Although the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS1) was formalised in 1951 during the 13th International Congress of Psychology (ICP) held in Stockholm, Sweden, and was later incorporated in Canada in 1992 as a non-profit scientific organisation, the genesis of IUPsyS was the first ICP that was held from 6 to 10 August 1889. At that time, the permanent International Congress of Psychology Committee (ICPC) was created. Over time, this structure evolved, merging into the present IUPsyS Executive Committee. So 2014 indeed marks the 125th anniversary of the creation of IUPsyS. Let us look at exactly how this development took place.

In 1881, Julian Ochorowicz, a young privatdozent2 in psychology at the University of Lemburg,3 submitted to French physiologist Théodule Ribot, then Editor of the Revue Philosophique, a manuscript entitled Projet d'un congrès international de psychologie (Project for an International Congress of Psychology) which although appearing fanciful and unrealistic to the Editor was nevertheless published. Eight years later, on 6 August, the same Ribot, in his welcoming presidential4 address at the first ICP (Ribot, 1890), confessed that he had received from Ochorowicz in 1881 a complete programme for an ICP and that although he had found this project attractive, while being somewhat fanciful, he had published it only in the hope that this open call to psychologists would bear fruit in the distant future, never thinking that the event would take place so rapidly. He humbly admits having had very little faith in this project and that he was now happy to have been proven wrong.

In his visionary article, Ochorowicz, from the outset, proposes to find a way to clearly distinguish psychology from philosophy and other disciplines. He asserts the need to find a proper place for this new, emerging science, which, in spite of all those who obstinately consider it a branch of metaphysics, or even a part of logic, is really more of a natural science, an exact science based on empirical observations and on experimentation with the goal of accumulating facts and formulating laws. Philosophical psychology, says Ochorowicz, has not helped psychology to unify. On the contrary, it brought confusion, especially in terminology, illustrating this point by giving numerous examples. And to satisfy this need for unity, he stresses the fact that we must go beyond individual, personal efforts, which can only lead to an artificial pseudo-unity of the discipline:

There can be no doubt for anyone that no individual mind, however vigorous it may be, will never succeed in creating with a flash of genius the complete corpus of a great science. We must rely on collective effort. This is already well known and it is even done. However, one thing is lacking in the best efforts actually being pursued and that is: a work organization. We must therefore find a way to achieve this. I see only one possibility and I would like to submit it to the good judgment of my fellow psychologists: to organize an international congress.5 (Ochorowicz, 1881, p. 10)

Ochorowicz goes on by explaining that to achieve this goal while dealing with practical issues, an Organizing Committee must be set up. Then, certain general rules must be followed. To define these general rules, he uses the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology held in 1867 as a model. These general rules, which are certainly edifying by today's standards and which resonate with the organisational basis of most ICPs as we have come to know them, are as follows: (a) A congress cannot be held twice in a row in the same country, (b) those who have paid an annual subscription can participate in the congress and have the right, upon request, to be given its publications, (c) the papers presented, the invited addresses and the proceedings of the different sessions will be published under the control of a committee elected by the assembly, (d) French is the only permissible language for verbal presentations during the sessions and for the proceedings, except for special cases and (e) all metaphysical issues are excluded from the debates.

Ochorowicz also suggests that only the following areas of the then contemporary psychology can be the object of debates during the congress: (a) General Psychology, which comprises methodological issues as well as introspective studies; (b) Physiological Psychology, based on laboratory experiments; (c) Pathological Psychology, essentially based on the observations of alienists (clinicians); (d) Psychophysics, comprising experiments in sensation and perception and, for example, the experiments conducted by, inter alia, Fechner, Hering, Delboeuf, Wundt, von Helmholtz, du Bois-Reymond, Donders, Exner and others; (e) Criminal Psychology; (f) Zoological Psychology, as one of the bases of general psychology; (g) Pedagogical Psychology and Ethology, comprising research on the mental development of the child as well as studies on character and constitution (temperament); (h) Pathognomony—the study of the external signs accompanying feelings or emotions; (i) Psychology of Art, as well as studies on aesthetics; (j) Psychology of History, including the study of the mental evolution of humanity; (k) Mathematical Psychology and (l) The History of Psychology.

The preceding list of areas must not be conceived, warns Ochorowicz, as being mandatory in all congresses. It is only illustrative of the areas that could be covered. A congress could decide to cover a single area or very few of them, depending on the number of participants anticipated and their known area of interest and/or expertise. In Ochorowicz's mind, in view of the fact that psychology was becoming a science based on observation and experimentation, it was deemed essential that researchers meet and communicate with each other, both at a professional and personal level, and share their data so as to accumulate a large empirical database and thus avoid undue repetitions. The idea to meet could also contribute to the necessary networking and personal relationships with colleagues having similar interests.

Ochorowicz then proceeds to list the numerous advantages that an international congress can produce, which are obvious to him, and which fulfil the need to integrate this young new science, or at least, start sharing its knowledge. First, he suggests that it can certainly favour the mutual education of psychologists in all areas of the discipline. Second, it can help psychology become better known to experts in other allied disciplines. And finally, it could serve as an instrument that an educated public interested in psychology can use to perform daily self-observations of their behaviours in accordance with questionnaires and methods proposed through discussions held during the congress. This congress would be the first step in forming an international organisation of psychological societies. And he ends his paper by stating the following:

Let us follow the realization of the congress, and, if it should return no other services than to bring up to date the weak sides of the present state of psychology, it would nevertheless be a step forward, a first step towards improvement; it would always be the best service that could be rendered to our young science, rightly called the nicest and the most worthy of man.6 (Ochorowicz, 1881, p. 17)

Eight years later, in 1889, in Paris, during a very popular Universal Exposition, which historically marked the completion and the official opening of the Eiffel Tower (on 31 March), the first ever congress of psychology was to take place and Ochorowicz became a member of its Organizing Committee. This was the genesis, 125 years ago, of a series of congresses and events that would precipitate the formal creation of the IUPsyS.


