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Rants and Raves

Link to Spanish translation by Claudia Monteys.

Herewith, occasional and largely informal commentary on issues relating to psychology as a discipline and a profession, including mental-health policy issues, beginning with a sort of haiku and ending with a note on academic life in general:

I don't blog and I
Don't tweet.  I'm not on Facebook
And I'm not Linked In.

The Red and the Blue

When I was in college at Colgate University (1966-1970), I joined a fraternity -- the Greek houses were the basis of campus social life, and Colgate didn't, at the time, offer much by way of housing for "unaffiliated" upperclassmen (it does much better now, partly by buying up the houses themselves and pretty much abolishing the Greek system, which is a good thing).  But it wasn't that kind of fraternity: it housed an eclectic collection of swimmers, liberals, and gays (though this last was pretty much unspoken), and there was no blackball system -- new members were chosen by random selection from interested freshmen.  And there was no hazing, either.  Instead, each new member was given a task to perform.  Colgate separated its semester by a "January Special Studies Period", now abandoned, in which students pursued some individual or group project under the auspices of a faculty member.  I was deeply involved in music (singing bass in the Glee Club, playing French horn in the orchestra), and also very involved in the Episcopal Church, and I got it into my head that I would compose a Mass.  In one month.  With no particular knowledge of music theory -- though I did buy Walter Piston's treatise on Orchestration.  It was an entirely stupid idea, and the final product was execrable.  But it is a tribute to Colgate, and to Donald Wheelock (now retired from teaching at Smith), the music professor who supervised the project with good humor, that I was put on a long leash.

Anyway, when the older members found out about this, I was assigned (by Gerry LaCavera '69) to compose a song as a pledge project -- on the theme of "Raccoon Shit is Blue" (this was a fraternity, after all, and it was the 60s).  I ended up composing only the verses, which I sang to the tune of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (originally written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach, and famously recorded by The Platters):

They asked me how I knew
My true love was true
I of course replied,
"Something here inside
Cannot be denied"

They said someday you'll find
All who love are blind
When your heart's on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes

So I chaffed them and I gaily laughed
To think they could doubt my love
Yet today, my love has flown away
I am without my love

Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide
So I smile and say,
"When a lovely flame dies,
Smoke gets in your eyes"

Smoke gets in your eyes
They asked me how I knew
Raccoon shit was blue
I looked up and said,
"Horseshit you've been fed,
Raccoon shit is red

They threw me on my ass
Out upon the grass
Saying "Join us too,
Join the motley crew,
Raccoon shit is blue"

Through the day and through the night
We kept discussing
All the time omitting facts
And mostly cussing

Now, sadly I replied
"This I can't abide,
I just can't agree
With what you just said,
Raccoon shit is red"

Raccoon shit is red

Reprint Requests

There was a time when academics would mail postcards to each other requesting reprints of journal articles.  Well, not so much anymore.  Most journal articles are available on line, and most of the very few reprint requests academics receive now come over very prosaic email.  But once in a while, you receive a reprint request that is so striking that you hang onto it.  Link to a few of my favorites.

Mental Health Parity

Link to a letter to the editor published in the New York Times (December 15, 2001), and expanded commentary.


Truth Serum

Link to a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal (submitted June 20, 2002).


On Changing the Name of the American Psychological Society

A very ill-conceived idea.  Link to PDF.


Great Books in Psychology

On January 13, 2005, I circulated a message to three listservs, the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, inviting listmembers to contribute short lists of fondly remembered, perhaps life- or career-changing textbooks, read either as undergraduates or graduate students, along with a sentence or two about the effect they had on them.  Link to the results of the poll.


Social Neuroscience

Does Neuroscience Constrain Social-Psychological Theory?  Link to an invited commentary published in Dialogue, the newsletter of SPSP (2006).


On EBPs in Mental Health

Regarding my chapter in the volume, Evidence-Based Practices in Mental Health, a few individuals have written to question my strong position favoring EBPs.

Correspondent #1:  I am a graduate student... reading Evidence-Based Practices in Mental Health.  In reading your paper, entitled "Scientific Research", I was struck with a few questions that I am hoping you may be able to answer.
You make the statement that until very recently the medical profession had few effective treatments for diseases, thus most treatments were palliative in nature.  Your implication is that this treatment is not effective and certainly not respected.  Of course ideally treatments in both the medical and psychological profession would "cure" patients, but it is often not a possibility.  When that is the case, how is it not beneficial to receive palliative care for physical or mental ailments?  

I don't mean to imply that palliative treatments aren't effective and not respected.  When a disease is incurable, palliation is one possible approach.  But I think that the goal of medicine, including mental health, should be to move beyond palliation with all deliberate speed -- to cure disease when possible, and when it is not, to maximize symptom relief; actively help the patient manage chronic illness, and promote rehabilitation where appropriate.  In many cases, there is much more that we can do besides palliation, and when there is, we should do it.  And I think that where palliation is the choice, the provider has the obligation to make sure that the palliative treatment actually   -- well, palliates.  So even in the case of palliative care, we need EBPs to make a rational choice among treatment options in the best interests of the patient.  Palliative treatments that work are beneficial. Palliative treatments that do not work are not, and should be abandoned.

You state that insurance companies and managed care will be more likely to reimburse clients for services proven to be EBPs or ESTs, however hospice coverage is widely available.  In roughly 47 states it is provided by both Medicare and Medicaid and by many private providers.  If palliative care is covered for medical conditions why is it not covered for mental conditions? 

Yes, but hospice care is an extreme measure, to ease the situation of a dying patient for whom nothing more can be done.  Excepting suicide, nobody dies from mental illness, so hospice care is not a good analogy.  Whether MD or PhD, the doctor's first task is to do no harm; his/her second task is to make the patient well, or at least better.  Now, it may be that in some cases of chronic mental illness, long-term hospitalization is the best alternative for the patient, and these costs should be reimbursed by third-party payers, just as long-term hospitalization for, say, polio or tuberculosis would be (it is clear now that it was a mistake to empty the state mental hospitals, instead of improving the conditions of the patients housed in them).  But even in that case, I believe that there is an obligation to deploy EBPs directed toward management and rehabilitation (which is what should have been done).

You also make the statement that patient values are important, but not as important as scientific evidence.  I strongly disagree with this assertion.  Patients have a right to seek out whatever medical treatment they wish.  Eastern and Western medicines are both used in this country.  Why can't there be multiple types of therapies as well?  How is the opinion of the client in terms of their improvement not the most valid marker of the improvement?  

