Ernest R. Hilgard
1949 APA President
Ernest Ropiequet “Jack” Hilgard was one of APA’s most remarkable Presidents. His long life span and his intimate involvement for many years in the very middle of the mainstream of American psychology ensured that he knew personally most of the key figures that shaped the science and emerging practice of psychology in the 20th century.
Jack Hilgard’s early interest in social ethics led him initially to Divinity School at Yale, but he then became fascinated by the work being done in behavioral psychology and so transferred to the psychology department. He earned his doctorate in 1930, just at the time that Yale was launching the multidisciplinary Institute of Human Relations with a large grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Hilgard stayed on at Yale as an instructor until 1933, thus overlapping with the beginning of a massive effort to use the complex learning theory developed by Clark Hull to account for nearly the full range of behavior. Although that theory eventually proved unworkable, nevertheless, Hilgard’s exposure to it and the people he met while there was important for his own later scholarship. Many of his colleagues at Yale were to become leaders in American psychology in the mid-century period.
These future leaders included Neal Miller, Donald Marquis, Leonard Doob, Robert Sears, Kenneth Spence, and Hobart Mowrer, all connected in some way with Hull’s Habit Laboratory. There was an exciting blend of theories ranging from Pavlov’s conditioned reflex models to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Like other great leaders in the sciences, Hilgard embraced an openmindedness toward theory and its many uses in guiding research.
After Hilgard left Yale to take a position at Stanford University, he collaborated with Donald Marquis to produce an important text on learning theory, Conditioning and Learning (1940). While Jack’s research to this point had focused on conditioning studies in humans, after he moved to Stanford he turned more toward understanding human motivation and aspirations. Still, his talents as a writer and his clear grasp of the mainstream principles of learning theory led him to produce the classic and often-cited, Theories of Learning (1948). The volume became and remains a standard reference work on mainstream theories of learning. Hilgard sensed a need, as well, for a clearlywritten and comprehensive introductory text for psychology students, which he produced in 1953.
That text, Introduction to Psychology, went through many editions and was, for a long period, the most widely used introductory psychology text in the world. As his interests changed over his career, he also produced other significant texts, including Hypnotic Susceptibility (1965) and Divided Consciousness (1977); both volumes reflected his seminal research in hypnosis, which also produced the widely used Stanford Hypnotic Susceptibility Scale.
Jack Hilgard was also very much committed to the organizations of psychology. He was a key figure in the reorganization of APA during the war. He conceptualized how the creation of special interests groups, or divisions, would help keep psychologists under the umbrella of APA. The growing application of psychology to many different social problems was thus recognized as a legitimate endeavor for psychologists and helped set the stage for the tremendous growth of psychology as both a science and profession after the end of WWII. Jack’s leadership skills, his intellectual ability, and his congenial style of communicating were recognized when he was elected APA President for 1949.
Hilgard won many awards in his lifetime. To mention only a few, he was awarded the APA Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions, an APA Citation for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions and the Gold Medal Award from the American Psychological Foundation. He was awarded the Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Finally, Jack Hilgard’s rich understanding of American psychology and his friendships and acquaintance with almost every leader of twentieth century psychology was all brought together in his Psychology in America (1987). This volume remains perhaps the best descriptive history of American psychology ever written.