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The first International Congress of Physiological Psychology therefore took place in Paris on 6–10 August 1889. It was so named because it was organised by the Société de psychologie physiologique de Paris and the idea was to distinguish scientifically oriented psychology from philosophy. It is interesting to note that the second congress (held in London, in 1892) had another name, the International Congress of Experimental Psychology. However, starting with the third congress, held in Munich in 1896, and ever since, the official name of the congress was to be simply the International Congress of Psychology. Nuttin (1992) notes that all congresses of that time until recently (2000, in Stockholm) were usually conducted in two official languages—English and French—adding when necessary a third, the language of the host country.

As psychology was progressing from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, the opposition between a young empirical psychology set in the laboratory with the new and very popular medical psychopathology produced a couple of clashes which probably impeded the normal, uneventful development of psychology during all that period (Nuttin, 19927; Richelle & Carpintero, 1992). Starting in 1875 and throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the first of these conflicting interactions was to take place between French psychopathology, which encouraged hypnotic practices and even telepathy, with the German laboratory psychology. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a second clash emerged: a psychoanalytically oriented psychology of German origin and a more universal academic, empirically based psychology. This was probably a reflection of the fact that human behaviour is a complex phenomenon which needs both approaches—or sometimes more—to broaden its perspectives. This opposition was never to produce major conflicts during congresses, just lively discussions. However, the very first congresses at the end of the nineteenth century were quite inundated by a strong wave of hypnotic psychotherapy mixed with occultism and spiritism, which, according to Nuttin (1992), produced a serious risk of somewhat jeopardising the scientific nature of the congresses.

Fortunately, thanks to the confrontations that did arise in the discussions between the proponents of both groups, a certain divergence was created between, on the one hand, hypnotism, spiritualism and occultism, and scientific psychology on the other, with the latter gaining clearly over the former. As Nuttin (1992) mentions, this had the virtue of potentially cleansing psychology from non-scientific contaminants. It is surprising to note that a certain number of laboratory scientists who were deeply involved in very serious research efforts dealing with psychophysics or physiology could at the same time show a naive and almost suspect attraction to occult and spiritual phenomena. This may have been related to the Zeitgeist of the nineteenth century which many see as a period of romanticism, where scientific curiosity mingled with an attraction to the mysterious and the non-rational. It is important to note that in Great Britain at that time, a spiritual movement which gave rise to the so-called psychical research—better known today as parapsychology or ESP—was most important and very active. Many of the contemporary leaders or great names in psychology were very much involved in this type of research. For instance, Charles Richet, who was the Secretary General of the first ICP (Richet, 1890) and a renowned physiologist who eventually was to obtain the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1913 for his pioneering work on the mechanism of the anaphylactic reaction, was also very much attracted by psychic research and in 1922 published a book on the subject Traité de métapsychique. This interest was shared with others, like the Cambridge Professor Henry Sidgwick, who was to preside in 1892 over the second International Congress of Experimental Psychology, in London. It must also be noted that the Honorary President of the first ICP, Professor Jean-Martin Charcot, was considered to be the pioneer of medical hypnotism.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the idea of holding scientific meetings, whether at the national or international levels, had become something quite current. A good number of disciplines were thus holding regular congresses. The reason why it took more time for psychologists to get on their way is probably related, according to Nuttin (1992), to the fact that the new psychological science was not yet clearly defined and that those who were involved in this new research area had other identities, such as medical doctor, physiologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, or were mainly interested in psychic research, occult phenomena, telepathy or clairvoyance. In this context, where many different psychological movements or currents had been coexisting for a number of years, bringing together in one single meeting or congress, researchers with such varied identities and interests from different countries could be considered a feat. Nuttin (1992) concludes the analysis of the first ICP's contribution by stating that “it has largely contributed to preserve scientific psychology from the contamination of spiritism and other marginal phenomena, at least in many European countries” (p. 37).

So, in view of this situation, why did it take only 8 years to realise Ochorowicz's vision? The first reason is probably because that same period also saw the rapid emergence of societies in different areas related to psychology. Ochorowicz had mentioned in his proposal that this was a necessary condition, in fact a prerequisite, for putting together the organisation of a congress. In 1885, a British psychologist, Joseph Jacobs, had published in a popular scientific journal, Mind, a paper quite similar to the one written by Ochorowicz, but advocating, instead of congresses, the urgent need for the creation of an experimental psychology society. This tendency was clearly a part of the Zeitgeist of that period, which many (Nuttin, 1992, p. 12) considered to be the Age of Societies! It is within this context that the Society for Physiological Psychology of Paris was created under the influence of the most famous French neurologist of the time, Jean-Martin Charcot, regrouping not only other neurologists but also physiologists, psychiatrists and a few others who identified themselves with philosophy (Hippolyte Taine) or with psychology (Pierre Janet and Alfred Binet). It was called “Physiological Psychology” to distinguish this new psychology, based in large part on psychopathology and the medical hypnotism that was developing in France, from the usual philosophical current that had been in place during the previous decades.