I stand by my statement.  Patients have a right to seek out any treatment they wish, and to pay for it out of their own pockets; but providers have an obligation to provide treatments that are effective, and third-party payers are under no obligation to pay for treatments that are ineffective.

My position is very simple: the status of clinical psychology as a profession, including its autonomy from psychiatry and its eligibility for third-party payments, depends on its adherence to its scientific base.  Or, put another way: if someone had cancer, or heart disease, they'd insist that their doctor try a proven method.  Why would anyone treat their mind differently than their body?


Correspondent #2 wrote: "In his 2006 PsycCRITIQUES review of the volume Evidence Based Practices in Mental Health, Sher expressed his concern about the lack of the consumer viewpoint...."  S/he also enclosed a manuscript which discussed clinical trials from a statistical and consumer vantage point.
Ken Sher is right that the book didn't explicitly contain an expression of the consumer viewpoint, but I thought that I at least addressed some consumer-oriented issues in my contribution, where I discussed the  Rosenblatt/Atkisson framework for evaluating outcomes (p. 29).  The implication of their "cube" is that there are actually a lot of different consumers of mental health services, not just the individual patient, and each of them probably evaluates the outcome of treatment according to different criteria.
"There are many consumer-oriented issues related to psychotherapy and evidence-based practice; some were very briefly touched on in the volume, but this is a very broad area that warrants much more discussion -- perhaps to the extent of a volume of its own. For example, the Rosenblatt/Attkisson paper addresses these issues for severe mental illness, which is quite different from the more ordinary issues a typical clinical psychologist deals with in everyday practice.  As I mention in my first paragraph, "No one client can expect to represent all, but this client would like to provide some commentary on the volume in the hope that it might be seriously considered by at least some in the mental health profession." As you will see, one way in which I am not a typical client is that I have a decent statistical and scientific background, and consequently bring up questions of statistical validity in clinical trials."

I agree that clinical trials pose some difficult statistical issues, epitomized by the difference between statistical and clinical significance, and the fact that we're dealing with average outcomes, which may hide the fact that even an effective treatment doesn't work for everyone who gets it.  But these problems shouldn't serve as an excuse for doing nothing about the scientific basis of clinical practice -- which, frankly, is the position taken by a number of leading figures in the American Psychological Association, some of whom are authors in the Norcross book.  As I've said many times, clinical psychology owes its professional status, including its autonomy from psychiatry and its eligibility for third-party payments, to the assumption that it's practices are justified by a firm scientific base.  But all too many of the leaders in clinical psychology want to practice business as usual.

I'll defend the Rosenblatt/Atkisson cube as a model for representing consumer interests in EBP.  Yes, they focus on severe mental illness, but their basic point is that in any case of mental illness, there are a number of different consumers -- the patient him- or herself, his/her family, employer and colleagues, neighbors and the larger community, all of whom have an interest in whether the patient gets well.  Whoever the consumer is, beginning with the patient, consumer interests are best served by providing services that are both effective and cost-effective.  And the only way we have to identify those services is scientific research, modeled on clinical trials.


Ulric Neisser, Social Cognitive Psychologist

Link to some comments on the "godfather" of cognitive psychology, who died on February 17, 2012.


Free Will and the Libet Experiment

On July 14, 2012, I sent the following letter to the Editor of the New York Times Book Review, concerning a review by Daniel Menaker of Free Will by Sam Harris.  It was never published, but the point it made remains important.

Daniel Menaker seems too willing to accept Sam Harris’s conclusion that free will is an illusion – and not even a necessary one, at that (“Have It Your Way”, July 15, 2012). But the relevant science does not support Harris’s view. Benjamin Libet is no longer alive to defend his experiment, but the latest evidence indicates that his results were wholly an artifact of his procedures. And while a host of evidence in cognitive and social psychology shows that automatic, unconscious processes play some role in our experience, thought, and action, none of it demonstrates that they overwhelm conscious control. So Harris's arguments about free will are based more on ideology than evidence. How free will works is indeed a problem for neuroscientists. But they’ll never solve it so long as they keep denying it.


Duncan Luce (d. 2012)

Duncan and I didn't have too much in common: I barely can do a t-test, after all. But he was a great colleague during my time at Harvard. I was appointed in the Personality and Developmental Studies area, at a time when the Department was just being put back together and those institutional distinctions actually still meant something. But the only available office space was on the 9th floor of William James Hall. A big corner office, and I was happy to have it, but it was embedded in the Laboratory of Psychophysics, where I felt a little like a fish out of water. Maybe it was the Penn Connection, but Duncan and Dave Green (and Douwe Yntema and Edwin Newman) were very friendly and supportive, and even invited me to their Fechner Day celebrations held everys October 22. Later, after I had left Harvard, I had the privilege of working with Duncan on an NRC project to identify the "Leading Edges in Behavioral and Social Science". There I learned just how broad Duncan's interests were -- it turned out that we had more in common than I had imagined at the outset.

Martin Luther King's Alleged Plagiarism

The following Letter to the Editor was published, in edited form, in The Economist (04/14/2018).  The high-school in question was Horseheads High School, from which I graduated in 1966, and the choir in question was directed by Joseph Crupi (I was a tenor, then a baritone, then a bass).  Like many American school choirs, we sang a lot of spirituals, and other "folk" music, to acquaint us with America's musical heritage -- an aspect of cultural literacy, alas, quickly going the way of the passenger pigeon with the current emphasis on STEM subjects.

Your article about Martin Luther King, “Like a Mighty Stream” (March 31, 2018), implies that MLK borrowed the phrase “Free at last!  Free at last! Thank God almighty we are free at last!” from a 1939 novel by Zora Neale Hurston, rather than “an old Negro spiritual”.  But my (all-white, rural upstate New York) high-school choir sang that very spiritual (among others) in the 1962-1963 academic year, and it has been traced as far back as John Wesley Work’s 1907 collection of American Negro Songs: New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro.  Most likely, Hurston herself got it from there.

