Psychology

History

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Psychology at Edinburgh has an interesting history. The department was set up in 1906 with generous funding from the Combe Trust. George Combe (1788-1858) was an Edinburgh lawyer turned phrenologist. His interests in individual differences and in educational and social reform were reflected in his will, specifying that his money be used to ‘promote the study, exposition, teaching, and practical application of them (i.e. the natural and divine laws referred to by him) by experiment, observation, schools, lecturing’. This wording enabled his trustees to fund not only a lectureship but also to equip and maintain a laboratory for almost 40 years. This post was known as the Combe lectureship in General and Experimental Psychology, and the associated laboratory as the George Combe laboratory. The first incumbent of the post was Dr W.G. Smith, a PhD student of Wundt, and the second incumbent, James Drever, became the first Professor of Psychology in Scotland in 1931.

During this time, the key members of staff included: Dr Mary Collins, co-author with Drever of a number of semi-popular books, and an authority on colour vision; Dr W.R.D. Fairbairn, who held a part-time post and was a well-known psychoanalyst; Dr J.D. Sutherland, who became Director of the Tavistock Clinic.

From 1944 until 1966, the Department was in the charge of James Drever secundus (son of the previous professor). It was during this period that an "Honours School" in Psychology was first fully established. Key members of staff during this period included Dr Halla Beloff, Dr John Beloff, and Professor Margaret Donaldson. Professor Donaldson was to oversee the development of research in Developmental Psychology and Psycholinguistics on an extensive scale. In 1963 the Department moved from its original premises in Old College to 60, The Pleasance. Drever secundus left the department in 1966 to become the first Principal of Dundee University, and indeed the first psychologist in the UK to be appointed as a university Vice Chancellor.

Under the two Drevers, there continued to be a strong philosophical element in the teaching within the department. This was to markedly change with the appointment of a biologist, Professor D.M. Vowles, to the chair in 1968. Under Vowles psychology developed strongly as a scientific discipline. Several animal laboratories were established together with the appointment of internationally known developmental psychologists and a general expansion of staff. At the end of the Vowles era in 1984, the department acquired the Koestler Chair in Parapsychology, and appointed Professor Robert Morris to the post.

The department was incorporated into the School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences in 2003 and has undergone a considerable expansion in staffing since this time. The current research strengths fall into the four areas of Human Cognitive Neuroscience; Differential and Health Psychology; Language, Cognition and Communication; and Visual Cognition. Explore our Web Pages to learn more about today's Department!

(The academic year 2006/7 marked one hundred years of formal psychology teaching at Edinburgh University and was marked by a number of events including a Centenary Symposium at the start of the year and a Centenary Dinner for alumni at the end of the year. Please click on Centenary for further information.)