Psychology in the Public Eye

The Cartoonist's History of Psychology


While every aspect of human life and knowledge has fallen under the umbrella of the cartoonist, psychology and psychological topics, being primarily related to the study of human mental and behavioural processes, have been peculiarly eligible sources of caricature and lampooning. The examination of the history of cartoons in this area casts two lights: one directly on the public perception and image of the psychology of the day, and the other indirectly on the changing content of the field. Whilst the cartoon form both exaggerates and simplifies, when viewed as a vehicle for the communication of attitudes and beliefs it does offer a manageable unit for their comparison and assessment.

Psychology Cartoons

This particular web demonstration is being displayed mainly for the benefit of the student of psychology, though it may well have a wider popular appeal too. Psychologists have always considered themselves to have a good sense of humour and here we intend to show ourselves willing to be the object of others' humour. We're turning the table on ourselves: Instead of psychologists holding the rest of the world under the magnifying glass, we're looking at the reflection of images of us cast by magnifying glasses of cartoonists over 140 years.

The other very powerful message of these cartoons is that the content of the discipline as satirised here has itself undergone variously the processes of slow evolution, dramatic leaps and bounds, and the exploration of a number of blind alleys.

The cartoons to be shown and discussed have been selected (in part of course on pragmatic grounds) from those located by a systematic search through broadly comparable political-satirical magazines, from the U.K. and the U.S. These journals were Punch, orThe London Charivari (1841-1980) and Judy, or The London Serio-comic Journal (1872-1904) from the U.K. From the U.S. were Puck (1879-1917), Life (1880-1910), Judge (1903-1923), and The New Yorker (1926-1980).

We plan to produce our cartoon web displays in stages determined partly thematically and partly chronologically, beginning with the 19th century. Our first 3 cartoon galleries will be 1. Blind Alleys of Psychology, 2. Darwin, Lord of the Apes and 3. Galton and the Race of Super Humans.

To explore one or another of these galleries please click on the icons below. The gallery displays are ordered chronologically so it is preferable to begin with Blind Alleys on the left.

Blind Alleys of Psychology Darwin, Lord of the Apes Galton and the Race of Super Humans
Blind Alleys of Psychology Darwin, Lord of the Apes Galton and the Race of Super Humans


This cartoon website was conceived of by Simon Boag and developed by him jointly with Alison Turtle, with the technical assistance of Ethel Harris and Jason Gallate, as an adjunct to the Psychology Museum at the University of Sydney. The initial research was conducted by Alison Turtle in the latter 1980’s, with the assistance of Marilyn Orr. It involved a comprehensive search of the major satirical periodical literature in Britain and the U.S. across 140 years from 1841, well before psychology emerged as an organised discipline, until 1980.