psychograph

In early 20th century patents, the "psychograph" shifted from being the term used for a machine that conveyed paranormal or psychic phenomena, to being one of the terms used for a Lie Detector, via phrenology.

In 1922, Fred Campbell filed a patent for a Psychograph, described as follows:

"This invention relates to devices of that class wherein a member moves under the hands of one or more persons without voluntary control by such persons of its movement. As the movements are sometimes ascribed to supernatural agencies, such devices have been given the name psychographs."

Campbell's psychograph demanded "an utmost seriousness of demeanor in the user", and to this end included an image of "a yogi or mystic, the object being to attain a proper suggestive atmosphere."

In the same year, William Swallow's patent application for a Spirit Wheel was also defined as a form of psychograph.

Henry C. Lavery's original patent for a phrenological psychograph was filed in 1905 as an "Anatomical Measuring and Recording Machine", and entered commercial production as a Psycograph in 1931. Lavery's machine offered phrenological personality testing with associated recommendations for self improvement. The data outputted into a chart which matched personality to vocation in artistic, commerical, literary, mechanical, scientific and humane careers. link

Like the Embassy Theater Test, Lavery's Psycograph machines were part of a metropolitan culture of public demonstration of novelty machines, including in theater lobbies. Their promotion stressed heavily that the technique was based on contemporary science, and was highly efficient: patrons went off with a printed readout in under two minutes. The advice was pitched at both career and marital contexts.

In 1938, an Australian news story reported that a grazier from Forbes learned of his wife's plans to leave him via a "psychograph", which seems to have been a paper questionnaire she filled out and intended to send for analysis to a Sydney post office box. This psychograph seems to have drifted towards a kind of personality test. link

Back in the US, the term had shifted decisively towards the science of deception detection. Clarence Lee's 1938 lie detector patent claim used psychograph as the term for a composite machine used to measure heartbeat, blood pressure and respiration: "The cardiograph, the pneumograph, and the signal device, all operate pens that move over a graph chart which in turn is moved at a predetermined speed by any desired mechanism such as by a synchronous motor."

What happened to cause the psychograph to shift in meaning from a device that gave access to the spirit world, to a device that exposed human deception?

Part of the answer seems to lie in the phrenological detour, summoning up the history of experiments with bodily automatism, that spread from physiology to literature and painting. Automatism was claimed as a phenomenon equally by spiritualists and biologists, each group believing that the human hand could be persuaded by something other than volition to move, leaving traces of its movement.