From this perspective, it is easier to understand why the Society for Physiological Psychology had a vested interest in the therapeutic use of hypnotism, in its psychic and physiological functioning, and in its link with psychopathology; all are subjects that will constitute the core of the “scientific” programme of the first ICP, as we will see later. We must remember that in the last decades of the nineteenth century, one of the central subjects of debate and dissension among those involved in medical hypnotism was the struggle of the School of La Salpétrière (lead by Jean-Martin Charcot) against the School of Nancy (lead by Auguste Liébault and Hippolyte Bernheim). Whereas the former considered hypnosis to be a pathological state related to hysterical symptoms, the latter, on the contrary, considered hypnosis to be a normal sleep state brought on by suggestions and susceptible to having therapeutic applications. Although it seemed that the School of Nancy's proposal was dominant over that of La Salpétrière (explaining perhaps why Charcot never showed up during the first ICP), the debate continued to flourish during the nineteenth century as evident in the writings of Clark Hull and Theodore Barber. In 1893, Wundt (as reported by Nuttin, 1992), who was known to be strongly opposed to the inclusion of discussions on psychic and telepathic phenomena during the initial congresses, had written the following: “In the Society of Physiological Psychology of Paris, the central role is played by hypnotism, but experiments and discussions on clairvoyance and the transfer of ideas also play an important part, while all that we consider, here in Germany, to be physiological psychology is quite secondary.”

A second reason why the first ICP happened so rapidly is perhaps just accidental and related to the ironic historical fact that 1889 was the Centennial of the French Revolution (1789) and that a great Universal Exposition was presented to mark the celebration in Paris of that important event. Had it not been for this special occasion and the fact that many other scientific congresses were also organised during the year of the Centennial, there is a good chance that the advent of the first ICP would have been a few years later.


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Its organisation

The main figure behind not only the organisation of the first ICP but also the initiative of holding it is undoubtedly Professor Charles Richet, who was appointed officially as the Secretary General of the Organizing Committee. Being one of the vice-presidents of the newly formed Society for Physiological Psychology of Paris, Richet managed to convince his colleagues, not without some difficulty (Nuttin, 1992), of the merit and the advantages of holding a first Congress of Psychology during the Universal Exposition. It seems that the programme of the first ICP (Nuttin, 1992), as we shall see later, essentially reflects his strong personality and his personal interests. At the time, Richet was a young professor of physiology at the Medical Faculty of the University of Paris. According to Piéron (1954), Richet was a devoted disciple of Claude Bernard (the proponent of the experimental method) as well as a one-person combination of poet, dramatist, fiction writer, inventor, future air pilot and the first psychic (métapsychique) researcher. Although interested in the areas of spiritism and paranormal or occult phenomena, there is no reason to doubt that his patent desire was to give them a scientific status, just as Charcot had given scientific credibility to hypnosis.

A second major figure of the first ICP was Professor Théodule Ribot, the Acting President (although officially one of the three vice-presidents). Piéron (1954) notes that Ribot, although not an experimenter himself, can be considered to be the actual father of French experimental psychology. This was also raised in 1939, during the Jubilee of French scientific psychology, which celebrated the centennial birth anniversary of Ribot.

Within the Organizing Committee, most of the appointed members held almost purely honorary functions. Table 1 presents the complete list of the members of the Organizing Committee and of the International Advisory Committee (referred to as the Comité de patronage), comprising members in 11 European countries as well as William James from the USA. It is noteworthy that the tradition of an International Advisory Committee has become normative for International Congresses of Psychology and the next ICP 2016 in Yokohama, Japan, continues this time-honoured tradition.

Table 1. The members of the Organizing Committee and the International Advisory Committee of the First ICP
Organizing Committee
Professor Jean-Martin Charcot, Professor of Neurology, Faculty of Medicine, Paris
Dr Valentin Magnan, Psychiatrist, Medical Director, St-Anne Asylum
Professor Théodule Ribot, Physiologist, Professor, College de France, Editor of the Revue Philosophique
Dr Hippolyte Taine, Philosopher and Historian, Member of the Académie Française
Secretary General
Professor Charles Richet, Professor of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Paris
Professor Eugène Gley, Associate Professor of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, Paris
Mr Léon Marillier, Associate in Philosophy, Ecole des Hautes-Etudes
Mr H. Ferrari, Treasurer of the Society of Physiological Psychology
Members of the Committee
Dr Edouard Brissaud, Associate at the Faculty of Medicine, Paris
Professor Julien Ochorowicz, Member of the Society of Physiological Psychology
Dr A. Ruault, Secretary of the Society of Physiological Psychology
Mr Sully Prudhomme, Member of the Académie Française
International Advisory Committee
Professor Henry-Etienne Beaunis, Physiologist, Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Nancy
Professor Alfred Espinas, Professor, Faculty of Literature, Bordeaux
Professor Pierre Janet, Psychologist, Member of the Institute, Professor, Faculty of Literature, Paris
Professor Hermann von Helmholtz, Professor of Physics, University of Berlin
Professor Wilhelm Wundt, Professor of Physiology and Experimental Psychology, University of Leipzig
Professor William Preyer, Professor of Physiology, University of Jena
Great Britain
Professor Alexander Bain, Professor Emeritus, University of Aberdeen
Professor Francis Galton, Member of the Royal Society, London
Professor John Hughlings Jackson, Member of the Royal Society, London
Professor Armand de Watteville, Member of the Neurological Society, London
Professor Franz Exner, Professor of Physics, University of Vienna
Professor Ewald Hering, Professor of Physiology at Charles University, Prague
Professor Theodor Meynert, Professor of Neuropathology, University of Vienna
Professor Joseph Delboeuf, Professor of Philology, University of Liège
Professor Carl Lange, Professor of Physics, University of Copenhagen
Professor William James, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University
Professor Cesare Lombroso, Professor of Criminology, University of Torino
Professor Henry Morselli, Professor, University of Torino
Professor Angelo Mosso, Professor of Physiology, University of Torino
The Netherlands
Professor William Engelmann, Professor of Physiology, University of Leiden
Professor Nikolay Grote, Professor, University of Odessa
Professor A. Setschenoff, Professor of Physiology, University of Saint-Petersburg
Professor Matvei Troitsky, Professor of Philosophy and Psychology, University of Moscow
Professor Robert Tigerstedt, Professor of Physiology, University of Stockholm
Professor Alexander Herzen, Professor of Physiology, Academy of Lausanne
Professor Carl Vogt, Professor, University of Geneva