My First Day at (Graduate) School

For its 2018 "Fall Orientation: issue (08/23/2018), the Daily Californian, student newspaper at UC Berkeley, assigned its reporters to ask faculty about their "most memorable first day of school".  Here was my response to Ketki Samel:

My most memorable first day of school was my first day as a graduate teaching assistant. I was assigned to the introductory psychology course, which was being taught by a brand-new assistant professor who I think had never taught the course (or maybe anything else) before. We arrived at the lecture hall to find relatively few students scattered around. At the appointed hour, the instructor somewhat nervously introduced himself and gave his introductory lecture, with me sitting in the front row dutifully taking notes in case there were questions during discussion section. At the end of the hour, most of the students filed out, but some stayed, and a much larger group swarmed in. This was back in the Dark Ages, when classroom scheduling was done manually, and apparently someone in the registrar’s office had given us the wrong time for our class meeting. The instructor turned to me and said, “I don’t think I can do this again.” So I got up and, working from my notes, repeated his lecture as well as I could. We all got through it, but more importantly, I found that I could stand and deliver to a large group. Over the rest of the semester, I discovered that I especially liked teaching the introductory course, which I did for 38 years.

Claparede's "Recognition et Moiiete" (1911)

In January 2019, Russ Poldrack of Stanford University posted a query to the listserv maintained by the Memory Disorders Research Society concerning Ernst Clapraede's classic paper on "Recognition et moiiete (1911).  In response, I wrote a little postscript to the ensuing thread.

Claparede’s 1911 article was first translated by David Rapaport (Claparede, 1911/1951), and published in his anthology, Organization and Pathology of Thought (Rapaport, 1950).  Rapaport was a psychoanalytic ego-psychologist who tried valiantly to integrate psychoanalysis with scientific psychology, and he was particularly interested in what we could learn from psychopathology (including neurological syndromes) about normal mental life.  The book is a real gem, and can probably be found in most academic libraries who haven’t de-accessioned their books to make room for computer terminals and juice bars.

Rapaport’s translation wasn’t complete, unfortunately, so Bill Banks commissioned a full translation, by Anne-Marie Bonnel and Bernie Baars  (Claparede, 1911/1995), which was included in a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition devoted to implicit memory (Banks, 1995).  Self-promotion alert: the new translation was accompanied by a commentary by yours truly (Kihlstrom, 1995), perhaps because Bill knew that I relied heavily on Claparede in my 1993 Carnegie Symposium paper on the role of the self in consciousness and explicit memory (Kihlstrom, 1997).

In a second special issue on implicit memory (W.P. Banks, 1996) published the first-ever translation of a paper by Korsakoff (Korsakoff, 1889a/1996) which had been cited by Dan Schacter (Schacter, 1987) as the first notice of spared implicit memory in amnesia.  Bill did the translation (with Sandra Jade Karam), and wrote the accompanying commentary (W. P. Banks, 1996).

It’s good to have a full translation of the Claparede paper, though I regret the change in title.  “Selfhood” may be technically correct (I don’t know French), but “me-ness” has more… more… je ne sais quoi.

For some reason, the C&C version of Claparede and Korsakoff doesn’t turn up in a PsycInfo search (though Rapaport’s does).  Neither do Bill’s prefaces to the two special issues. 

I have performed a paragraph-by-paragraph comparison (not sentence-by-sentence; I have my limits) of the translations in Rapaport's anthology and in Consciousness & Cognition.  There are differences in paragraphing, but I can't find anything in the C&C version that isn't in the Rapaport version.  On the contrary: not only does the C&C version lack Rapaport's extensive notes (no surprise), but it also, apparently, lacks a couple of footnotes (to references) that appeared in the original.  For scholarly purposes, I'd recommend the Rapaport version, just for his very erudite, and illuminating, notes.

Link to a PDF comparing the Rapaport and C&C translations.  To view my annotations, turn on Comments after you load the PDF.

Banks, W. P. (1995). Implicit memory. Consciousness & Cognition, 4(4), 369-370. doi: https://doi.org/10.1006/ccog.1995.1043

Banks, W. P. (1996). Implicit memory, Part 2. Consciousness & Cognition, 5(1), 1. doi: https://doi.org/10.1006/ccog.1995.1043

Banks, W. P. (1996). Korsakoff and amnesia. Consciousness & Cognition, 5, 22-26. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/ccog.1996.0003

Claparede, E. (1911/1951). [Recognition and me-ness]. In D. Rapaport (Ed.), Organization and pathology of thought: Selected sources (pp. 58-75). New York: Columbia University Press.

Claparede, E. (1911/1995). Recognition and selfhood. Consciousness & Cognition, 4(4), 371-378. doi: https://doi.org/10.1006/ccog.1995.1044

Kihlstrom, J. F. (1995). Memory and consciousness: An appreciation of Claparede and Recognition et Moiite. Consciousness & Cognition: An International Journal, 4(4), 379-386. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/ccog.1995.1045

Kihlstrom, J. F. (1997). Consciousness and me-ness. In J. D. Cohen & J. W. Schooler (Eds.), Scientific approaches to consciousness (pp. 451-468). Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum.

Korsakoff, S. S. (1889a/1996). Medico-psychological study of a memory disorder. Consciousness & Cognition, 5(1-2), 2-21. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/ccog.1996.0002

Rapaport, D. (Ed.). (1950). Organization and pathology of thought. New York: Columbia University Press.

Schacter, D. L. (1987). Implicit memory: History and current status. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 13, 501-518. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0278-7393.13.3.501

Stress, Ulcers, and Psychological Factors in Medical Illness Generally

In May 2020 Mark Tarrant and Martin Hager posted to the online Open Forum of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology a request for nominations of "classics" in health psychology.  Nobody would call me a card-carrying health psychologist, but my wife Lucy is a card-carrying health-services researcher, and from time to time we offered seminars at Berkeley on various topics related to health psychology, including a graduate seminar  on “Health Cognition, Behavior, and Systems” focused on the problem of compliance with prevention and treatment regimes (link to syllabus, for those who are interested) and an undergraduate seminar on placebo effects (link to syllabus).  Our sense was that while a lot of health psychology was appropriately focused on the psychobiology of the stress-disease connection, there was an awful lot of straight-ahead social science to be done in the domain of health behavior.  At the micro (individual) level, that includes such topics as lay (common-sense) representations of sickness and health; symptom perception and reporting; medication compliance; utilization of health-care services, and psychosomatic interactions, including but not limited to the placebo effect.  At the macro level, there’s the dynamic nature of the health-care system, organizational effects on patient and provider behavior, and mental health issues in primary care (somatization, hypochondriasis, anxiety, and depression).  Not to mention the interactions between the micro and macro levels, including provider-patient communication; adherence to guidelines and plans for treatment and prevention, and inter-professional relations affecting provider and patient behavior.  In other words, a lot of social psychology.  With that background I have a lot of ideas for "classics" that might not be in the mainstream of health psychology. 

