A Nobel Prize for Psychology

Many of the world's biggest problems -- violence, racism, poverty -- are behavioral in nature. But psychologists are generally shut out of the running for the Nobel Prize.

By PT Staff, published on November 1, 2003 - last reviewed on October 5, 2011

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.

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.