May Smith (psychologist)

May Smith
Born 29 August 1879
Hulme, England
Died 21 February 1968 (1968-02-22) (aged 88)
London, England
Occupation Psychologist
Known for Experimental research in the field of industrial psychology

May Smith OBE (29 August 1879 – 22 February 1968) was a British psychologist. Originally a teacher, she received training in experimental psychology from William McDougall. She was an investigator at the Industrial Health Research Board from 1920 to 1944, and made important contributions to the field of industrial psychology. She was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in 1945.

Early life and education

Born in Hulme, Manchester, on 29 August 1879, May Smith was the elder daughter of an iron turner.[1] She attended Owens College on an education scholarship, studying philosophy and some psychology. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and an external diploma in education from the University of London in 1903. After graduating, she taught school in Manchester for two years.[1]

Studies and research at Oxford

In 1905 May Smith began teaching educational psychology at Cherwell Hall, a training school for secondary school teachers in Oxford. She intended to study for a Master of Arts degree in philosophy from the University of Manchester while working full-time.[1] However, after attending lectures by the psychologist William McDougall, she decided to become his student and research assistant.[2] While continuing to teach at Cherwell Hall, she became part of a group of McDougall's students, including William Brown, Cyril Burt, and J. C. Flugel, who were interested in experimental psychology.[3]:57–58

Having been trained in experimental methods by McDougall, Smith developed and carried out a major study on the effects of fatigue. Using herself as the sole research subject, she restricted herself to only 1.5, 3.5 and 5.5 hours of sleep on successive nights, using a variety of tests to evaluate the consequences. These included serial word recall, the capacity to learn nonsense syllables, and performance on several physical tasks. She carried on the experiment for three years, averaging five days a week.[2] May Smith published her findings in the British Journal of Psychology in 1916.[4] She found that there was a brief period immediately after the initial sleep deprivation in which the subject's performance was improved, but that this was followed by a long period in which performance was diminished, and that recovery was slow. She also noted that the fatigued subject's ability to judge her own effectiveness was impaired, "extremely bad work being not infrequently accompanied by a conviction that it is unusually good".[2][4]:349

Among other research projects, Smith worked with McDougall on studying the effects of alcohol and opium on efficiency. This experience led to her being hired to interview incarcerated prostitutes to determine whether or not "drink had contributed largely to their choice of occupation", a hypothesis that was not supported by her findings.[5]

Career in London

In 1920, Smith was hired as an investigator by the Industrial Fatigue Research Board, a government agency which became the Industrial Health Research Board in 1928.[5][6] From the late 1920's, her office was at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she collaborated closely with the epidemiologist and statistician Major Greenwood and the medical psychologist Millais Culpin.[1] She was also a part-time researcher for the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, an industry-funded organization that sought to use psychological techniques for vocational guidance and employee selection.[3]:142

One of her most important contributions began with a study, in collaboration with Culpin and Eric Farmer, of a condition called "telegraphist's cramp", a type of focal dystonia of the hand which had been thought to be caused by physical fatigue.[1] Their research found evidence of a neurotic component in the condition.[7] It was the basis for further research by Smith and Culpin into psychological factors in other occupational diseases, resulting in 1930 in a "landmark" report entitled The Nervous Temperament.[5][8] This work was notable both for its results and for its experimental design, which combined interview-based clinical assessments and objective tests. Demonstrating a positive correlation between Culpin's clinical assessments and Smith's test results, the study enhanced the legitimacy of clinical psychology, then a relatively new discipline.[2]

London University awarded May Smith a Doctor of Science degree in 1930. Her book, An Introduction to Industrial Psychology, was published in 1943.[1] During World War II she taught at both the London School of Hygiene and at Birkbeck College.[5] She retired from the Industrial Health Research Board in 1944.[1]

Later life

May Smith continued to teach part-time at Birkbeck College until 1955. After her retirement from the Industrial Health Research Board, May Smith held several positions on the executive of the British Psychological Society, of which she had been a member since 1914.[1]

In 1945, she was appointed to the Order of the British Empire.[9] She was elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Psychological Society in 1958.[10] May Smith died in London on 21 February 1968.[1]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Lovie, A. D.; Lovie, P. (2004). "Smith, May (1879–1968)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Valentine, Elizabeth (December 2010). "Women in early 20th-century experimental psychology". The Psychologist. 23 (12): 972–974. ISSN 0952-8229.
  3. 1 2 Wooldridge, Adrian (2006). Measuring the Mind: Education and Psychology in England c.1860–1990. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521026185.
  4. 1 2 Smith, May (1916-09-01). "A Contribution to the study of fatigue". British Journal of Psychology. 8 (3): 327–350. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1916.tb00137.x.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Harding, D. W. (October 1968). "May Smith, 1879–1968". Occupational Psychology. pp. 255–257.
  6. Schilling, R. S. F. (July 1944). "Industrial health research: The work of the Industrial Health Research Board, 1918–44". British Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1 (3): 145–152. doi:10.1136/oem.1.3.145. PMC 1035591Freely accessible.
  7. "On telegraphist's cramp". Canadian Medical Association Journal. 17 (10 Pt 1): 1208. October 1927. PMC 408189Freely accessible. PMID 20316553.
  8. Smith, May; Culpin, Millais (1930). The Nervous Temperament. London: Industrial Health Research Board.
  9. "The New Year Honours". The Times. London, England. 3 January 1945. p. 8. Miss M. Smith, D.Sc., lately investigator, Industrial Health Research Bd,, Med. Research Council
  10. "Honorary Fellows of the British Psychological Society". The British Psychological Society. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/21/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.