In reply to Mark and Martin, I asked "Do “should-be” classics count?".  If so, I nominate “Anxiety and helplessness in the face of stress predisposes, precipitates, and sustains gastric ulceration by Bruce Overmier and Robert Murison (2000; see also their papers from 1997 and 2013).  Ever since Marshall and Warren discovered h. pylori infection in ulcer patients, the medical establishment has been at pains to discount a role for psychology in medical illness.   M&W got the 2005 Nobel Prize in Medicine, and they deserved it.  But more important, Steven Hyman (1994), a prominent biological psychiatrist who was soon to become the Director of NIMH, went so far as to write an article on the discovery entitled "Another One Bites the Dust" -- meaning that ulcers represented another case where a putative psychological cause of illness had been disproved in favor of something biochemical in nature.  But, as O&M might say, “Not so fast”.  In a line of elegant research going back to the 1980s, their animal models clearly challenge a simple bacterial-infection theory of peptic ulcers and show that stress – defined as unpredictable and uncontrollable aversive events – is an equally important causal agent.  This work has not gotten the attention it deserves (the 1997 paper has 12 citations, 3 of them by me), but the 2013 paper, which summarizes their entire program of research, is perhaps the best empirical argument for the biopsychosocial model of disease and illness. 


Hyman, S. E. (1994). Another one bites the dust: An infectious origin for peptic ulcers. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 1, 294-295.

Overmier, J. B., & Murison, R. (1997). Animal models reveal the "psych" in the psychosomatics of peptic ulcers. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 6(6), 180-184. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.ep10772955

Overmier, J. B., & Murison, R. (2000). Anxiety and helplessness in the face of stress predisposes, precipitates, and sustains gastric ulceration. Behavioural Brain Research, 110(1-2), 161-174. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0166-4328(99)00193-X

Overmier, J. B., & Murison, R. (2013). Restoring psychology's role in peptic ulcer. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-being, 5(1), 5-27. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2012.01076.x

On Perception and Cognition

The February 2020 issue of the APS Observer, the house-organ of the Association for Psychological Science, carried an article by Alexandra Michel entitled “Perception and Cognition: Is There Really a Difference?”.   The article began with the assertion that “for decades, textbooks have taught that there is a clear line between perception – how we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell – and higher-level cognitive processes that allow us to integrate and interpret our senses.  It then went on to describe “interdisciplinary research” (mostly from cognitive neuroscience) that blurred the distinction between perception and cognition.  When the article first appeared, its premise didn’t sound right, but I didn’t think about it too much.  But when the article reappeared in an APS “Summer Spotlight” email highlighting “some of our most popular stories from the year so far”, I thought about it some more, and it still didn’t sound right.  The following was published in the "Comment" section of the article in the Observer.

I taught the introductory psychology course for almost 40 years, using high-end texts like Gleitman, and I never saw one that explicitly stated, or even implied, that perception was independent of cognition.   True, every introductory text I know gives perception its own chapter (and the best ones give sensation its own chapter, as well).  But this is just because we know more about cognition than about other areas of psychology, like motivation and emotion, and so the material has to be broken up into manageable bites.  Learning, memory, thinking, and language usually get separate chapters as well.   Often, intro texts combine motivation and emotion into a single chapter.  But with continued development, these areas might well be split up too – e.g., into separate chapters  on basic and social emotions, or on biological drives and human social motives. 

Cognitive psychology is about knowledge, and the British empiricists taught that knowledge is acquired through experience and reflections on experience.  That means that cognition begins with perception.  The major textbooks in cognitive psychology, including Neisser (1967), Anderson (6e,2005), Medin et al. (4e, 2005), and Reisberg (7e, 2020) all contain chapters on perception. 

Wundt may have made a distinction between “lower” and “higher” mental processes, but in my reading that was mainly for methodological reasons – depending on whether the stimulus was physically present in the environment. 

Helmholtz certainly thought that perception depended on cognition – that’s where “unconscious inferences” come from.  And post-Helmholtz, there is the whole “constructivist” tradition in perception, including such figures as Richard Gregory, Julian Hochberg, and Irvin Rock, who argued that perception is intelligent mental activity involving the interaction of bottom-up and top-down processing. 

And modern signal-detection theory holds that even the most elementary perceptual operation – noticing a stimulus in a field of noise – depends intimately on the observer’s expectations and motives.

Now, things may be changing these days.  J.J. Gibson’s (1979) theory of direct perception asserts that all the information needed for perception is provided by the stimulus, and (as Michel points out) Firestone and Scholl (2016) have argued that there’s no evidence for the involvement of top-down processes in perception.  But these are recent, revolutionary statements, intended to constrain if not overthrow Helmholtzian constructivism.  It’s just not true that psychologists have believed this all along, leading perception to be treated as independent of cognition.  What psychologists have believed all along was that perception provides the experiential basis of cognition, and cognition enables perceptual construction.  As Neisser (1976) wrote, perception is where cognition and reality meet. 

On Cloning Stanford

In an Op-Ed essay published in the New York Times, David Kirp, a Professor of Education at UC Berkeley, suggested that elite universities could expand their student bodies, and thus improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in college admissions, by cloning themselves into branch campuses situated around the country ("Why Stanford Should Clone Itself", 04/07/2021).   I think that such a move is both unnecessary and undesirable.  Herewith is Letter to the Editor which I submitted to the Times (it wasn't published). 

David Kirp suggests that, in order to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education, Stanford and other "elite" universities should clone themselves, producing "Harvard--San Diego" and "Yale--Houston" (“Why Stanford Should Clone Itself”, April 7).  But that's what they're already doing.

For a long time, the “elite” universities have produced more PhDs than they themselves can hire, with the result that many of their graduates take their teaching interests and research programs to other institutions, thus raising their level.  Higher education is one area where a rising tide really does lift all boats, which is why we have more “elite” universities now than we did 50 years ago.  “Harvard-San Diego” is called UCSD; “Yale-Houston” is called Rice. 

Instead of cloning themselves into branch campuses, “elite” universities would do better to encourage their graduate students to take whatever teaching positions are available to them, instead of entering a perpetual holding pattern of post-doctoral and adjunct positions, waiting for an “elite” job to open up. 
When I was an assistant professor at Harvard, 1975-1980, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Henry Rosofsky (whose book, The University: An Owner's Manual should be required reading for all academics), visited the Department to inform us that all of the tenure-track positions in psychology open that year could be filled by the graduates of the University of Michigan.  I decided there and then that, whatever happened to me, I would work only with as many graduate students as I thought I could place in academic positions; I made a few exceptions, only for "clinical" students -- who had job prospects outside academia. 

