Michael Pettit

Associate Professor

Locations / Contact Info:

210 BSB
Keele Campus
Phone: 416 736 2100 Ext. 20759

Email address(es):

mpettit at yorku.ca

Web site(s):

The PsyBorgs Labpage

Faculty & School/Dept.

Faculty of Health - Department of Psychology


PhD - 2006
University Of Toronto

BA - 2001
King's College/Dalhousie


Michael Pettit studies the history and public understanding of science.

His first book The Science of Deception (2013) offered a novel interpretation of the cultural origins of psychology by looking at the discipline's place in the history of capitalism. The book charts the captivation with the practices of deception running through turn-of-twentieth-century American religious, legal, and commercial culture. It addresses how optical illusion crossed between laboratory instruments and amusements in mass culture, the role of psychology in laws regulating the advertising and labeling of food and drugs, the debunking of spirit mediums, pathological lying as a psychiatric diagnosis, the role of the lie detector in policing, and the rise of personality testing.

His second book, The Sex Lives of Animals in the Age of Kinsey, is nearing completion. During the 1940s and 1950s a number of prominent American scientists championed the importance of non-procreative behaviors in understanding both human and animal sexuality. This liberal sexology informed much of the self-help literature and social policy of the sexual revolution. In the 1970s, newly organized feminist, LGBT, and animal liberation movements intervened to alter the core assumptions and practices of this behavioral endocrinology. The book draws on archival documents to trace how individual readers, patients, and activist organizations sought in turn, to engage, debunk, and incorporate this research into hormones and animal behavior into their own identities.

His latest project is a general history of psychology since the 1960s.

He also has an reflexive interest in research methods, examining the history of psychology's ethics and methods while developing new digital and qualitative tools for conducting historical research. Much of this work is done in collaboration with members of the PsyBorgs Digital History of Psychology Lab.

Selected Publications


Michael Pettit, The Science of Deception: Psychology and Commerce in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Special Issues

Michael Pettit & Jacy L. Young, eds., “Psychology and its Publics,” History of the Human Sciences 30(4) (2017).

Alexandra Rutherford & Michael Pettit, eds., “Feminism and/in/as Psychology” History of Psychology 18(3) (2015).

Recent Articles

Michael Pettit, "The Great Cat Mutilation: Sex, Social Movements and the Utilitarian Calculus in 1970s New York City," British Journal for the History of Science: Trends (2017).

Michael Pettit & Jana Vigor, “Pheromones, Feminism, and the Many Lives of Menstrual Synchrony,”BioSocieties 10(3) (2015): 271-294.

Michael Pettit, “Subject Matter: Human Behavior, Psychological Expertise, and Therapeutic Lives,”Social Studies of Science 45(1) (2015): 146-158.

Michael Pettit, Darya Serykh & Christopher D. Green, “Multispecies Networks: Visualizing the Psychological Research of the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex,” Isis 106(1) (2015): 121-149.

Michael Pettit, “Becoming Glandular: Endocrinology, Mass Culture, and Experimental Lives in the Interwar Age,” American Historical Review 118(4) (2013): 1052-1076.

Michael Pettit, “The Problem of Raccoon Intelligence in Behaviourist America,” British Journal for the History of Science 43 (3) (2010): 391-421.


Article Prize - Forum for the History of Science in America - 2011

Early Career Achievement Award - APA Div 26 - 2009

Early Career Award - FHHS - 2006


Currently available to supervise graduate students: Yes

Currently taking on work-study students, Graduate Assistants or Volunteers: Not Indicated

Available to supervise undergraduate thesis projects: Yes

Current Research