In Memoriam: Wendell R. Garner, Noted for His Work on Perception

Wendell R. Garner, the James Rowland Angell Professor Emeritus of Psychology, died on Aug. 14. He was 87 years old.

Garner is known for his research contributions on the psychophysics of auditory perception and his explorations of how perceptual judgments could optimally express the structure present in the physical world. These themes came together in his 1962 monograph titled “Uncertainty and Structure as Psychological Concepts,” which conveyed a new unity to diverse areas of research and became a landmark in the development of the specialty now known as cognitive psychology. His seminal studies in psychophysics, discrimination, perception and information processing helped define such concepts as channel capacity and helped trigger a revolution in cognitive studies. He also authored the 1949 textbook “Applied Experimental Psychology,” which was considered path-breaking at the time.

Born on Jan. 21, 1921, in Buffalo, New York, Garner earned his undergraduate degree at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and obtained his master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University in 1943 and 1946, respectively. At Harvard, he conducted in the Radio Research, Psycho-Acoustic and Systems Research laboratories. He began teaching at The Johns Hopkins University in 1946 and became director of the Psychological Laboratories and the Institute for Cooperative Re­search there. He served as chair of the school’s psychology department 1954 to 1964.

Garner joined the Yale faculty as the James Rowland Angell Professor of Psychology in 1967. He also served as director of the Division of Social Sciences and chair of the Department of Psychology. He served as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences 1978-1979.

Throughout his career, Garner was also interested in the philosophy of science, and he led a popular graduate seminar called “Contemporary Viewpoints in ‘Psychology.’”

His numerous honors include the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, the Gold Medal for Science of Psychology from the American Psychological Foundation, the Warren Medal of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, Yale’s Wilbur Cross Medal, and an honorary degree from The Johns Hopkins University, among others.

Garner is survived by two daughters, Deborah G. Printz of Walnut Creek, California, and Elinor G. Stratton of Winn, Massachusetts; 10 grandchildren; and 5 great-grandchildren.