First congress participants

Since the Society for Physiological Psychology was organising this first ICP, it was not only normal that the name of the congress itself would reflect this (Piéron, 1954), but that this would exert a definite influence on the participants themselves. For many, “physiological psychology,” which studied the physiological aspects of psychological phenomenon with the appropriate equipment, was the equivalent of “experimental psychology.” So an important group of physiologists, physicians, physicists, etc. were attracted by this congress. This, however, did not act as a deterrent for those with other interests more in line with psychopathology and psychiatry and many participants, who were more interested in occult phenomena and spiritism, hypnotism and so forth, also constituted a good part of the audience. In fact, there were also those, like Richet, who were interested in both aspects. The programme of the first ICP, that we will summarise later, will reflect this diversity.

All participants were individually listed in the Proceedings of the first ICP published in 1890. A total of 203 registered participants were thus listed and came from 20 different countries, most of them European, with a few from the Americas, i.e. USA, Mexico, Salvador, Chile and Brazil (Montoro, 1982; Montoro, Carpintero, & Tortosa, 1982). Some of the great names related to the history of psychology who were present are Hermann von Helmholtz, Wilhelm Wundt, William James, Sigmund Freud, Francis Galton, Alexander Bain, Joseph Delboeuf, Hugo Munsterberg, Joseph Jastrow and Theodore Flournoy. Also present were some eminent neurologists and physiologists of that period (John Hughlings Jackson, Joseph Babinski, Theodor Meynert and Alexander Herzen), well-known criminal anthropologists (Cesare Lombroso and Léonce Manouvrier) and sociologists (Emile Durkeim and Alfred Espinas), as well as many adepts of occult phenomena, spiritism and hypnotism (Frederic Myers, Henry Sidgwick and Alfred von Schrenk-Notzing). A large number of physicians and psychiatrists (such as Gilles de la Tourette and Sergei Korsakoff) were also present.

Being a pioneering event in international psychology, the geographic and disciplinary spread of the participants is quite evident and sets the tone for future International Congresses of Psychology. In the twenty-first century, all ICPs have registered participants in excess of 6000, with the Berlin ICP 2008 registering some 9000 and ICP 2012 in Cape Town having participants from 103 different countries.

The first congress programme

The congress opened officially on Tuesday, 6 August, with welcoming addresses given by the Acting President, Théodule Ribot, and by Charles Richet, the Secretary General. It concluded 5 days later, on 10 August. This week-long meeting has become the norm for ICPs.

In his opening remarks (Ribot, 1890), Ribot pointed out that the substitution of the objective method for the pure introspection that had prevailed for so long could be considered the raison d'être of the congress; he adds that collective work and cooperation have become vital conditions for the development of psychology. Individual researchers in psychology in many countries found that the time had come to reunite and work together; it was also most important to be aware of the work done by others, which was one of the goals of the inaugural meeting. He ended by formulating the wish that this first congress be followed by many others and that the date and the venue of the second congress be decided before the end of the first one.

The substantive programme of the first ICP was arranged around the topics covered in Richet's remarks. He not only mentioned the choice of areas or issues to be covered but also the reasons for covering them, the first one being that they were all contemporary preoccupations of psychologists and physiologists. Some of the issues were very specific and limited, while others were broad and contributed to a more general discussion.

In total, the 5-day programme (see Table 2) comprised nine areas, with most being quite specific and limited in terms of interest, whereas items 3, 8 and 9 were more general and required a collective discussion effort from the participants. The six specific and limited areas (items 1, 2, 3 and 5, 6, 7) are those that could be conceived as general or experimental psychology issues; they were presented during the afternoon sessions, whereas the three issues that required a collective effort and a general discussion were considered during the morning sessions. The whole programme was constructed quite arbitrarily with the goal of reflecting the heuristic preoccupations of psychologists and physiologists.

