Ulric Neisser: The 'Father of Cognitive Psychology'

Ulric Neisser

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Ulric Neisser, a former Woodruff Professor of Psychology and author of the groundbreaking 1967 book Cognitive Psychology, died on February 17 in Ithaca, New York, due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was eighty-three.

Known as the father of cognitive psychology, Neisser revolutionized the discipline by challenging behaviorist theory and endeavoring to discover how the mind thinks and works. He was particularly interested in memory and perception.

In 1986, while teaching at Emory, Neisser conducted a famous experiment that centered on the space shuttle Challenger explosion. The results supported Neisser’s theory that the mind distorts and reshapes the past, drawing on layered memories rather than actual events.

Neisser came to Emory in 1983 and founded the Emory Cognition Project, which became an international center for the emerging field during his thirteen years here, producing dozens of influential reports and a series of books stemming from the Emory Symposia in Cognition and Development. Now directed by Robyn Fivush, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology and chair of the Department of Psychology, the Emory Cognition Project remains a vibrant force in the study of cognition.

“Dick [Neisser] was a terrific department, college, and university citizen,” said Robert McCauley, William Rand Kenan Jr. University Professor and director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture. “He was a delightful presence among the faculty and continued to do major work—for example, on flashbulb memory—while at Emory.”

Neisser is survived by four children from his first marriage to Anna Gabrielle Pierce, and a son from his second marriage to Arden Seidler, who died before him. Other survivors include a stepdaughter, a sister, and a grandson.

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