Thanks for the memories 1

March 18, 2010

Laurie Taylor's amusing defection from psychology to sociology states that Arthur Summerfield, when head of psychology at Birkbeck, displayed on his desk a stuffed rat, and implies that he was a fervent disciple of B.F. Skinner's behaviourism ("Thinking outside the box", 11 March). I do not recall the rat, but I do remember that Summerfield was by no means a Skinnerian.

Among other things, he made a major contribution to our understanding of the effects of drugs on human performance and cognition, and in fact pioneered the notion of mental coding as "a sequence of stages, or mechanisms intervening between input (stimulus) and output (response)".

Skinner, of course, would have nothing to do with such internal mental events. With Hilde Himmelweit at the London School of Economics, he conducted a rigorous experimental investigation of the selection of students for university entry.

Interestingly the results of this were published in the first and second volumes of the British Journal of Sociology.

Richard E. Rawles, Honorary research fellow in psychology, University College London.

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