Table 2. Programme summary of the First ICP
1. Muscular sensation (sens musculaire)
2. The role of movements in the formation of mental images (rôle des mouvements dans la formation des images)
3. The role of affective states in attention (l'attention est-elle toujours déterminée par des états affectifs?)
4. Statistical study of hallucinations (étude statistique des hallucinations)
5. The appetites in idiots and imbeciles (les appétits chez les idiots et chez les imbéciles)
6. Motor impulses independent of images and ideas in insane persons (existe-t-il chez les aliénés des impulsions motrices indépendantes des images et des idées?)
7. Psychic poisons (les poisons psychiques)
8. Heredity
(i) Emotional phenomena and their expression (hérédité des phénomènes expressifs et de leur expression)
(ii) The specifics of colour perception (hérédité des particularités dans la perception des couleurs)
(iii) Special memories (hérédité des mémoires spéciales)
(iv) Special aptitudes (technical, artistic, scientific) (hérédité des aptitudes spéciales [techniques, artistiques, scientifiques])
(v) Psychological analysis of a few genealogical tables (analyse psychologique de quelques tableaux généalogiques)
9. Hypnotism
(i) Cause of errors in the observation of hypnotic suggestion phenomena (des causes d'erreurs dans l'observation des phénomènes de suggestion hypnotique)
(ii) Normal sleep and hypnotic sleep (le sommeil normal et le sommeil hypnotique)
(iii) Heredity of hypnotic susceptibility (hérédité de la sensibilité hypnotique)
(iv) The motor power of images in the hypnotised subjects and the unconscious movements (automatic writing, etc.) (le pouvoir moteur des images chez les sujets hypnotisés et les mouvements inconscients [écriture automatique, etc.])
(v) Dual personality in hypnotism and mental alienation (le dédoublement de la personnalité et l'aliénation mentale)
(vi) Transfer phenomena (les phénomènes du transfert)
(vii) Essay for a precise terminology in hypnotic issues (essai d'une terminologie précise dans les questions d'hypnotisme)

In his opening remarks, Richet ended his description of the programme by the nomination of an Organizing Commission. It is this Commission that was charged with preparing the conclusions and the decisions to be taken at the closing session and would thus help perpetuate the impact of the first Congress of Psychology. This Commission was also tasked with making the proposal for the selection of the venue of the second congress. This Commission is not to be confused with the first permanent ICPC whose task was to prepare the programme of the next congress.

The following 13 persons were chosen by the Congress Assembly to be part of the Organizing Commission: Delboeuf, Ferrari, Grote, James, Henzen, Lombroso, Myers, Sidgwick, Marillier, Ochorowicz, Ribot, Richet and von Schrenck-Notzing.

It was also decided that there would be four morning sections, instead of the three originally planned. In fact, to please those more attracted by experimental psychology and who wanted the congress to devote a larger share of work to these questions, a section on muscular sensation (to be chaired by William James) was added on the spot to the three others, which were the sections on hallucinations (chaired by Henry Sidgwick), heredity (chaired by Francis Galton) and hypnotism (chaired by Joseph Delboeuf).

Although it had been decided to devote all morning sessions to the three more general sections considered to be the three pillars of the congress as well as the additional specific section on muscular sensation, the Proceedings of the Congress reveal that, because of the high degree of interest raised, four of the five morning sessions were devoted to hypnotism. Nevertheless, a first International Congress on Hypnotism (Premier Congrès International d'hypnotisme, 1890) was organised during the same period by a large group of French medical practitioners who were unhappy after being refused participation in the first International Congress of Physiological Psychology. Freud, Bernheim and Liébault, amongst others, were registered and attended both congresses. The first ICP also held specific sections on heredity, hallucinations, muscular sensations and afternoon sessions on general psychology which comprised a very heterogeneous set of individual presentations. This important diversity of presentations is not much different from presentations made in recent congresses.

The closing session

Chaired by Belgian professor Joseph Delboeuf, the closing session of the first ICP was held on Saturday, 10 August. During this session, the conclusions formulated by the Organizing Commission appointed at the beginning of the congress were discussed and adopted (Marillier, 1889).

The first proposal, adopted, unanimously and without discussion, was “There is a need to subsequently organize a congress of psychology” (Il y a lieu d'organiser ultérieurement un congrès de psychologie). The second proposal, “The Congress shall be named the congress of experimental psychology” (Le Congrès portera le nom de congrès de psychologie expérimentale), gave rise to a long and animated debate, with almost every possibility being considered, such as scientific psychology, pure psychology, empirical psychology, physiological psychology, experimental and comparative psychology, with each being given some degree of support. Finally, after a long and discursive discussion, the choice came down to two possibilities: physiological psychology, the present name, and experimental psychology, the initial proposal. The initial proposal was adopted. It was also decided that the Proceedings of the Congress would be published under the responsibility of the Secretary General and the two Secretaries. The third proposal referred to the date and the venue of the second congress. After examining the merits and difficulties associated with the months of July, August and September, and the need that the next congress not be too close to the present one, August 1892 was chosen. Three potential venues, Belgium, Switzerland and Great Britain, had been submitted to the Organizing Commission who unanimously chose to support Great Britain. Within Great Britain, London was preferred over Cambridge. The Assembly then adopted the proposal that the second congress be held in London, in August 1892. Myers who was the spokesperson of the Society of Psychical Research (Nuttin, 1992), based in London, promised that his Society would do the utmost to ensure the success of the second congress, but that it would perhaps be better not to mention the fact that the congress was entrusted to the Society in order not to hurt the feelings of psychologists or physiologists who were not members of this society. This diplomatic advice cannot completely eliminate the potential conflict between those favouring or firmly opposed (like Wundt) to psychical research. This conflict would continue to be active during the next two congresses and then largely disappear when the scientific underpinnings which have become the hallmark of International Congresses of Psychology became the intellectual framework of these meetings.

A fourth proposal made by the Commission was crucial for ensuring the future of the next international congresses and for setting the basis of an international organisation in psychology. It was proposed to immediately create a permanent committee whose task would be to elaborate the programme of the next congress. This committee was to be called many different names in the decades that followed, but all designations would bear in mind the idea of permanency and the international composition of the committee, a feature that has characterised the leadership of IUPsyS over time. This committee came to be known as the International Congress of Psychology Committee (ICPC). Rosenzweig, Holtzman, Sabourin, and Bélanger (2000), in their book on the history of IUPsyS, identified (in their Appendix A) the changing composition of the ICPC since its first members were appointed in 1889 and up to the formal creation of IUPsyS in 1951.

