History of the Department of General Psychology
The current Department of General Psychology emerged from the old Institute of Psychology. The precursors of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Padua go back to 1882, when Roberto Ardigò (1828-1920), the main representative of Italian positivism, was called to teach History of Philosophy at this university. He proposed the creation of positions in experimental psychology, dedicated especially to experimental research and characterized by a rigorously naturalistic vision of science.
The history of the Institute proper began with Vittorio Benussi (1878-1927), who was proclaimed full professor in experimental psychology for exceptional merits at the University of Padua. Here, from 1919 to 1927, the year he untimely passed away, Benussi carried on an intense program of experimental research. This made him the best exponent of the Italian psychology of those years and one of the most original and creative experimental psychologists ever (Boring, 1929; 1950). Experimentalism was, indeed, his legacy to Italian psychology in general and to the Institute of Padua in particular. Wertheimer, Koffka, and Köhler would later extensively use Benussi’s discoveries in the field of visual perception.
Succeeding Benussi in 1927 as the head of the Institute, Cesare Musatti (1897-1989) continued in every respect and developed in an original way, together with Silvia De Marchi (1897-1936), Benussi’s three experimental lines of research: the psychology of perception, the psychology of eye-witness testimony, and the study of suggestibility and hypnosis. Musatti’s original epistemological contribution to Italian psychology anticipated some fundamental themes of international psychology in later years. Thanks to Musatti’s work, Padua’s Institute of Psychology took a prominent position within Italian and also international psychology, especially in the area of experimental research on perception. Musatti formed several pupils within the fields of both psychoanalysis and experimental psychology.
Among these pupils, Fabio Metelli (1907-1987) and Gaetano Kanizsa (1913-1993) stand out. In 1940, Metelli succeeded Musatti as the head of the Institute and continued the Musattian and Benussian tradition. He conducted research on the psychology of eye-witness testimony, focusing in particular on errors in memory and testimony; discovered the interpretative value of Gestalt psychology; and performed commendable experimental research on the visual perception of movement, on figure-ground segregation, on phenomenal identity, on the perception of causality and transparency.
Metelli started a course of applied psychology and career counseling and, in 1962, managed to have the University of Padua launch a post-graduate school in psychology. Furthermore, in 1971 Metelli managed to start the first Italian bachelor and master course in Psychology.
Heir of the Institute, the Department of General Psychology has, since 1986, carried on research in the traditional research areas of perception, animal behavior, psycholinguistics, psychophysics, quantitative psychology, social psychology, clinical psychology as well as in the new research areas of cognitive processes, neuropsychology and neuroscience.