Lila Gleitman and the Origins of Metacognition

When Lila Gleitman (1929-2021), a prominent developmental psycholinguist, died, an admiring tribute to her was distributed to the fellows of the  Society of Experimental Psychologists, and posted on the Update webpage of the Association for Psychological Science (08/13/2021).  I did not know Lila well: she was a professor in the School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania when I was a graduate student there (1970-1975), and only later affiliated with the Department of Psychology.  However, her husband Henry Gleitman sat on my dissertation committee, and I used his textbook in my introductory psychology course. 

The tribute was well deserved, but it missed one important element in Lila's career:  Among her many accomplishments was that she coined the term "meta-cognition” (with a hyphen, but still) in a paper on “The Child as Grammarian” written with Henry Gleitman and Liz Shipley (Cognition 1972).  Also “meta-language”.  This was several years before the concepts of “metacognition” and “metamemory” began appearing elsewhere in the literature, with the same meaning -- referring to people's knowledge of their own cognitive processes.  The child, as an intuitive grammarian, possesses metalanguage, which is one component of metacognition (along with metamemory, etc.).

As far as I can tell, none of these later papers recognized Lila's original coinage, so I added a Comment to the Update article reminding my colleagues of her priority.  Martin Orne used to say that we know when a new concept has received wide acceptance when it is used without a reference citation: he was proud that ecological validity and demand characteristics had achieved that status.  On the other hand, as a psychologist with historical interests, I think this practice often allows individuals to be written out of the historical consciousness of later generations of psychologists.  After all, as academics, our capital is accumulated in the currency of ideas, and that currency is devalued when our ideas are no longer associated with our names.

Albert Bandura and Reciprocal Determinism

When Albert Bandura died in July 2021, the New York Times published a very nice obituary, which was then circulated to members of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology via their "Open Forum" listserv (08/02/2021).  But the Times piece omitted any mention of what I consider to be one of his most important contributions to the field: what I have called the Doctrine of Reciprocal Determinism.  Maybe that was too much "inside baseball" for an article in the popular press, but Bandura's ideas were important, so I posted the following comment to the SPSP listserv (08/14/2021).

The Times obituary for Al Bandura, and the earlier piece from the APA, focused on his contributions to our understanding of observational learning (the Bobo Doll Experiment), and the role of self-efficacy in behavior change.  But they both missed a contribution that, in my view, is equally important: his concept of reciprocal determinism, as exemplified by his 1989 American Psychologist paper. 

Back in the 1970s personality psychologists began to embrace a Doctrine of Interactionism as a correction to both the traditional Doctrine of Traits and the revisionist Doctrine of Situationism: as Ken Bowers (Psych. Rev. 1973) put it, persons affect the situations to which they respond. 

Interactionism was, in essence, a revival of Lewin’s “Grand Truism” (Ned Jones’s phrase) that B=f(P,E), and provided a framework for the unification of personality and social psychology.  Bowers left open the question of just how people affected the situations to which they respond and most early applications of Interactionism were modeled on the interaction term in the analysis of variance.  Too passive for Lewin, I think, and for Bowers too.  We now understand that the person shapes the environment through evocation, selection, behavioral manipulation, and cognitive transformation. 

So far all in all of this causality was unidirectional.  The person affected behavior, the situation affected behavior, and the person affected the situation.  Bandura completed the cycle: persons may emit behavior, but behavior also feeds back to change the person; situations may elicit behavior, but that behavior also feeds back to change the situation; persons may affect the situation, but situations also shape the person.  It’s a much more interesting view of personality and social interaction, and we have Bandura to thank for promoting it.

Kihlstrom, J. F., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (1990). An evolutionary milestone in the psychology of personality [essay review of Social Foundations of Thought and Action by Albert Bandura]. Psychological Inquiry, 1(1), 86-92.

Kihlstrom, J. F. (2013). The person-situation interaction. In D. Carlston (Ed.), Oxford handbook of social cognition (pp. 786-805). New York: Oxford University Press.

Michele Nathan Editor Extraordinare

For more than 30 years, Michele Nathan served as the in-house managing editor for the stable of journals published by the Association for Psychological Science (APS; successor to the American Psychological Society) -- first Psychological Science, then Current Directions in Psychological Science, Perspectives on Psychological Science, Clinical Psychological Science, and, most recently, Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science.  To celebrate the occasion, APS published an article in its house organ celebrating her tenure ("Smooth Operator: The Editor Who Keeps the APS Journals Machine Going" by Amy Drew and Brian Winters, , APS Observer, 1-2/2023).  I had the honor of editing Psychological Science from 1995 to 1999, and so I was asked to provide some comments celebrating her contributions to the organization and its journals.  The article had room for only a brief quote, because there were so many encomiums to include.  So herewith are my comments in full:
There are editors who accept manuscripts for publication, and there are editors who make manuscripts publishable.  Michele Nathan is the apotheosis of the latter.  For 30 years and through thirty volumes, at first six and now twelve issues per year, she has been the constant flame and  institutional memory of Psychological Science, the flagship journal of APS.  We all depend on copyeditors to catch our mistakes: to know the difference between which and that, less and few; to know where the apostrophes should go and when to insert an Oxford comma; to notice that the text refers to a Table 6 or an Experiment 3 that isn’t actually in the manuscript.  But Michele does more than edit copy: She edits papers.  She knows our work -- she knows us -- because she comes to our meetings.  She has an appreciation for our research because she herself is a social scientist; but because her doctorate is in anthropology, she’s distant enough from what we do that she can help our studies make sense to readers outside our narrow specialties, and oEndel Tulvingutside psychology. When I took over the Editor’s job from Bill Estes, he told me I could trust the journal to Michele; he was right, and I passed that  opinion on to Sam Glucksberg.  In my first issue, I wrote an editorial inspired by a line in  Citizen Kane: “I Think It Would Be Fun to Edit a Newspaper”.  It was fun, mostly because Michele took so much of the burden off my shoulders.  It was a pleasure to collaborate with her, editing Psychological Science together – the journal whose motto we had emblazoned on T-shirts: “We publish the psychology that Science doesn’t”. 

