The legacy of Eugenics in Psychology and Psychiatry

 The eugenic legacy in psychology and psychiatry.

Author information Pilgrim D1, 1University of Central Lancashire, UK.


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.


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.


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.


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.

PMID: 18575381


History of the eugenic movement.

Author information Gejman PV1, Weilbaecher A1Schizophrenia Genetics Research Program, Department of Psychiatry, Jules F. Knapp Research Center, University of Chicago, 924 East 57th Street, Room R-010, Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


The goal of this review is to introduce the reader to the ideas behind the eugenic movement, its implementation, and its consequences. First, we address the work of prominent 19th century forerunners of eugenics. Second, we discuss the eugenic movement during the first half of the 20th century, and its common and differential characteristics in countries where its expression was more marked, including the US and Nazi Germany. We also discuss the eugenic movement in Sweden, whose history has remained unknown until recently. We analyze the reasoning behind forced sterilization and involuntary euthanasia. Finally, we consider the impact that past eugenics has had on the profession of psychiatry and psychiatric research, particularly genetics. We argue that the history of the 20th century eugenics movement and its leaders still require attention.

PMID: 12756854

Before 'Autism'

Before ‘Autism.’

Article from: SALON Saturday, Mar 4, 2006 Farhad Manjoo

Progressive genocide

Less than 100 years ago, America’s finest minds were convinced the nation was threatened by sexually insatiable female morons. A new history of the eugenics movement sheds light on a bizarre chapter in U.S. history.

Among the many concerns that captivated the American educated class early in the last century, few were thought to be as urgent as the threat posed to the nation by sexually insatiable female morons. This may sound silly; today, our fear of morons is rather abstract, and on a national scale confined mostly to whomever is the current resident of the White House. But a hundred years ago, morons were public enemy No. 1, seen as a drain on the nation’s resources and a grave danger to its stability. The situation was most keenly appreciated by progressives — scientists, businessmen, feminists and liberal politicians — who, as even the best of us sometimes do, feared that within a short time, the nation would be overrun by simpletons.

But how do you solve a problem like the moron? These poor people, for one, weren’t easy to spot. “Feeblemindedness,” the medical condition, from which morons suffered, was chiefly manifested by subtle, difficult-to-diagnose symptoms, such as poor judgment and a susceptibility to deviance. The only way to tell if you were dealing with a certifiable moron — an actual medical term — was by administering an intelligence questionnaire (an early version of the IQ test), which scientists believed could accurately assess a patient’s “mental age.” Unlike idiots and imbeciles (who were characterized by significant, obvious mental defects), morons, who were grown-ups who showed mental ages that were far below their physical maturity, might do well in school, they might hold down jobs, and they might even manage to raise children — but all this was to be thought of as a ruse, because sooner or later, they’d go astray. Sound familiar?

As the journalist Harry Bruinius explains in “Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity,” his comprehensive new history of the American eugenics movement, the problem wasn’t just that morons were given to crime and poverty; because feeblemindedness was a genetic condition passed on from one generation to the next, their children, and their children’s children, and on and on, were similarly suspect as well. Of particular concern were the afflicted women, in whom scientists had found the symptoms of feeblemindedness more pronounced. Female morons gave in to their sexual urges more quickly than feebleminded men, and they sometimes deceived normal men into consorting with them; in addition, they were “hyper-fecund,” as doctors termed their apparent tendency to become pregnant easily. Put this all together, as many smart Americans did, and you had a big problem on your hands: an extremely fertile, extremely needy, apparently permanent underclass.

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