Neal E. Miller was an American psychologist, Best known for having contributed significantly in the experimental field of behavioral sciences.
He was a versatile person, devoting himself not only to the study of psychology, but also having an in-depth knowledge of biology and physics, which contributed to the formation of many of his theories and discoveries.
This researcher, who became the eighth most cited psychologist of the last century, worked in several universities and showed quite controversial opinions regarding the applied field of psychology. Here we will see a summary of his life through a biography of Neal E. Miller.
Biography of Neal E. Miller
Below we will see the interesting life of this American experimental psychologist.
Early years and training
Neal elgar miller was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA on August 13, 1909. He was fortunate to be born into a family that already had some knowledge of behavioral science, since his father, Irving Miller, worked for Western Washington University, in charge of the education and psychology department.
Miller always had a keen interest in science, so he decided to study biology and physics at the University of Washington in 1931. decide to deepen psychology, in particular in the behavioral stream. He would later study at Stanford University on personality psychology.
Then, along with one of his professors, Walter Miles, Miller would work as an assistant researcher at the Institute of Human Relations at Yale University. In 1935, he obtained his doctorate in psychology from the same university. That same year, he will travel to Vienna, Austria, to collaborate with the Institute of Psychoanalysis, to return to Yale the following year.
He would spend the next thirty years at Yale University, teaching at Rockefeller University in 1966, and at age 70, he would teach at Cornell University Medical College. He would return to Yale in 1985 as an associate researcher.
Neal E. Miller died on March 23, 2002 in Connecticut, United States, at the age of 92.
At the start of his career as a psychologist, Neal E. Miller he focused on experimentation with behavior in real situations, but always with a Freudian vision.
The most recurring theme of his research was fear, and he believed that this emotion could be acquired through conditioning.
After that, decided to tackle other automatic emotions and sensations, Much like hunger, using the same techniques with which he had managed to condition a frightening response in subjects.
While today it might seem a bit indisputable, at the time it was not so clear, which is why the new techniques and discoveries made by Miller resulted in a major change in design that was taking place on behavior and motivation.
Needless to say, Miller is considered one of the first to use the concept of biofeedbackIn other words, the process of heightened awareness of many psychological functions with the help of tools that provide information about those same functions.
With John Dollard and O. Hobart Mowrer, Neal E. Miller he tried to integrate the concepts and theories of behaviorist and psychoanalytic currents. He was able to “translate” psychoanalytic concepts into behavioral language, thus facilitating the power of the experimental approach.
This trio of great American psychologists was particularly interested in the main theory of behaviorism, that is to say the relationship between stimulus and response.
It is also important to mention that they recognized as valid Sigmund Freud’s view on anxiety, who argued that this emotion was a warning sign of danger, whether imaginary or real.
It is important to note that the academic and professional life of Neal E. Miller has been very prolific, being the author of nearly 300 articles, books and other publications.
His best known work, co-authored with John Dollard, was Personality and Psychotherapy (1950). This work focuses on neurosis and learning.
Honors and recognitions
Among all the honors that this American psychologist has had, there is the president of the APA between 1960 and 1961. In addition, a year earlier, he received the award for the most distinguished scientific contribution from the same association.
In 1964 he became the first psychologist to receive the US National Medal of Science, Awarded by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Other notable accolades include the post of President of the Neuroscience Society, the American Biofeedback Society, and the Behavioral Medicine Research Academy.
Animal rights controversy
Psychology is a science that needs to conduct experiments in order to prove and disprove its theories. Sometimes, for ethical reasons, it is not possible to conduct research on human subjects, animal testing being the best alternative. Miller used animals in his experiments, which in his day sparked debate, especially from animal rights groups.
It must be said that it is not always necessary or ethical to experiment with animals, Neal E. Miller was a strong supporter of the practice, In addition to also giving his opinion on the people who criticized him for using such subjects in his research.
In fact, on one occasion, he commented that if scientists did not have the right to use animals in research, then no one would have the right to kill animals either for food or to make pieces. with their skin.
He added that the issue was complex, saying that while all life could be considered sacred, Where should the line be able to go? There are animals that kill other animals for food, which begs the question to what extent animal rights should be discussed and how human beings are harmed by not being able to experience or feed the rest. of the animal kingdom.
Theory on the learning process and personality
Miller and Dollard considered that personality can be defined based on habits. By habit is meant an association between a stimulus and a response that causes the habit to occur more frequently. Habits are temporary, since they can be continued or, for one reason or another, stopped.
The main objective of the theory of these two authors was that of know and specify the environmental conditions that favor the acquisition of a particular habit.
Another interesting aspect of the theory is that the personality develops to the extent that it is possible to control impulses and reduce them. In this case, the impulse is understood as an uncomfortable feeling which, if satisfied, relieves, as would, for example, hunger and eating behavior.
According to psychologist Clark Hull, learning happens in how it is possible to reduce an impulse or need in the body, by being satisfied in the convenient way.
Reducing momentum by getting what you want is empowering, Make sure that the individual behaves in such a way that he manages to relieve the tension generated by the need.
Dollard and Miller distinguished between primary impulses and secondary impulses. Primaries are those associated with physiological processes necessary for an individual’s survival, such as eating and sleeping. Secondaries are primary but more refined forms of impulses, such as having to eat at a certain time or needing to sleep in a special type of bed.
In turn, these authors also distinguished between primary and secondary reinforcers. A reinforcer is understood as an event which encourages the response of a certain response. Primary boosters are those that reduce primary impulses, while secondary boosters reduce secondary impulses. As the primary reinforcer we would have food, water, the power to sleep, while as a secondary we could talk, for example, about money or career success.
Dollard and Miller indicated that the learning process can be due to four aspects.
- Impulse: what makes a person act.
- Cues: specific stimulus that indicates when, how and where to act.
- Response: the individual’s reaction to a clue.
- Reinforcement: effect produced by the response.
- Dollard, J .; Miller, NE (1950). Personality and psychotherapy: an analysis in terms of learning, thinking and culture. McGraw-Hill Psychology Publications. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Richter-Heinrich, E .; Miller, NE, eds. (1982). Biofeedback: basic problems and clinical applications. Selection of revised papers presented at the XXII International Congress of Psychology, Leipzig, GDR, July 6-12, 1980. Amsterdam: North Holland.
- Sears, RR; Hovland, CI; Miller, NE (1940). “Minor Studies of Aggression: I. Measurement of Aggressive Behavior”. The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied. 9 (2): 275-294.
- Miller, NE (1948). “Studies on fear as an acquired impulse: I. Fear as motivation and fear reduction as reinforcement in learning new responses.” Journal of Experimental Psychology. 38 (1): 89-101.