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Psychology: Quotes and Publications

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The materials on this page are the copyright of the Bodleian Libraries and the Oxford University Department of Experimental Psychology.

Henry Wilde

"For the purposes of this Readership the term Mental Philosophy shall be taken to mean the study of the human mind based on observation and experience as distinguished from Experimental Psychology."

Wilde, H. (1898) Trust Deed of the Wilde Readership in Mental Philosophy and the John Locke Scholarship for Mental Philosophy. Regulation 7, p. 10.

Henry Wilde's biography, 1833-1919 from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

George Frederick Stout

"Let us suppose that a man is engaged in examining a material object. Let us say that he is testing the quality of a cigar. He looks at it: he feels it: he puts it to his ear and listens to the crackle which is a mark of dryness; he smells it before commencing to smoke; if he is not discouraged by these preliminaries, he may then proceed to smoke it: he thus brings into play the functions of smelling and tasting. Now in describing the man's procedure, we have had to use words such as examining, testing, looking, feeling, listening, and tasting. These are all terms standing for psychological facts."

Stout, G.F. (1899) A manual of psychology. Vol. 1 London : University Correspondence College Press

William Brown

“The Wilde Readership in Mental Philosophy” … is described in the conditions of appointment of the Reader as “the study of the human mind by observation, exclusive of methods of experiment”.
Brown, W. (1933).  The importance of psychology – I. Oxford Magazine, May 11th, 629-630

“Speaking historically, I think we may regard the rise of experimental psychology as the beginnings of a school of psychology independent of philosophy, … In that sense experimental psychology is of very great importance”.
Brown, W. (1933) The importance of psychology – I. Oxford Magazine, May 11th, 629-630.

George Humphrey

“In certain ways the Honours School of Psychology, Philosophy and Physiology is unique, at least at this University, in that it forms a special kind of meeting place for the man of the laboratory and the “humanist”. It is, perhaps, particularly over examinations that the clash of personality and training comes out ... This interchange of ideas and scrutiny of psychologists’ work by philosophers and physiologists - the converse also happens at times - helps to give a special flavour to what has become known as P.P.P.”

“Oxford is the home of professional philosophers. It is safe to say that there are more of them to the square mile than anywhere else, perhaps with the exception of the Vatican. They have at times had strong views about psychology, particularly experimental psychology. An eminent tutor used to set his pupils an essay in which they were expected to prove that experimental psychology was impossible; and he was not alone at the time in his belief. In fact, when experimental psychology was born with Fechner’s “Psychophysics” in 1860, the dictum “This is all nonsense!” seems to have arisen simultaneously from twenty Oxford colleges ... For in 1945 the idea of an experimental study of the mind was still a bit of a novelty in this home of ancient philosophical traditions. All this did not make things easier for a new professor … He heard the lions on the shore sniffing round him, waiting for him to make a wrong move.”


Humphrey, G. (1953) Five years in the Oxford Chair. British Journal of Psychology,
44 (4), 381-383.

Carolus Oldfield

“Nightly the Institute windows glow with midnight electricity burnt to illuminate, if not problems, at least the experimental apparatus calculated to elucidate them. Rats, it is true, are forbidden access the premises by the City Council, but work proceeds with their assistance elsewhere, through the kindness of another department.”

Oldfied, R.C. (1950) Psychology in Oxford - 1898-1949 Part II. Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, July.

Brian Farrell

“It is not unfair perhaps to say that the general standard of psychological work in this country is rather low at the present time … It is part of the business of the new Honour School to correct this tendency and to attract the able man by presenting the subject as the tough and exciting one that it is … we know vastly more about the machines that run our civilisation than about the people who plan and man them; and we know much more about the attitudes and aspirations of fifth century Athenians or the distant Alorese than we do about the present-day inhabitants of Cowley or Garsington. I take it that it is also part of the business of the new School and postgraduate centre to do its small share to correct this anachronism.”


Farrell, B. (1951) The development of psychological studies at Oxford. Oxford Magazine, March 1st, pp. 311-312.

Oliver Zangwill

“Psychology at Oxford is envisaged broadly - much more broadly than at Cambridge. Whereas at Cambridge psychology is accepted - for better or worse - as Science, at Oxford it is viewed as neither Science nor Humanity yet as partaking of the nature of both. Although experimental psychology has a central place in the School, it is stressed that everyday observation, clinical enquiry and - last but not least - plain hard thinking are not less essential than experiment to the development of a firm psychological discipline. In accordance with this view, the Professorship is not restricted to Experimental Psychology (as at Cambridge) and provision has been made for lectureships in general and social as well as experimental psychology … no split has hitherto developed between the experimental and the less experimental psychologists at Oxford.”

Zangwill, O.L. (1956) Psychology at Oxford and Cambridge. Oxford Magazine, May 10th, pp. 396-398.

Lawrence Weiskrantz


“The department is handsomely supported to the tune of more than £600,000 per year by research councils and other outside

bodies, and it is funded by the University as a laboratory science. McDougall would be surprised, Brown bemused but pleased, and perhaps even Wilde would no longer be irritated.”

Weiskrantz, L. (1986) “Illusions and delusions” and beyond: fifty years of Experimental Psychology in Oxford. Oxford Magazine, 4th week, Michaelmas Term, pp. 5-6.

“The developments put Oxford at the leading edge of research developments in cognitive neuroscience, in which the Psychology Department was one of the principal leaders.”

Weiskrantz, L. A history of the Department of Experimental Psychology, pp.15-16.

“In 1992 the I.S.S. published the impact factors (based on citations of papers published in the preceding five years) of all of the psychology departments in the world, and we appeared in third place tied with Princeton, the only U.K. Department to appear in the top 50, and ahead of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, … In fact, when I calculated our I.S.S. impact factor to the third decimal place Oxford was actually just ahead of Princeton. In semi-jocular style I wrote to I.S.S. in Philadelphia pointing this out … I asserted that P came after O. I received a reply in similar vein, in which it was explained that P comes before U – the University of Oxford.”

Weiskrantz, L. A history of the Department of Experimental Psychology, pp.15-16.

Jerome Bruner

"I'm told I am the first Oxford professor in history to sail himself across the Atlantic to occupy his chair. A rather specialized distinction!"

Bruner, J. Move to Oxford, p. 139

Oliver Braddick

“The distinctive nature of scientific psychology, as an educational and research discipline, is that it requires the student to maintain three complementary perspectives on human beings. First, human behaviour and mental life reflect a prodigious capability for information processing – the subject matter for psychology as a cognitive science. Secondly, our ability to walk, talk, think, see, love and fear is rooted in the structure and operations of the brain and nervous system, which in turn are the product of evolution within a specific ecological niche – the view of psychology as a biological science with intimate links to neuroscience and genetics. And thirdly, these aspects cannot be properly understood without the recognition that human life is fundamentally social – we have social skills and motivations, and we are shaped by the influences of our family, peers, and culture – so psychology is a social science. Cutting across these perspectives is the human and scientific need to understand and help those people whose psychological problems prevent them from adapting to everyday living. Such problems usually combine a cognitive, a biological,and a social dimension. The Oxford Department of Experimental Psychology (EP), while it is probably best known for its strength in work with a neuroscience orientation, prizes the linkage of these multiple viewpoints in its research and teaching, and works to sustain it … A unifying theme is that experimental psychology approaches all these questions with an empirical, data-based approach shared with other laboratory and observational sciences, and demands critical, evidence-based thinking in its students.”


Braddick, O. (2011) Experimental Psychology in Oxford, 2001-2011. Oxford Magazine,
Trinity Term, pp. 12-14.