In Memoriam

Life of Yale psychology pioneer Allan Wagner to be memorialized Oct. 27

Allan R. Wagner
Allan R. Wagner

The life of Allan R. Wagner, a Yale psychologist who provided deep insights into the mechanisms of learning and memory, will be celebrated on Saturday, Oct. 27 at Battell Chapel, 400 College St.

Wagner, the Rowland Angell Professor Emeritus of Psychology, died Sept. 28 at his home in North Haven. The service will take place at 12:30 p.m.  A reception will follow at 43 Hillhouse Ave.

Wagner spent his career expanding our understanding of how animals learn relationships between events by studying Pavlovian Conditioning of the rabbit eye-blink response in ingenious, inventive experiments.  He is best known for creating, along with colleague Robert Rescorla, the Rescorla-Wagner model of conditioning, which posits that the amount learned on a conditioning trial is determined by the discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens.

Allan had an extraordinary impact on Yale’s psychology department, the broader university and the entire field of psychology,” said Frank Keil, chair of the Department of Psychology. “He was a towering figure whose scholarly work continues to influence many areas of psychology and cognitive science and will be an essential theme in ongoing research for many decades to come.”

Born in Springfield, Illinois in 1934, Wagner studied at the University of Iowa, where he became fascinated by theories of learning when, as an undergraduate, he took a graduate course with the eminent Yale-trained learning theorist Kenneth Spence. In 1959, he joined Yale University as an assistant professor, working under famed experimental psychologist Neal Miller.

He would spend his entire career at Yale and served as chair of the Department of Psychology from 1983 to 1989, as chair of the Department of Philosophy from 1991 to 1993, and as director of the Division of the Social Sciences from 1992 to 1998.

Wagner’s work has been recognized with the Howard Crosby Warren Medal of the Society of Experimental Psychologists (1991), the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association (1999), the W. Horsley Gantt Medal of the Pavlovian Society (2009), the William James Lifetime Achievement Award of the Association for Psychological Science (2013) and elected membership to the National Academy of Sciences.

Using his brilliant experimental skills and astonishing analytical abilities, Allan revolutionized our theories of associative learning and habituation,” said Nelson Donegan, former student of Wagner and longtime friend.

He leaves behind his longtime companion, Dr. Lois Meredith; his daughters Dr. Krystn R. Wagner and Dr. Kathryn R. Wagner; and grandchildren Maya Wagner Salvana, James Wagner Cavallon, and Elizabeth Wagner Cavallon.  He was predeceased by his wife of 35 years, Barbara Meland Wagner.

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