Judson S. Brown (1910-2005)


Judson S. Brown, a founding member and former governing board chairman of the Psychonomic Society, died on August 28, 2005 in Portland, Oregon. He was 95 years old. From his earliest apprenticeship with Neal Miller and O. H. Mowrer, at Yale, to his final collaborative research on alcoholism with Robert Fitzgerald and Joseph Matarazzo at the Oregon Health Science University in Portland, Brown never took a backward step in his drive for tough-minded empiricism and clarity of expression.

Brown received his degree in experimental psychology from Yale in 1940, where Clark Hull was chair. Brown’s first academic appointment at Harvard was interrupted by WWII. He served in the US Army Air Force in the psychology unit directed by Arthur Melton at Randolph Field Air Base. After the war, Brown resumed his academic career at the University of Iowa, where Kenneth Spence had become department chairman. In 1960, Brown assumed the title of Graduate Research Professor at the University of Florida and, in 1963, he moved to the Oregon Health Science University. He went back to Iowa as department chairman in 1966, where he remained until 1972, at which time he returned to Oregon Health Science University.

Among his many accomplishments, Judson Brown is perhaps best known for his work on motivation, especially, his development of operational definitions of motivational concepts as the explanatory terminology of general behavioral theory. Thus, it became possible to distinguish between “Drive,” an energizing concept, and “drive stimulus,” a behavior-directing concept. His thinking is eloquently outlined in his chapter in the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (1953), and his book The Motivation of Behavior (1961). His earliest empirical research, done in conjunction with Professor Neil Miller, showed that the gradient of avoidance is steeper than that of approach. This work stimulated dozens of empirical research programs associating the methodology of behavioristic experimental psychology with that of Gestalt social psychology. His laboratory research on motivational issues elevated the concept of “drive” to its highest level of significance, as in Hull-Spence S-R theory. Having bestowed upon “drive” this significance, Brown then showed that motivational concepts could be tied to preceding and subsequent stimulus conditions, making it possible to define motivation associatively.

In Brown’s final years of research he demonstrated that pathological conditions could be established and analyzed behavioristically. For example, he showed that the rat can acquire self-punitive behavior, i.e., the vicious-circle effect. He then studied alcoholism in humans, using the behavioristic animal model, again illustrating the application of S-R thinking so that it extended to normal and pathological behavior. Judson Brown was the doctor father to a multitude of MA and PhD psychologists who disseminated his philosophy emphasizing operational definitions and strict stimulus-response conceptualization.

Brown was not only a prolific researcher, but also an incredibly creative inventor of laboratory equipment. For example, he was the originator of the interval timer that became known as the Hunter timer and that served psychological laboratories for more than 40 years before it was replaced by microprocessors. And just for the fun of it, Professor Brown created the Hull-Spence Argumentation and Admiration Society, which met annually within the programmatic structure of the Psychonomic Society.

In addition to being an accomplished scientist, Judson Brown was a talented magician and a creative and gifted photographer, whose work was shown in numerous art galleries. He leaves his wife of 66 years, Dr. Julia Brown; three children, Conrad, Eugene, and Nancy; four grandchildren; and one great grandchild.

Copyright © 2005 by the Psychonomic Society. Reproduced by permission.

Memorials to Dr. Judson S. Brown may be sent to the University of Iowa Department of Psychology through the University of Iowa Foundation.