, technocrats and psychiatrists in particular, whose chosen profession all too often demonstrates a desire to rationalize their need to feel inherently superior to others in order to cope with their own sense of isolation and misery.   Blaming social disparaties on genetics is also a dandy way to rationalize the status quo and one’s own role in it.  Of course a fair amount of lack of insight is needed.   The toxic result is manifest in the phrase “psychiatric survivor”.

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