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John Brown, 1925-2012

16 August 2012

John Brown, Emeritus Professor of Experimental Psychology, died recently. Professor Jan Noyes offers an appreciation.

Professor John Brown was Head of the Department of Psychology from 1969 to 1984. John had worked in the Department as a temporary Assistant Lecturer in 1953-4 (and had run some of his PhD studies at Bristol during that time), and when we were compiling the history of the Department a few years ago, he recalled teaching five to six undergraduates in a class at the time. By the time John took over as Head of Department, this number had doubled to 12 Psychology undergraduates per year (seven studying for a BA and five for a BSc).

John moved to Bristol from Newcastle in April 1969. During the following summer term, he remained as Head of the School of Psychology at Newcastle University in order to complete a three-year term there as well as being Head of Department at Bristol.

John is well known for his work on memory and forgetting. His PhD thesis, completed at Cambridge University in 1955, was entitled ‘Immediate Memory’ and was concerned with decay theory of immediate memory. It should be noted that the phrase 'short-term memory', which we would use today to describe immediate memory, did not exist at this time. Brown published a number of seminal papers from this research in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology in 1954, 1956 and 1958. The last paper happened to coincide with a paper on the same topic published by Peterson and Peterson in 1959. The Peterson and Peterson task became, and still is, one of the classic investigative techniques in short-term memory. It is now generally referred to as the Brown-Peterson paradigm.

John was a valued and respected member of the Department who contributed greatly to the University of Bristol and the development of the subject of Psychology. In addition to his working and professional achievements, he was a very thoughtful individual who cared about the University and its associated activities. I recall that, when my research funding was coming to an end in 1990, John sent me a note thanking me and hoping that more funding would be forthcoming so that I could remain in post. He retired in the early ‘90s and continued to live in Clifton with his family.