Endel Tulving, 1927-2023

Endel Tulving, an important first-generation cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto (PhD Harvard; he also taught at Yale) who devoted his research to memory, died on September 11, 2023.  Tulving's research and theory had an enormous influence on my own research and thinking, and so I posted the following appreciation of his scholarly work to the "social" listserv of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, of which we were both Fellows.
Although initially trained in psychophysics and perception, Endel Tulving made an enormous contribution to our understanding of human memory.  His 1962 study of subjective organization in recall made the point that subjects actively impose organization on memory; they didn't just pick up on the structure built into a list.  He articulated the distinction between availability and accessibility.  He gave us the episodic-semantic distinction, reminding us that a wordlist, and each word in it, constituted an event with a unique spatio-temporal signature.  His finding of the recognition failure of recallable words demonstrated that the way in which an item is encoded determines how, and whether, it will be retrieved.  HIs theory of episodic ecphory dissolved the qualitative distinction between recall and recognition.  He pioneered the study of recollective experience, linking the study of memory to the study of consciousness, and reminding us that there is more than one way to remember the past (or even more than two!). Of the 7±2 principles of memory I taught in Intro, Endel coined two of them: cue-dependency and encoding specificity.

On a personal note, Endel's work on the organization of memory was critical to my own early work on temporal organization of recall during posthypnotic amnesia.  While attending the 1973 APA convention in Montreal, I asked if we could meet briefly.  He took me to lunch instead, a longer lunch than I was entitled to as a mere graduate student, and strengthened my belief that the study of amnesia, regardless of whether it resulted from brain damage, could contribute to our understanding of normal memory processes.

At Penn, graduating PhD students are awarded their own personal nonsense syllable, emblazoned on an official Penn T-shirt (or at least that was the practice at the time -- by now, they may have moved up to pseudowords!).  Mine was TUL.  Whether that was a coincidence or a deliberate choice on the faculty's part, I don't know, but it was a nice symbol of the inspiration that Tulving's work offered me. 
  1. First, his work on the organization of retrieval was crucial to my early work on posthypnotic amnesia.  Posthypnotic amnesia is reversible, which marks it as a disorder of retrieval, rather than of encoding or storage.  By the time I began this research, in the mid-1970s, Tulving and others (like Gordon Bower) had argued that retrieval entailed an organized search through memory storage, and that the order of recall reflected the way individual items (events) were organized in the mind.  Hence, it seemed to me, when retrieval fails, as it does during posthypnotic amnesia, it might be because the retrieval process is disorganized.  A series of studies, including one using Tulving's technique for measuring subjective organization (as opposed to category clustering) supported this hypothesis, with the proviso that the disorganization especially affected temporal organization. 
  2. When he announced his distinction between episodic and semantic memory; I wrote a commentary arguing that they were more alike than different, both being forms of declarative memory, with episodic memory containing information about the spatiotemporal and personal context in which the episode occurred; Endel was very gentle in his negative response. 
  3. When Endel announced a distinction distinction between "remembering" and "knowing" the past, derived from his earlier distinction between episodic and semantic memory.  In my view, many researchers misconstrued Endel's distinction, interpreting "knowing" as a priming-based feeling of familiarity rather than as retrieval from semantic memory.  Along with Mike Kim,who was then an undergraduate psychology major at Yale, I did a series of experiments on recognition memory showing that "remembering", "knowing", and "feeling".  I was pleased and proud to have the resulting paper published in a special issue of Neuropsychologia honoring Endel. 

"What Did You Do in the (Memory) War(s)?

Cover of
            Crews's book on The Memory WarsI was an early and eager enlistee in the Memory Wars (a term apparently coined by Frederick Crews in his 1995 book, The Memory Wars: Freud's Legacy in Dispute).

Although I declined to join the Scientific Advisory Board of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, I consulted with the Foundation from its inception in 1992 and provided it with a formal definition of False Memory Syndrome, which they hadn't yet formulated.  This activity led to my first public forays into the controversy (Kihlstrom, 1993b, 1993c), including a critical review of Trance on Trial, a book on forensic hypnosis by A.W. Scheflin and J.L. Shapiro (Kihlstrom, 1993a).

The next year, Eric Eich and I prepared a critical review of the literature on the hypnotic enhance for the National Research Council (Kihlstrom & Eich, 1994), and I published another critical review of forensic hypnosis (Kihlstrom, 1994b).  Also, a letter to the editor of the late, lamented journal Lingua Franca, supporting Frederick Crews (not yet my colleague at Berkeley) in his critique of Freud: there I characterized psychoanalysis, including Freud's Doctrine of Repression, as "simply invalid as a theory of mind and behavior" (Kihlstrom, 1994a). 

Beginning in 1994, I also offered expert testimony in Logerquist v. Danforth, a civil suit heard in Maricopa County, Arizona, in which an adult plaintiff charged her former pediatrician with child sexual abuse.  The case centered on the repression and recovery of memories of childhood trauma.  The case went on so long, at least through 2003, as to make Charles Dickens's Bleak House look like an episode from Night Court, the television sitcom.  When the case eventually went to trial, the plaintiff's expert witness was Bessel van der Kolk, whose book, The Body Keeps the Score, had become something of a bible for the recovered-memory movement.  If my memory serves me correctly, the jury didn't even break for lunch before finding in favor of the defendant.  The case is discussed in detail in an article by Tomika N. Stevens in the Villanova Law Review.

The year 1995 began with another letter to the editor, this time criticizing the British Psychological Society's all-too-positive report on repressed and recovered memories as "misleading" (Kihlstrom, 1995c).  That year also saw publication of my contribution to the "Recovered Memory/False Memory Debate" hosted by Kathy Pezdek, in which I laid out my view of the trauma-memory argument, and referred to repression and dissociation merely as mechanisms "ostensibly responsible for the "ostensible forgetting" of trauma (Kihlstrom, 1995d).  I also published a favorable review of Ofshe and Watters's Making Monsters (Kihlstrom, 1995a), and a critical review of Lenore Terr's Unchained Memories (Kihlstrom, 1995b). 

In 1996, I published an expanded version of "The Trauma-Memory Argument", including my critique of the BPS report, in a volume edited by Pezdek and Bill Banks (Kihlstrom, 1996).  For good measure, Mahzarin Banaji (then a colleague at Yale) and I published a critique of alien-abduction memories (Banaji & Kihlstrom, 1996), making many of the same points as apply to recovered memories of trauma.

The next year saw publication of another chapter, in which I criticized the application of implicit memory to ideas like "body memory" (Kihlsttom, 1997b).  Also a letter to the editor of American Psychologist criticizing a 1996 article by Kenneth Pope favoring the trauma-memory argument (Kihlstrom, 1997a).  The high point of 1997, however, was publication of an invited article in Current Directions in Psychological Science critically analyzing the claim, by van der Kolk and others, that.

