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The Society for Mathematical Psychology promotes the advancement and communication of research in mathematical psychology and related disciplines. Mathematical psychology is broadly defined to include work of a theoretical character that uses mathematical methods, formal logic, or computer simulation. The Society journal is the Journal of Mathematical Psychology.

William K. Estes (1919-2011)

Dr. William Estes, professor and distinguished scholar in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the IU College of Arts and Sciences, died Wednesday, August 17, 2011, at the age of 92, shortly after the death of his wife, Katherine. Estes was born June 17, 1919, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Estes received his B.A. in 1940 and Ph.D. in 1943 in Psychology from the University of Minnesota. As a graduate student, he worked under the renowned behaviorist B.F. Skinner. Estes was hired by Skinner to join the Indiana University faculty in1946, and attained the rank of Research Professor in 1960. He moved to Stanford University in 1962, to Rockefeller University in 1968, and to Harvard University in 1979. In 1999 Estes returned to Bloomington and Bill accepted the department’s offer to join the faculty with the rank of Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Scholar in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS).

Estes was sometimes called the ‘father of mathematical learning theory’ and was a pioneer of the cognitive revolution in which observational behavior was interpreted by hypothesized and not directly observable processes of the mind. Estes's early research, centered in animal learning and behavior, was marked by the development, with Skinner, of a still widely used method of measuring emotional reactions (the "CER"). Turning to studies of visual information processing in the 1960's, he contributed to the visual detection method of estimating the information apprehended from brief visual displays. More recently, his research has focused on mathematical and computer modeling of human memory and classification learning. He is credited with being one of the founders of modern mathematical psychology.

William and Katherine Estes were generous donors to PBS and to the university; they were inducted into the President’s Circle in 2006. Their contributions and bequests, which total well over $1 million, will be used to establish the William K. and Katherine W. Estes Chair in Psychology and Cognitive Science.

Estes received many awards throughout his career, including the Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in Psychological Science from the American Psychological Foundation, the U.S. National Medal of Science, the Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and the Distinguished Research Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association. Additionally, Estes is a Member of the National Academy of Science, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an Honorary Life Member of the New York Academy of Sciences, and William James Fellow of the American Psychological Society. He received honorary doctorates from Indiana University and the University of Minnesota.

Estes continued working daily on his research at Indiana University well into his 80s. He was a regular and active participant in Professor Richard Shiffrin’s weekly lab meetings. He often gave presentations in the Psychological and Brain Sciences “Cognitive Lunch” series.

Professor Robert Goldstone remarked, “Bill and I co-taught a graduate seminar on concept learning and representation, but I definitely felt like one of the students.   I learned a lot from Bill about how to make theories precise, testable, and constrained.  His own models were simplified but never simplistic.  They provided elegant theories based on first principles, and Bill repeatedly used these theories to unify a diversity of phenomena that others had treated as unrelated.”

“Estes and his wife were very active within both the academic and Bloomington communities,” said Professor Linda Smith, chair of the department. “Bill and Katherine will be greatly missed in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.” They are survived by one son, George, a resident of New Jersey. The department plans a memorial service at a later date.

 

 
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