Neal Elgar Miller (1909-2002)
Neal Elgar Miller was born on August 3, 1909, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in 1931, a master’s from Stanford the next year, and his doctorate from Yale in 1935, where he eventually began teaching and became the first James Rowland Angell Professor of Psychology1 in 1952.
Miller’s early work focused on the investigation of Freudian theory and clinical phenomena using experimental analysis of behavior techniques. As a result, he concluded that fear is a learnable drive and he began to investigate other autonomic behaviors to determine if they could be modified through instrumental conditioning. He used behavioral methodologies and neurophysiological techniques to investigate hunger and thirst, and this blending of ideas and practices not only laid the foundation for modern neuroscience but also fundamentally changed our understanding of behavior and motivation. Miller himself said, in a 1976 interview, “such importance as I have had comes from having done a series of things, and especially from building a number of bridges between different disciplines.”
Miller’s relationship with the APA was prolonged and fruitful. In addition to serving on a number of boards and committees, he served as President in 1961, and among many other honors he received the APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in 1959. He also received the American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal in 1975 (he served a term as president of the APF as well) and the APA Citation for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology in 1991. At the presentation for the latter award Charles D. Spielberger, then president of the APA Board of Directors, described Miller as, “one of psychology’s most highly skilled experimentalists,” and his program of research as “imaginative, systematic, remarkably productive and cumulative.”
In 1993, the Board of Scientific Affairs voted to honor Professor Miller by establishing the Annual Neal Miller Distinguished Lecture, to be dedicated to neuroscience and animal research and presented at each APA convention. Miller presented the first lecture in 1994.
1: James Rowland Angell (1869-1949) was a Harvard-trained psychologist who served as president of Yale University from 1921 until 1937.
For further reading see:
Coons, Edgar E. (2002). Neal Elgar Miller (1909-2002). American Psychologist, 57, 784-786.
Evans, Richard I. (1976). The making of psychology. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Spielberger, Charles D. (1992) American Psychological Association Citation for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology. American Psychologist, 47, 847.