It is interesting to note that most of the Executive Committee members of the last ICPC, serving from 1948 to 1951, with the exception of two members (Lersch and Rasmussen), were also part of the very first Executive Committee of IUPsyS in 1951 (see Table 3), clearly demonstrating the continuity and permanency of the institution called ICPC created in 1889. Table 3 shows that, at the time of the formalisation of IUPS, there was an essential continuity of the leadership of ICPC which was at the forefront of international psychology and, as has been pointed out, the genesis of what is today known as IUPsyS was birthed in the first International Congress of Physiological Psychology and cumulatively firmly rooted in each subsequent congress.8 Also interesting to note in Appendix A (Rosenzweig et al., 2000) is the fact that many of the initially appointed members of the ICPC in the early years were continuously reappointed till they died. For example, Charles Richet, appointed in 1889 served till his death in 1935, a total of 46 years (he had been reappointed 10 times). Pierre Janet who was initially appointed for the first time in 1896 was reappointed for a ninth term in 1937, to serve till 1948, but he died in 1947. So Janet served on the ICPC for 51 years. Other leading figures of twentieth-century psychology such as James McKeen Cattell (USA) and Edouard Claparede (France) served for 39 and 35 years, respectively. At present, there are term limits for the IUPsyS Executive Committee. Claparede, who was on the ICPC from 1905 till 1940, is credited as being the founder of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP) in 1919 under the name of International Association of Psychotechnics; the present name of IAAP was only adopted in 1955.

Table 3. Composition of the first Executive Committee of the IUPS (officers and ordinary members) elected in 1951 in relation to the composition of the last ICPC, which served from 1948 till 1951
IUPS, 1951ICPC, 1948
Henri Piéron (France), PresidentExecutive Committee member
Frederic C. Bartlett (UK), Vice-presidentExecutive Committee member
David Katz (Sweden), TreasurerExecutive Committee member
H.S. Langfeld (USA), Secretary-GeneralPermanent Secretary
Jean Piaget, Deputy Secretary GeneralAssistant Permanent Secretary
Ordinary members of the Executive Committee
Stefan Baley (Poland)Executive Committee member
José Germain (Spain)Member (newly appointed)
Otto Klineberg (USA)Member (newly appointed)
Phillip Lersch (FRG) 
Albert Michotte (Belgium)Executive Committee member
T.H. Pear (UK)Executive Committee member
Mario Ponzo (Italy)Executive Committee member
T. Rasmussen (Denmark) 
Geza Révész (Netherlands)Executive Committee member
Henri Wallon (France)Executive Committee member

This permanent international committee was to interact with the ad hoc local organisation committee created for each specific congress. Whereas its first members (N = 27) were appointed by the Congress Assembly itself, among those present, most of its future members were to be co-opted. Ten countries were represented in the first ICPC (see Table 4). It was also decided that the first ICPC would meet in December 1891 to receive proposals and to start drafting the programme of the next congress, in order to be able to publicise it at least 6 months in advance.

Table 4. Members (N = 27) of the very first ICPC appointed in 1889, from those present, to serve till 1892
Beaunis, Henry (France)Hitzig, Edouard (Germany)
Benedikt, Moritz (Austria)James, William (USA)
Bernheim, Hippolyte (France)Lombroso, Cesare (Italy)
Bertrand, Alexis (France)Marillier, Léon (France)
Danilewski, B. (Russia)Münsterberg, Hugo (Germany)
Delboeuf, Joseph (Belgium)Myers, Frederick (UK)
Espinas, Alfred (France)Neiglick, Hjalmar (Finland)
Ferrari, H. (France)Ochorowicz, Julian (Russia)
Forel, Auguste (Switzerland)Ribot, Théodule (France)
Galton, Francis (UK)Richet, Charles (France)
Gley, Eugène (France)von Schrenck-Notzing, Albert
Grote, Nikolay (Russia)(Germany)
Gruber, Edouard (Romania)Sidgwick, Henry (UK)
Herzen, Pierre (Switzerland)Sperling, Arthur (Germany)

Finally, the last proposal of the Commission regarding financial aspects was adopted: it was decided that all remaining money, once the Proceedings had been published, would be transferred to the Organizing Committee of the next congress. The basis for IUPsyS was thus solidly laid. ICP has consistently been the most important activity of IUPsyS, a fact confirmed by national membership surveys as recently as 2013.

The closing banquet

In his report of the first ICP, James (1889) talks enthusiastically about the closing banquet on Saturday, 10 August, that was held on the first floor of the newly opened Eiffel Tower. He becomes lyrical when he speaks of the spirit and the soul that “hardly could (find) finer subjects of contemplation than the wonderfully illuminated landscape of exhibition grounds, palaces, and fountains spread out below, with all the lights and shadows of nocturnal Paris framing it in.” During this banquet, as described by Nuttin (1992), multiple toasts were made to Professor Richet by Cesare Lombroso, amongst others, mentioning that he was “the representative of anti-chauvinism in science!” On these joyful notes, the first ICP ended, setting the tone for future ICPs, especially of the basic form, while the content has developed according to the constantly evolving state of the science of psychology.