The high point of 1997, however, was publication of an invited article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, critically analyzing the claim, by Bessel van der Kolk and others, that traumatic memories have properties (like fragmentariness) that distinguish themselves from "ordinary" memories (Shobe & Kihlstrom, 1997).  This was followed by another CD paper by Lynn Nadel and Jake (1998), insisting to the contrary.  Editorial policy at CD prevents publication of comments on previous papers, so N&J was not framed as such, though it was clearly instigated by our review.  We were not given the opportunity to review N&J prior to publication, but the Editor did send me a prepublication copy "as a courtesy", stating that he believed that N&J "broadened the issues".  In fact, N&J thoroughly muddied them, and I wrote a rejoinder saying so.  Unfortunately, CD policy prohibts rejoinders as well as comments, so my response went unpublished (Kihlstrom, 1998b).  A 2022 paper n Memory reviewed this literature, and showed conclusively that Shobe and I were right.  My chapter on "Exhumed Memory" also appeared in 1998 -- my contribution to an anthology edited by Steven J. Lynn and Kevin M. McConkey (Kihlstrom, 1998c).

At that point, I had said pretty much all I had to say about trauma and memory.  Nevertheless, the Memory Wars persisted, and so did my engagement with it -- albeit at a somewhat reduced level.  The 20th century ended with a book review in which I characterized the Freudian unconscious, including the Doctrine of Repression which provided the background for the trauma-memory argument in the first place, as a "tumbling-ground for whimsies" (Kihlstrom, 1999; the quote is from William James).  Howard Shevrin complained in a letter to the editor that I ignored his research, and I replied that his rese arch (which I admire) was irrelevant to the status of Freudian repression theory, which was the target of my critique (Kihlstrom, 2000b).

The new century began with the publication, in the 13th edition of E.R. Hilgard's classic introductory text, of an essay arguing that Freud has been a dead weight on psychology (Kihlstrom, 2000a).  This essay continued to appear, with slight revisions, in the 14th (2003) and 15th (2009) editions, at which point publication of the Hilgard text was discontinued.  That year also saw my only empirical publication in this area: a collaboration with Douglas Bremner, a psychiatrist, and Katie Shobe (she of the aforementioned CD paper) which found that women with post-traumatic stress disorder and a self-reported history of child sexual abuse showed enhanced vulnerability to the associative memory illusion (aka the "DRM Effect", a laboratory paradigm commonly used to induce false memories) compared to other subjects (Bremner, Shobe, & Kihlstrom, 2000). 

Also that year, Dan Shacter and I also published a revision of an earlier chapter on "Functional Amnesia" which we had written for the 1st edition of the Handbook of Neuropsychology (Schacter & Kihlstrom, 1989).  The earlier version, written before the Memory Wars were in full swing, made little reference to the trauma-memory argument and recovered-memory therapy.  For the update (Kihlstrom & Schacter, 2000), we eliminated a great deal of the earlier text to make room for a detailed discussion of the controversy.  In a retrospective on the Memory Wars, an article by Steven Jay Lynn, Richard McNally, and Elizabeth Loftus (Clinical Psychological Science, Vol. 11, No. 3, 2023) "incorrectly implied" that our 2000 chapter on functional amnesia by Kihlstrom and Schacter “conflated the syndrome of psychogenic amnesia with the selective inability to recall a repressed memory” -- thereby implying that we were on the wrong side of the memory wars.  Schacter and I objected, resulting in a corrigendum, published in subsequent issue (Vol. 11, No. 6), which noted that "In fact, the chapter in question contained a detailed critique of both the argument that trauma causes amnesia and of the therapeutic techniques used to recover ostensibly repressed traumatic memories".  (Quotes from the corrigendum itself.  It was this complaint that led me to prepare this chronology.)

In 2002 Katie Shobe and I published a chapter extremely critical of the kind of "memory work" that goes on in the treatment of PTSD and CSA (Shobe & Kihlstrom, 2002).  Also, I published a letter to the editor criticizing a paper by Mike Anderson, who was promoted directed (aka instructed) forgetting as a laboratory analog for the kind of trauma-induced memory failure being promoted by his then-colleague Jennifer Freyd (Kihlstrom, 2002).

In 2004, David Gleaves, David Spiegel, and others published a paper ostensibly promoting a "balanced" view of the trauma-memory argument and recovered-memory therapy.  In a letter to the editor, I argued that their view was actually unbalanced, in that it was not based on any supporting evidence (Kihlstrom, 2004).

In 2005, I joined Rich McNally, Beth Loftus, and Harrison Pope in a letter to the editor of Science criticizing a "policy Forum" by Jennifer Freyd, which misleadingly claimed that the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying amnesia for CSA had been identified.  They couldn't have been identified, of course, because that kind of amnesia for CSA simply doesn't occur (Kihlstrom, McNally, Loftus, & Pope, 2005).  I also wrote a commentary on Matt Erdelyi's attempt to support psychoanalysis with experimental cognitive psychology by characterizing Freudian repression as a "will-o'-the-wisp" (Kihlstrom, 2006a).

Finally, an invitation to the Tsukuba Conference on Memory gave me the opportunity to reflect on the whole controversy, including an expanded cfritique of N&J, and put a pin on my service in the Memory Wars (Kihlstrom, 2006b).

It should be noted that there are other Memory Wars besides the one over traumatic memories.  Memory also lies at the heart of many cultural conflicts, as different groups of people have very different accounts of the past.  In the United States, for example, some people understand the Civil War as fought mainly over slavery; but others, particularly in the American South, remember it as a "Lost Cause" fight over states' rights.  See, for example, the notes on "Contested Memories" in my online "Common-Place Book" on Personal and Social Memory.


Teaching Psychology as General Education (and as an Aspect of the Humanities)

True to my own undergraduate education at Colgate, a liberal-arts institution with a strong General Education curriculum and no graduate students standing between students and faculty, I focused my college teaching at the undergraduate level, particularly the introductory course (which I taught continuously from 1980 to 2017), and large-enrollment upper-division courses on social cognition and consciousness (both cross-listed between Psychology and Berkeley's undergraduate interdisciplinary major in Cognitive Science).  In these and other courses, I made an effort to connect Psychology with other fields -- not just the physical and biological sciences, but the humanities and arts as well (and also, to the extent that I kept up with it, popular culture).  I also focused on time-tested basic principles, as opposed to The Latest Spectacular Study (I also kept biological approaches to mind and behavior in their proper place, instead of playing up The Latest Cool Color fMRI Images. 

