Psychology came into its own at Brown in 1892 after the arrival of Edmund Burke Delabarre, who installed Brown’s first psychology laboratory. Before that time psychology had been dealt with as a field of speculative philosophy. Intellectual philosophy, taught by Francis Wayland, George Ide Chace, and Ezekiel Gilman Robinson, was a forerunner of psychology. Student notes on lectures dictated by Chace (and recorded verbatim year after year) reveal his focus on the nervous system. In his annual report for 1872, Robinson described his senior course, “In Intellectual Philosophy the attention of the class was directed to so much of psychology as pertains to the science of the mind, and to the fundamental principles of ontology, or metaphysics proper.” He taught by dictation, although toward the end of his career he introduced recently published text books, that of John Dewey in 1887-88 and of David Jayne Hill in 1888-89. Elisha Benjamin Andrews, succeeding Robinson as president, took over the instruction in intellectual and moral philosophy. He wrote in his 1891 annual report, “Psychology, pursued by the senior class during the first term, was treated mainly from the rational point of view, yet with effort to give due attention to the certain and probable results of recent work of Experimental Psychology and Psychophysics. The usual lectures and discussions were supplemented with personal investigations by all the members of the class ... Most was done in Hypnotism, to which one section devoted exclusive attention.”
Edmund Burke Delabarre started experimental work in psychology at Brown in 1892, and remained for forty years. Although Delabarre trained some master’s level students, a vigorous graduate program did not exist until Leonard Carmichael came to Brown from Princeton as assistant professor in 1927. He was also appointed director of the psychological laboratory. The new laboratory was being converted from a dwelling at 89 Waterman Street, and Carmichael made a part of the building his own living quarters until his marriage. In 1928 Harold Schlosberg came from Princeton to join the department. Carmichael organized a broad undergraduate program by enlisting the cooperation of staff members at nearby hospitals, including Dr. Arthur H. Ruggles at Butler Hospital and Dr. Herbert Jasper at the Emma Pendleton Bradley Home (now Bradley Hospital). Brown awarded its first Ph.D. degree in psychology in 1933 to Lester F. Beck, whose topic was “Manual Skills and the Measurement of Handedness.”
In 1936 when Leonard Carmichael left Brown for the University of Rochester, he recommended as his replacement Walter S. Hunter, professor of genetic psychology at Clark University. Hunter arrived, bringing with him Clarence H. Graham. Also from Clark the Brown Psychology Department gained Raymond R. Willoughby and J. McVicker Hunt. Carl Pfaffmann ’33, who won a Rhodes scholarship and earned a Ph.D. in physiology from Cambridge University, came back to Brown in 1940. Lorrin Riggs, who did his graduate work with Drs. Hunter and Graham at Clark, came in 1938 as a researcher on leave from the University of Vermont. He returned to Brown at Graham’s request in 1941 to do military research under a National Defense Research Committee contract. At that time Riggs achieved recognition in the field of vision research by inventing a plastic lens with a silver electrode for measuring the transmission of electrical impulses between the retina and the brain. He continued his research in the area of eye movements in human vision. Donald B. Lindsley, who came in 1938, did pioneering research in psychophysiolgy. In 1939 brain wave records taken under his direction were admitted in a Rhode Island court for the first time as evidence in a murder trial.
During the second World War members of the department made significant contributions. Graham conducted war research on vision and on personality. Riggs worked in the field of optics and the design of controls for field artillery sights. Pfaffmann was a naval officer assigned to psychological work in aviation. Lindsley conducted research on radar operators. Hunter was a member of the Emergency Committee of the National Research Council, a consultant to the Secretary of War on psychological warfare, a consultant to the Army Specialized Training Program, and Chief of the Applied Psychology Panel of OSRD. After the war Brown lost three top psychologists. Clarence Graham, known for his work on vision, left for Columbia. Donald Lindsley, who had worked with children at the Emma Pendleton Bradley Home and conducted research on brain waves, went to Northwestern University. J. McVicker Hunt, who had edited a two-volume treatise on personality and behavior disorders, became research director for the Institute of Welfare Research of the Community Service Society of New York. Hunt was elected president of the American Psychological Association, and later was professor and Director of the Developmental Psychology Institute at the University of Illinois. Julius Kling, whose interest is experimental psychology, came in 1951.
Hunter’s model of a department meshed perfectly with President Wriston’s goals for Brown, with a small number of tenured professors, all of whom were recognized as excellent scholars and scientists, and a group of young faculty members who came to Brown with the expectation of sharpening their research and teaching skills before moving on. One of Hunter’s special attributes was his ability to maintain a spirit of non-competitiveness among graduate students and faculty members, such that former instructors and assistant professors retained affections for Brown and continued to think of themselves as part of the extended Brown family. Looking back to the Hunter years, Lorrin Riggs recalled Hunter as “a sort of academic father whose benevolent dictatorship provided a smoothly running department. He saw to it that we could all conduct research and teaching with a minimum of interference. During those days, the department was poorly housed in three old frame houses, and our research funds were so small that most of our equipment had to be the product of our own hands. But it was a stimulating experience.”
Hunter retired from the chairmanship in 1954, and was succeeded by Schlosberg. A major change occurred shortly thereafter, as governmental research funds grew rapidly and federal support of graduate education led to a doubling of numbers within psychology. At the same time new undergraduate programs, such as the Identification and Criticism of Ideas, were introduced, and the number of undergraduates increased. Schlosberg guided the department into a new era, with expanded research specialities, a new building, and the opportunity to increase substantially the number of tenured positions. Among the faculty members he recruited were Trygg Engen (olfactory research) in 1954, Anthony Davids (behavior pathology of children) and Russell M. Church (perception and judgment of time) in 1955, Lewis Lipsitt (developmental research and founder of the Child Study Center) in 1957, Allan M. Schrier (primate behavior) in 1958, and Bryan E. Shepp (comparative studies of thinking and judgment) in 1964. Rosemary Pierrel, an assistant and instructor from 1950 to 1955, returned as associate professor in 1961, when she became Dean of Pembroke College.
In recent years the department increased its commitment to the study of human memory and thinking, and some members of this research group eventually joined with colleagues in Linguistics to form the new Department of Cognitive and Lingistic Sciences. The long traition of reasearch in brain and behavior continues to be a major focus in psychology, with several members of the department also contributing to research and teaching activities conducted by the new Department of Neural Sciences. Social Psychology has become a major research and teaching interest in recent years, while the traditional interests of the department in sensing and perceiving, in animal behavior, and in developmental psychology continue to be widely recognized for their excellence. Since Schlosberg’s sudden death in 1964, the department has been chaired Julius W. Kling, Donald S. Blough, Peter D. Eimas, Russell M. Church, Bryan E. Shepp, and Jacques Wright.