NameMichotte Van Der Berk; Baron; Albert (1881-1965); Professor; FBPsS
SurnameMichotte Van Der Berk
Parallel NameAlbert Michotte
Other NamesProfessor Michotte
DatesAndPlacesBrussels 13 October 1881 born
Louvain 2 June 1`965
ActivityAlbert Edouard Michotte van den Berck was born in Brussels on October 13, 1881, in a wealthy, conservative, French speaking family. At the age of 18, Michotte began to study philosophy at the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie at the Université Catholique de Louvain, where Armand Thiéry had just founded a small Laboratory of Experimental Psychology (1894), after having studied with Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig. In 1899 Michotte graduated with a Master’s thesis on the physiology and psychology of sleep and only one year later (in 1900) he became doctor in philosophy with a Ph.D. thesis on the aesthetics of Herbert Spencer. Immediately thereafter, he entered the faculty of science to obtain a degree of Candidate in Natural Sciences (zoology) in 1902. He conducted research in physiology under Arthur Van Gehuchten, a prominent Belgian neurologist, publishing two papers.

In 1905, Michotte obtained the degree of “Maître agregé de l’Institut Supérieur de Philosophie” with a thesis on regional signs, his frst major work. After a couple of years of what we would now call postdoctoral research, with Wundt in Leipzig (1905) and Külpe in Würzburg (1906–1908), Michotte became responsible for a few courses in Leuven (including a practicum in experimental psychology) and then became full professor in 1912, teaching to students in philosophy, science and medicine. During the Wrst World-War (1914–1918), he emigrated to Holland where he worked at the University of Utrecht with Zwaardemaker on the measurement of acoustical energy.

In terms of topics, ideas, and research methods, Michotte (1952) himself divided his career into three major stages.
In the frst stage (1905–1920), he concentrated primarily on the study of “higher processes” and he made extensive use of “systematic introspection”. He made a distinction between two levels of mental activity, sensory experience and thought. The higher level of thought did not add new mental elements to the lower-level units of experience, their associations, the emotions they give rise to, etc., but could enrich them by means of comprehensive syntheses and the use of symbols. One of the prime examples of Michotte’s work in this period was his research on voluntary choice.

In the second stage (1920–1939), Michotte agreed with the behaviorist critique on the scientiWc limitations of the method of introspection, but he did not agree that psychological research had to be restricted to external, objective behavior. He was convinced that the subject’s state of mind, how she understands the situation in which she Wnds herself, and how she reacts to that situation, all remain essential in psychology. He believed that it was possible to establish systematic relations between stimuli and reactions in the study of perception. His results and conclusions were similar in many ways to those of Gestalt psychology, but he was essentially unaware of that tradition for a long time (because the university library was destroyed in the war), until he met Kovka and Kohler at the International Congress of Psychology at Oxford in 1923. However, he believed that it is futile to study perception in itself and that it should be treated instead as a phase of action in relation to motor and intellectual activity of the individual as well as to his needs.

Michotte’s third stage (1939–1962) was the most fruitful one, and clearly the one in which he developed the ideas and methods for which he is most famous. Building on some earlier ideas first presented at the International Congress of Psychology at Yale in 1929 and in lectures at the Collège de France in Paris (in 1937), Michotte became convinced that we can perceive actions performed by objects or animate
beings (“agents”) on one another in the same way as we can see simple kinetic movements. This led him to find a new line of research, using experimental methods to study fundamental problems of phenomenology – especially involving the perception of causality, permanence, and apparent reality in our experience of the external world. It is in this period, which he characterized as “experimental phenomenology”, that he performed his most famous work on the perception of causality and, with his collaborators, on phenomenal permanence, including the well-known “tunnel effect”. It is also in this period that he attracted a number of international collaborators (e.g., Burke, 1952; Glynn, 1954; Levelt, 1962; Yela, 1952). In addition to these now well-known perceptual topics, Michotte also continued to
work on other topics in perception and cognition and language.

At the age of 71, Michotte officially retired in 1952, although he continued to lecture courses in general and experimental psychology (both in French and in Flemish) until 1956, and he remained active in the laboratory even until 1962. At the age of 84, after a very long and successful career, Albert Michotte died on June 2, 1965.
OtherInfoObituary published in Bull. Brit.psychol.Soc, Vol.19, No.63, 1966 pp, 35-36
ConventionsInternational Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families - ISAAR(CPF) - Ottawa 1996 ISBN ISBN 0-9696035-3-3

National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997

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