Most important, perhaps, I tried to give a historical perspective to the material -- giving students a sense of how various ideas evolved over time.  It w.as this emphasis on history, I think, that really gave my psychology teaching a clear connection to the humanities.  After all, as William James noted ("What College is For", 1907):

You can give humanistic value to almost anything by reaching it historically.  Geology, economics, mechanics are humanities when taught with reference to the successive achievements of the geniuses to which these sciences owe their being.  Not taught thus, literature remains grammar, art a catalogue, history a list of dates, and natural science a sheaf of formulas and weights and measures.

The sifting of human creations!  --nothing less than this is what we ought to mean by the humanities.  Essentially this means biography; what our college should teach is, therefore, biographical history, that not of politics merely, but of anything and everything so far as human efforts and conquests are factors that have played their part.  Studying in this way,we learn what types of activity have stood the test of time; we acquire standards of the excellent and durable.

Colgate's Core Curriculum

My undergraduate degree was from Colgate University, Class sof 1970.  At the time, Colgate had a rigorous General Education program consisting of a set of expressly designed courses that all students took at the same time.  It was called the Core Curriculum, and it differed greatly from the General Education programs that prevail at most colleges.  And it was wonderful.  At the time of my 50th Reunion, I was asked to write an appreciation of the Core Curriculum: You'll find it here.

At the time that essay was written, Colgate’s Core Curriculum was undergoing its scheduled decennial review, and a revised Core Curriculum was published in 2023, applicable to the Class of 2027.  The Winter 20224 issue of Colgate Magazine carried an article on the revisions.  In my view, the new Core Curriculum had the same problems that I identified in the prior version – which was, briefly, that it wasn’t really a Core Curriculum.  The Magazine solicited comments from alumni, so I wrote a mildly critical response, which is scheduled for publication in the Spring 2024 issue: 

For decades, the Core Curriculum has been a distinctive feature of Colgate’s educational program.  In addition to the usual freshman composition course (Core 15), my Class  took six or seven Core courses, spread out over our first three years, with all students in the class taking the same courses at the same time.  (We also had the late, lamented Jan Plan, but I digress.)  Prospective science majors were exempt from the two-semester Core 11-12 sequence in physical and biological science; we took the one-semester Core 10 on the history and philosophy of science instead.  As a result, we were all studying and discussing the same texts at the same time: the Book of Job and Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in Core 17, Janson’s History of Art in Core 21, Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom and Galbraith's New Industrial State in Core 37.  In Core 38, we had a choice of courses on such “emerging” countries as China, India, or Kenya; but even there, a student who was reading Red Star Over China could have a discussion with his roommate, who might be reading Facing Mount Kenya.  When the whole student body met in the Chapel to consider its response to the 1970 killings at Kent State, the discussion was laced with references to Kant’s “Categorical Imperative”: everyone present knew what that was, because all four classes had read Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals in Core 18.

With the new Core, introduced in 2023, that has mostly disappeared.  As far as I  can tell, students in the Class of 2027 will have only one course in common – the “Conversations” course.  The rest is, essentially, a garden-variety distribution requirement: one course each in literature, math, natural science, social science, etc.  I am sure that these courses have been specifically designed or chosen to be interdisciplinary, or to connect to topics of societal concern.  But there is no longer a core holding the entire class together and connecting it with adjacent classes.  This is a great loss – to the University and to its students.

I understand that curricula must evolve, and that students don’t like requirements.  I am also painfully aware that, in these days of increasing specialization, it is difficult to get faculty to teach introductory courses even in their own fields -- much less to step outside their comfort zones to teach something that is truly interdisciplinary.  Then again, the University has an identity too, and that identity is expressed in its curriculum.  Colgate should continue to honor a commitment to the kind of Core Curriculum that makes Colgate Colgate, and that distinguishes its students from those of other liberal-arts colleges.  

Despite my criticism of the current Core Curriculum, Colgate was, and remains, a fabulous place to go to college.  When I enrolled, at the age of 17, I didn’t really understand the Core Curriculum or the JanPlan.  I only knew that it was a great school, the best I got into, with small classes on a beautiful campus (and a full scholarship besides).  After I got there, I quickly came to appreciate both features of Colgate’s curriculum – and so did most of the other students.  Colgate no longer has a JanPlan, but no other school has one, either (to my knowledge).  Colgate no longer has the kind of Core Curriculum that I enjoyed, but its GenEd program is still better than the ones at any of the great universities I have served as a faculty member.  If I had it to do all over again… I’d do it all over again.


My Academic Tree

One way of approaching memory historically is by tracing researchers' academic lineages, through identifying their mentors, and their mentors' mentors, etc.  I never got to teach a proper course in the history of psychology, but if I had had the opportunity, I would have given students the following assignment: Select some psychologist, perhaps your advisor (A), identify his or her mentor (B, perhaps A's own graduate advisor), and trace the relationship between A's and B's research.  If you have time and inclination, go further and relate B's research to that of his or her advisor, etc.; or to relate A's research to that of his or her students, and their students, etc.  Unfortunately, I never got to do this for a real-life classroom assignment.  But I did often advise graduate students, my own and others', to undertake just such an exercise. 

To begin with, here's my entry on the PsychTree segment of the Academic FamilyTree website. 

Stoner on the Academic Life

For six years at Berkeley, I took a turn teaching a course on "Teaching Psychology", required of all graduate students before they could serve as teaching assistants (we called them "Graduate Student Instructors").  In that course, I described the pleasures, and instructive value, of reading academic satires -- though, to my regret, I didn't actually assign any of them to be read (I always had a fiction assignment in my upper-division undergraduate courses: Thinks... by David Lodge for my Consciousness course, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon for my Social Cognition course).

Here, for the record, are some of my favorites:
And then there's Stoner (1965) by John Williams -- not exactly a satire, but a much darker, almost existentialist representation of academic life. 

From the first page of the book:
William Stoner... did not rise above the rank of assistant professor, and few students remembered him with any sharpness after they had taken his courses.  When he died his colleagues made a memorial contribution of a medieval manuscript to the University library....  An occasional student who comes upon the name may wonder idly who William Stoner was, but he seldom pursues his curiosity beyond a casual question.  Stoner's colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers.
And from almost the last page, as Stoner is dying:
Dispassionately, reasonably, he contemplated the failure that his life must appear to be.... 
A sense of his own identity came upon him with a sudden force, and he felt the power of it. He was himself, and he knew what he had been.

This page last revised 02/17/2024.