The Life and Work of Donald Olding Hebb, Canada's Greatest Psychologist
Brown, Richard E.
MetadataShow full item record
Donald Olding Hebb’s lasting influence in psychology and neuroscience stems largely from his influential book, The Organization of Behavior (Hebb 1949a) in which he introduced the concepts of synaptic change and cell assemblies to explain the neural events underlying behaviour. Hebb’s work revolutionized psychology by establishing a biological basis for psychological phenomena and expounding a neuropsychological theory which provided the structure for the development of the fields of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience. His ultimate fame could not have been predicted from his performance at Dalhousie University nor from his early career as a teacher. His career as a psychologist began as a night school student in psychology at McGill University in 1928. After completing his MA in psychology at McGill in 1932, he studied with Karl Lashley at the University of Chicago completing his PhD with Lashley at Harvard in 1936. For the next two years he conducted neuropsychological tests on the patients of Dr. Wilder Penfield at the Montreal Neurological Institute and from 1939 to 1942 was a professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He spent the next five years studying emotionality in chimpanzees at the Yerkes Primate Center in Florida where he began to write The Organization of Behavior. Hebb became a professor of Psychology at McGill University in 1947 and head of his department in 1948 where he completed his book and directed an internationally recognized graduate program in physiological psychology. Elected President of the Canadian Psychological Association in 1952 and the American Psychological Association in 1960 he also became a Fellow of the Royal Societies of Canada and England. Late in his career, he was Vice Dean of Biological Sciences (1964-66) and then Chancellor of McGill University (1970-74). Upon retirement from McGill, he moved back to Nova Scotia and became a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University from 1978 until his death in 1985. During this time he wrote his last book, Essay on Mind (Hebb 1980a). He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in October 2003.