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Ulric Gustav Neisser (December 8, 1928 – February 17, 2012[1]) was a German-born, American psychologist and member of the National Academy of Sciences. He was a significant figure in the development of cognitive science and the shift from behaviorist to cognitive models in psychology.

Early life & Education[]

Born in Kiel, Germany, he moved with his family to the United States in 1933. Neisser earned a bachelor's degree summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1950,[2] a Master’s at Swarthmore College, and a doctorate from Harvard's Department of Social Relations in 1956.[2] He then taught at Brandeis and Emory universities, before establishing himself at Cornell.

Work & Career[]

The modern growth of cognitive psychology received a major boost from the publication in 1967 of the first, and most influential, of his books: Cognitive Psychology.

In 1976, he wrote Cognition and Reality, in which he expressed three general criticisms of the field of cognitive psychology. First, he was dissatisfied with the linear programming model of cognitive psychology, with its over-emphasis on peculiar information processing models used to describe and explain behavior. Second, he felt that cognitive psychology had failed to address the everyday aspects and functions of human behavior. He placed blame for this failure largely on the excessive reliance on artificial laboratory tasks that had become endemic to cognitive psychology by the mid-1970s. In this sense, he felt that cognitive psychology suffered a severe disconnect between theories of behavior tested by laboratory experimentation and real-world behavior, which he called a lack of ecological validity. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, he had come to feel a great respect for the theory of direct perception and information pickup that had been promulgated by the preeminent perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson and his wife, the "grand dame" of developmental psychology, Eleanor Gibson. Neisser, in this book, had come to the conclusion that cognitive psychology had little hope of achieving its potential without taking careful theoretical note of the Gibsons' work on perception which argued that understanding human behavior first involves careful analysis of the information available to any perceiving organism.

In 1981, Neisser published John Dean's memory: a case study, in regards to the testimony of John Dean for the Watergate Scandal.

In 1995, he headed an American Psychological Association task force that reviewed The Bell Curve and related controversies in the study of intelligence, in response to the claims being advanced amid the controversy surrounding The Bell Curve. The task force produced a consensus report "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns". In April 1996, Neisser chaired a conference at Emory University that focused on secular changes in intelligence-test scores.[3]

In 1998, he published The Rising Curve: Long-Term Gains in IQ and Related Measures.

He was a board member of the False Memory Foundation.[2]

During his life, Neisser was both a Guggenheim and Sloan Fellow.[3]

According to William Mace of Trinity College, Neisser died in 2012 from complications of Parkinson's disease.



  • Neisser, U (1967) Cognitive psychology Appleton-Century-Crofts New York
  • Neisser, U (1976 ) Cognition and reality: principles and implications of cognitive psychology WH Freeman
  • Winograd, E & Neisser, U (1988 ) Remembering Reconsidered: Ecological and Traditional Approaches to the Study of Memory Cambridge University Press New York
  • Fivush, R & Neisser, U (1994) The remembering self: construction and accuracy in the self-narrative. Cambridge University Press New York
  • Neisser, U (1998) The rising curve: long-term gains in IQ and related measures American Psychological Association
  • Neisser, U (1993) The Perceived self: Ecological and Interpersonal Sources of Self Knowledge Cambridge University Press New York, NY
  • Neisser, U (1982 ) Memory observed: remembering in natural contexts. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.
  • Neisser, U (1987 ) Concepts and conceptual development: ecological and intellectual factors in categorization. Cambridge University Press

Book Chapters[]


  • Neisser, U. (1981) John Dean's memory: a case study, Cognition 9: 1-22.

Further reading[]

  • (1990). Remembering Reconsidered: Ecological and Traditional Approaches to the Study of Memory. The American Journal of Psychology 103 (3): 403–9.


  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Harvard Magazine (May-June 2012) Obituary: Ulric Gustav Neisser. 114(5):64M.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ulric Neisser. American Scientist Online. Sigma Xi. URL accessed on May 5, 2011.

External links[]

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