On 15 August, a few days after the close of the congress, James wrote from Liverpool to his friend, Karl Stumpf, as follows:

The Congress in Paris was delightful. I have written a very short account of it for Mind which you will see, so I say nothing of it now, except this, that the courtesy of the Frenchmen was beyond all praise and that the sight of 120 men all actively interested in psychology has made me feel much less lonely and ready to finish my book (Essays in Psychology) this year with a great deal more entrain. A book hanging on so long in one's hands at last gets outgrown, and even disgusting to me. The Congress has remedied that. (Burkhardt, 1984, p. 410)


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The first Congress of Physiological Psychology held in 1889 was to be the crucial starting point of the sustained and remarkable developmental history that organised psychology has known from that moment on. Since then, 29 international congresses of psychology have been held in most regions of the world. The last ICP held in Cape Town in July 2012, the first on the African continent, was arguably the most successful ICP,9 a claim nonetheless made at the conclusion of almost every ICP. Paris has been the most popular ICP host city for some nine decades since the first ICP (1889, 1900, 1937, 1976), with London (1892, 1969), Stockholm (1951, 2000), Montréal (1954, 1996) and Brussels (1957, 1992) each hosting two.

From the initial group of 27 members of the ICPC, representing 10 countries, a strong and representative organisation, the IUPsyS, has emerged with a membership of national associations of psychology or science academies in 82 countries (and continuing to expand), representing more than a million psychologists worldwide. IUPsyS has truly become the Global Voice of Psychology; it is now present within all major international governmental institutions, such as the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is also a very active member of the two major umbrella organisations for science, the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC), where its representatives regularly hold positions of leadership.

In 1889, psychology was barely starting to come of age and the subject itself had a different meaning to different people. Most of its early proponents, or those who identified themselves as psychologists, actually came from other allied disciplines, such as medicine and its different specialities (psychiatry, neurology, physiology), philosophy, literature, anthropology, physics, biology, and sociology, among others. During those days, there was also much interest in paranormal or occult phenomena, as well as in hypnosis and suggestibility. This created some conflicts with those more interested in concrete empirical matters to be studied through the use of experimental and other objective methods for gathering data and building theories. Whereas hypnosis has gained scientific respectability, especially with the work done by some eminent experimental psychologists (in particular, Clark Hull and Ernest Hilgard), this has not been the case for the different areas of psychical research. Today, there is no existing association of psychology with parapsychology and allied fields. But, during the initial congresses of psychology, there was considerable discussion and much interest was raised by these questions. At the turn of the twentieth century, with the remarkable development that empirically oriented experimental psychology was pursuing, the two orientations gradually became separate and each has maintained its own identity.

As is the case with enduring global institutions such as the Olympic Games, a discernible outcome of holding an ICP has been the very positive and stimulating effects that an International Congress of Psychology has had on the development of the discipline in the host countries. There has also been significant growth in the scientific underpinnings of psychology and a greater public appreciation of psychology's value in society.

Piéron (1954), who was the first president of IUPsyS after its formal creation, notes that a large number of international congresses have significantly marked the development of psychology by initial presentations made or thematics discussed at an ICP. For instance, the 6th ICP in Geneva (1909) marked the appearance of Pavolvian theory; the 8th ICP in Groningen (1926), the appearance of Gestalt theory; the 12th ICP in Edinburgh (1948), the emergence of social psychology; the 13th ICP in Stockholm (1951), the importance of psychoanalysis; the 14th ICP in Montreal (1954), the emergence of neuropsychology; the 15th ICP in Brussels (1957), cybernetics. International Congresses of Psychology do attract eminent scientists from wide-ranging areas of expertise that truly reflects the geographic spread of psychology in the spirit of the very first ICP 125 years ago. International Congresses of Psychology also attract other disciplines as well as accomplished persons from science and other human endeavours, as evidenced in Nobel laureates Daniel Kahneman and Desmond Tutu speech, respectively, at the opening sessions of the Beijing and Cape Town ICPs.


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  • Burkhardt, F. (Ed.) (1984). The works of William James: Essays in psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Claparède, E. (1930). Esquisse historique des congrès internationaux de psychologie. In Ninth International Congress of Psychology (pp. 3347). Princeton, NJ: Psychological Review.
  • Congrès international de psychologie physiologique. (1890). Compte rendu présenté par la Société de psychologie physiologique de Paris (Proceedings presented by the Society of Physiological Psychology of Paris). Paris, France: Bureau des Revues.
  • James, W. (1889). The Congress of Physiological Psychology at Paris. Mind, 14, 614.
  • Centenaire de Théodule Ribot: Jubilé de la psychologie scientifique française. (1939). Agen, France: Imprimerie Moderne.
  • Marillier, L. (1889). Le congrès de psychologie physiologique de 1889. Revue philosophique de la France et de l'étranger, 28, 539546.
  • Montoro, L. (1982). Los Congresos Internacionales de Psicologia (1889–1960) (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Universidad de Valencia, Valencia, Spain.
  • Montoro, L., Carpintero, H., & Tortosa, F. (1982). Los origenes de los Congresos Internacionales de Psicologia. Revista de la Historia de la Psicologia, 1, 4357.
  • Nuttin, J. R. (1992). Les premiers congrès internationaux de psychologie. In Contributions to the history of the International Congresses of Psychology: A posthumous homage to J.R. Nuttin (pp. 774). Valencia, Spain/Leuven, Belgium: Revista de la Historia de la Psicologia/Studia Psychologica.
  • Ochorowicz, J. (1881). Projet d'un congrès international de psychologie. Revue philosophique de la France et de l'étranger, 12, 117.
  • Piéron, H. (1954). Histoire succincte des congrès internationaux de psychologie. L'Année Psychologique, 54, 397405.
  • Premier Congrès International d'hypnotisme. (1890). Paris, France: Dion.
  • Ribot, T. (1890). Discours du président. In Congrès international de psychologie physiologique (pp. 2932). Paris, France: Bureau des Revues.
  • Richelle, M., & Carpintero, H. (Eds.) (1992). Contributions to the history of the International Congresses of Psychology: A posthumous homage to J.R. Nuttin. Valencia, Spain/Leuven, Belgium: Revista de la Historia de la Psicologia/Studia Psychologica.
  • Richet, C. (1890). Discours du secrétaire général. In Congrès international de psychologie physiologique (pp. 3238). Paris, France: Bureau des Revues.
  • Rosenzweig, M. R., Holtzman, W. H., Sabourin, M., & Bélanger, D. (2000). History of the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS). Hove, U.K.: Psychology Press.
  1. 1

