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Emotion-sensing psychogalvanoscope demonstrated at film studio

Emotion-sensing psychogalvanoscope demonstrated at film studio

Feb. 27, 1930: Dr. Karl T. Waugh conducts a psychogalvanoscope test on actress Dorothy Sebastian while others look on at MGM Studios. Standing left to right are Capt. Humphrey Read, who was assisting with the test, and Hollywood figures Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Pauline Garon, Colleen Smith and Gwen Lee.

The Los Angeles Times reported the next morning:

An electric galvanoscope played strange tricks yesterday at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios when Dr. Karl T. Waugh, dean of psychology at the University of Southern California, measured the emotions of stars and players with the psychogalvanoscope, new device of science. The emotional impulses were gauged in terms of vacillation of the needle of the intricate but simple-looking machine.

The stars of the screen were used because it was found that co-eds make poor subjects because they are placid in temperament. The tiny needle jumped all over the place when the electrons were attached to the hands of film players and perfumes of different odors released under their nostrils.

Take the case of the Duncan sisters. They gave opposite reactions, one reacting to impulses of sadness and the other being impervious to these and reacting to joyful impulses. Strangely enough, Rosetta, the clown of the two, reacted to sadness and Vivian to joy.

To explain the machine, Dr. Waugh cited the reaction in the case of Dorothy Sebastian, who reacted to memories of childhood when smelling the odor of new-mown hay with an emotional intensity that made the needle leap.

“Memories recalled by the smell of new-mown hay,” Dr. Waugh said, “made her heard beat a fraction faster – not enough to detect with a stethoscope. But whenever the heart increases its speed, ever so slightly, it draws blood from the surface of the skin, by pumping it faster toward the interior of the body. Hence the resistance in her skin increased, and a jump of ten points on the scale of psychogalvanoscope resulted.”

Put to practical use, he explained, the machine can be hooked up in such a way as to detect audience reactions while watching motion pictures, in medicine to ascertain psychological disturbances injuring health. He said, for instance, that as worry generates poison in the body other emotions probably form other toxins.

The machine is the invention of Dr. Paul Humphrey, Columbia University psychologist who a year ago, started experiments, later taken up by Dr. Waugh. In connection with the experiments yesterday, the oleofactometer, which measures certain perfumes and administers them, to inspire various emotions, was used. It is the invention of Capt. Humphrey Read, F.P.G.S., who aided in the tests of the film stars.

Other players who were tested included Buster Keaton, Pauline Garon, Gwen Lee, Hedda Hopper, Anita Page and several others.

This photo was Page 1 lead art in the Feb. 28, 1930, Los Angeles Times. But this new method of testing reactions never took hold, and the term psychogalvanoscope faded from the pages of the Los Angeles Times.

A galvanoscope is an instrument used to detect the presence and rough direction of an electrical current. It was used in some early lie-detector machines.

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