A Nobel Prize for Psychology

When psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in economics last year for his studies of decision-making, his success only emphasized psychology’s quandary. Behavioral scientists—sociologists, political scientists and psychologists—are generally shut out of the running for Nobel Prizes, which emphasize “harder” disciplines like chemistry and physiology. Texas A&M psychologist and historian Ludy Benjamin Jr. would like to see that change.

Why does psychology need a Nobel?

I can’t name another prize in that league. Some other prizes are quite large, in terms of monetary value. But I don’t know of anything that has the power and importance these do.

Why does the Nobel need psychology?

I often ask my students to list the most significant problems facing the world. They say: poverty, hunger, conflicts, racism, family stability, violence and so forth. Add pollution, obesity and illness to the list, and it’s evidence that many of these problems are partly if not wholly behavioral in nature. The things that seemed most serious in 1900 [when the prizes were founded] aren’t the same things causing national and international problems today.

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What would it take to launch a new Nobel?

A separate Nobel Prize in psychology seems out of the question—the Nobel committee is not going to take on the firestorm of criticism. The prize in economics has been a real lightning rod for those who wanted to attack social sciences. Even if the Nobel foundation did agree to establish such a prize, the funding to establish the award is likely beyond the reach of the international psychology community.

Who should’ve won one?

Neal Miller, who looked at the behavioral control of the autonomic nervous system. And [father of behaviorism] B.F. Skinner—he was truly a genius of the 20th century.

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