    The authors are respectively Treasurer and President of the International Union of Psychological Science. IUPsyS is the present acronym of the International Union of Psychological Science. It was originally IUPS, but this was changed in 1982. In the drive to become a full member of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), which has since become the International Council for Science, the acronym IUPS became a problem as it was also used by the International Union of Physiological Science since the latter's membership of ICSU in 1955. It was then decided to change the acronym to IUPsyS to avoid conflict once the Union had been recognised as a full member of ICSU (Rosenzweig et al., 2000).

  2. 2

    In the German tradition, privatdozent is the title given to a lecturer who received fees from his students rather than a university salary. This was, however, a first and necessary step before being awarded a Chair. Ochorowicz had obtained his doctorate from the University of Leipzig in 1874. He was privatdozent till 1881 and then became professor at the Jan Kazimierz Polish University of Lemburg (Nuttin, 1992).

  3. 3

    Lemburg is a city (now called Lviv) in West-Central Ukraine near the Polish border. Founded in 1256, it was captured by Poland in 1340, passed to Austria in 1772, and was retaken by Poland in 1918. The city was ceded to the USSR in 1945. After the demise of the USSR in 1991, Lviv became part of an independent Ukraine and is a bastion of Ukrainian nationalism.

  4. 4

    Although Ribot, professor of psychology at the Collège de France, was one of the three vice-presidents of the Organizing Committee, he gave the presidential address because both the President, Professor Jean-Martin Charcot, a distinguished neurologist and medical director of La Salpétrière Hospital, and the two other vice-presidents, Valentin Magnan, a psychiatrist, and Hippolyte Taine, a philosopher, were absent. In IUPsyS publications (Rosenzweig et al., 2000), Ribot is usually listed as being the Acting President, whereas Charcot is deemed to be Honorary President. In fact, it is reported that Charcot did not attend any sessions of the congress (Claparède, 1930; James, 1889).

  5. 5

    “Il ne saurait y avoir de doute pour personne qu'aucun esprit individuel, quelque vigoureux qu'on le suppose, ne parviendra jamais à créer d'un coup de génie le corps entier d'une grande science. C'est aux travaux collectifs qu'il faut avoir recours. On le comprend déjà, et on le pratique même. Une chose cependant manque aux meilleures tendances actuelles: l'organisation du travail. Il nous faut donc chercher le moyen d'y arriver. Je n'en vois qu'un seul, et je le soumets au jugement des psychologues: celui d'un congrès international” (Ochorowicz, 1881, p. 10).

  6. 6

    “Poursuivons la réalisation du congrès, et, ne dût-il rendre d'autres services que de mettre à jour les côtés faibles de l'état actuel de la psychologie, ce serait toujours un pas en avant, un premier pas vers l'amendement ; ce serait toujours le meilleur service que l'on puisse rendre à cette science rajeunie, justement nommée la plus belle et la plus digne de l'homme” (Ochorowicz, 1881, p. 17).

  7. 7

    In 1992, on the occasion of the 25th ICP held in Brussels, Belgium, a posthumous homage to Joseph R. Nuttin, the IUPsyS President from 1972 to 1976, took the form of a joint publication by Revista de Historia de la Psicologia (Valencia, Spain) and Studia Psychologica (Leuven University Press) edited by Marc Richelle and Helio Carpintero. In this homage, amongst many contributions, we find a most interesting unpublished manuscript by Nuttin that deals with the first 5 international congresses of psychology. The manuscript was left unfinished since he had intended to also include all the other congresses. Nuttin unfortunately died before completing his work. This published homage is the ancestor of a book on the history of IUPsyS under the co-authorship of Mark Rosenzweig, Wayne Holtzman, Michel Sabourin and David Bélanger. In his text, written in French and entitled “Les premiers congrès internationaux de psychologie” (The first International Congresses of Psychology), Nuttin presents the most comprehensive analysis known of the critical circumstances and the historical context that precipitated the organization of the first ICP. It is for this reason that this paper relies significantly on the ideas developed by Nuttin.

  8. 8

    The First World War caused a long break between Geneva (1909) and Oxford (1923) ICPs, and the next break between Paris (1937) and Edinburgh (1948) ICPs was occasioned by the Second World War. Also interesting to note is that from 1889 to 1926 the country of residence of each member of the ICPC is indicated, whereas from 1926 to 1951, it was the city of residence. IUPsyS is a country member organisation.

  9. 9

    Delegates at ICP 2012 were from 103 countries, representing the widest geographic spread of any ICP; the invited component alone comprised 7 of the 30 parallel sessions.