New Aspects of Psychiatry

Review of Dimensions of Personality, by H. J. Eysenck, Ph.D. With foreword by Prof. Aubrey Lewis, M.D., F.R.C.P. (Pp. 308. 25s.) London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. 1947.

British Medical Journal, 25 October 1947, p. 657.

   This book contains an account of a great deal of work done by Dr. Eysenck and his collaborators in the Psychological Department at the Maudsley Hospital. Much of it was stimulated by the problems of the neurotic soldier, which predominated in wartime psychiatry. Nevertheless the chief importance of the book does not lie so much in the actual results of the investigations carried out, impressive though they are, as in the fact that we read of the fruitful introduction of new research methods into psychiatry. When two sciences which have long remained mutually isolated at last begin to influence one another, we frequently see a rapid advance owing to the methods evolved in the one field being applied to the material found in the other. This book describes such an event. The methods familiar to psychologists, which were making only slow progress in inquiries directed to normal individuals, were found to be remarkably appropriate when applied to groups of individuals who could be distinguished from one another by the success or failure of their response to actual stresses of life. The results compel us to re-examine our ideas. The basic concepts of psychiatry are largely nosological in character. "Neurosis” and "psychopathic personality," vague though these terms are, have for the psychiatrist been imbued too much with the meaning of illness. The psychological approach has focused attention on the underlying qualities of temperament, which provide the disposition to neurotic breakdown or psychopathic reaction.

   The title of the book epitomizes the new viewpoint. The author teaches us to look on human beings as varying in a great number of characteristics between opposite poles of the smooth and continuous "normal curve." Differences between individuals are quantitative only, may be small or large, and are measurable. The old theories of "types," such as the "introvert" and the "extravert," have to be discarded, and the types themselves are seen as merely the extremes of the curve of distribution in respect of some one quality. The results of investigating the character of suggestibility provide an elegant and convincing illustration. Psychiatrists have identified suggestibility with hypnotizability and with the syndrome of hysteria. Patients either are or are not hysterics. Preliminary psychological investigation seemed to reveal that there was a fairly sharp cleavage between the 'suggestible and the nonsuggestible, but further inquiry has shown this to be a statistical and experimental artefact. Most people are moderately suggestible, but they vary evenly towards the two poles. Evidence which confirms and justifies this revolution of old and accepted ideas can be drawn both from psychological experiments and from advances in clinical psychiatry during the war, and even from our knowledge of genetics. One consequence of this work will be that our textbooks of psychiatry will have to be largely rewritten.