Seashore, Carl E.

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Seashore, Carl E.



Carl Emil Seashore (1866–1949), psychologist and leader in the development of American graduate education, was born in Morlunda, Sweden, where his family had been farmers for several generations. His parents migrated to Boone County, Iowa, in 1869, settling on an 80-acre farm in a Swedish community. Seashore’s father acted as a lay Lutheran preacher and served as carpenter and cabinetmaker; he also had a considerable interest in music.

Seashore’s early education, in Swedish, included the memorization of chapters of the Bible, a cherished feat in Sweden. At the age of 13 he went to live in the home of a Lutheran pastor “to improve his English, manners, and music.” A year later he became a church organist. He helped to run his father’s farm for a few years and then attended the Lutheran college Gustavus Adolphus at a time when, according to his autobiography, “within an area of fifty square miles around our home only one man had gone to college . . .” (1930, p. 240). He received his A.B. in 1891.

Seashore went on to Yale to study philosophy with George T. Ladd, who introduced him both to the new branch of philosophy called experimental psychology and to Edward W. Scripture, a new faculty member not much older than Seashore. Seashore, nearing 26, was stimulated by working both with a mature scholar like Ladd and with Scripture, who after studying at Leipzig with Wundt had come to Yale to start a psychology laboratory. In Seashore’s five years at Yale a three-fold foundation for his career as a psychologist was built. First, as Scripture’s research assistant, he shared the problems of developing the laboratory course for psychology. In the laboratory he experimented in classical, physiological psychology through studies of visual accommodation time, perception of pressure and weight, and the laws determining illusions and hallucinations. He worked with Scripture on a spark chronometer and an audiometer. Second, in Ladd’s seminar he undertook to defend the point of view that whereas evolution holds sway in all organic life, it does not apply to mental life. His conclusions, however, turned out to be the opposite of his initial hypotheses. Thus he developed a scholarly logic and a scientific Darwinian philosophy.

While at Yale Seashore lived with a Swedish family and attended the Lutheran church. Here the third element of the foundation for his career was developed. Although unwilling to preach sermons, he at times lectured the congregation on the relationship of philosophy and psychology to everyday life and developed a form of presentation understandable to an intelligent but untrained audience.

In 1895 he received his PH.D. and spent that summer visiting psychology laboratories in France and Germany. He then returned to Yale as a fellow in psychology.

Two years later Seashore became assistant professor of philosophy at the State University of Iowa and thus an associate of George T. W. Patrick, professor of mental and moral philosophy and didactics at Iowa since 1887. Having taken work in psychology at Johns Hopkins with G. Stanley Hall, Patrick favored a strong development of the subject at Iowa and had set aside funds with which to build up a laboratory. Seashore developed several important pieces of apparatus for use in a laboratory course and for research studies. This original equipment soon made the Iowa Psychology Laboratory prominent in the profession. Of special note was the equipment designed for the study of musical abilities.

In addition to his five papers on the problems of perception, published while he was at Yale, Seashore published papers in the University of Iowa Studies in Psychology, ten of them by the time he was promoted to professorial rank in 1902.

In 1905 he became chairman of the department of philosophy and psychology, succeeding Patrick. Under Seashore’s chairmanship, the department increased the number of higher degrees awarded. This strong interest in promoting graduate work led to his appointment, in 1908, as dean of the graduate school. In addition, he served as chairman of a committee on the teaching of psychology appointed by the American Psychological Association and in 1911 as the association’s president.

Seashore was a national leader in the field of graduate education as well as psychology. Under the auspices of the National Research Council, for example, he originated and carried out a project for gifted students, arguing that colleges and universities should devote as much attention to gifted students as to poor ones. He traveled widely both in his capacity as dean and in his efforts on behalf of the gifted student. Yet during this entire period he continued to do research and to publish.

He saw possibilities for the enrichment of teaching and research by developing the psychological aspects of several fields of learning and human welfare. A psychological clinic was established to supplement the services undertaken by the local psychiatric hospital. Collaboration with the speech department resulted in a speech clinic. Seashore initiated and supported an experimental approach to many problems associated with the Iowa School of Music, and a section for applied psychology of music was organized. Similar developments took place in graphic arts, plastic arts, and physical education. .’

Among Seashore’s honors were several honorary degrees, including an SC.D. from Yale in 1935 and an MUS.D. from the Chicago Musical College in 1939. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and was a member of the Acoustical Society of America and the American Musicological Society, among others. He was also an honorary fellow of the British Psychological Society.

Walter R. Miles

[For the historical context of Seashore’s work, see the biography ofHall.]


1893 On Monocular Accommodation Time. Yale University Psychological Laboratory, Studies From the Yale Psychological Laboratory 1:56–70.

1895 Measurements of Illusions and Hallucinations in Normal Life. Yale University Psychological Laboratory, Studies From the Yale Psychological Laboratory 3:1–67.

1896a Weber’s Law in Illusions. Yale University Psychological Laboratory, Studies From the Yale Psychological Laboratory 4:62–68.

1896b Influence of the Rate of Change Upon the Perception of Differences in Pressure and Weight. Yale University Psychological Laboratory, Studies From the Yale Psychological Laboratory 4:27–61.

1897 A New Factor in Weber’s Law. Psychological Review 4:522–524.

(1908) 1935 Elementary Experiments in Psychology. Rev. New York: Holt.

1912 Measure of a Singer. Science New Series 35:201–212.

(1913) 1925 Psychology in Daily Life. New York: Ap-pleton.

1919 The Psychology of Musical Talent. Boston and New York: Silver, Burdett and Co.

1923 Introduction to Psychology. New York: Macmillan.

1927 Learning and Living in College: Psychology of Individual Differences Applied to the Organization and Pursuit of Higher Education. Iowa University Series on Aims and Progress of Research, No. 21. Iowa City, Iowa: The University.

1930 Autobiography. Volume 1, pages 225–297 in A History of Psychology in Autobiography. Worcester, Mass.:Clark Univ. Press; Oxford Univ. Press.

1931 The Graduate College in the State University of Iowa: A Survey of Thirty Years With Forecast. Pages 9–63 in John W. Ashton (editor), Trends in Graduate Work. Iowa University Series on Aims and Progress of Research, No. 33. Iowa City, Iowa: The University.

1938a A Preview to College and Life. Iowa University Series on Aims and Progress of Research, No. 55. Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press.

1938b Psychology of Music. New York: McGraw-Hill.

1940 The Junior College Movement. New York: Holt.

1941 Why We Love Music. Philadelphia: Ditson.

1942 Pioneering in Psychology. Iowa University Series on Aims and Progress of Research, No. 70. Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press.

1947 In Search of Beauty in Music: A Scientific Approach to Musical Esthetics. New York: Ronald Press.


Bathurst, J. E.; and Sinclair, R. D. 1928 A Complete Annotated BIBLIOGRAPHY of the Writings of Carl Emil Seashore. Psychological Monographs 39, no. 2:3–22.

Miles, Walter R. 1956 Carl Emil Seashore: 1866–1949. Volume 29, pages 265–316 in National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. Includes a BIBLIOGRAPHY.