psychology department

Princeton University Department of Psychology

The Princeton University Department of Psychology, located in Green Hall, is an academic department of Princeton University on the corner of Washington St. and William St. in Princeton, New Jersey. For over a century, the department has been among the foremost psychology departments in the country thanks to the contributions of its faculty and students. It has been home to psychologists who have made well-known scientific discoveries in the psychology literature (e.g., adult neurogenesis in primate brains, cognitive miser, diffusion of responsibility, face-selective brain neurons, feature integration theory, mental models theory, prospect theory).

The department's undergraduate and graduate programs are highly-ranked and the department has developed a well-respected neuroscience program. The department is comprised of over forty faculty members, over forty graduate students, and over one hundred undergraduate students. The faculty have received numerous awards, which include a Nobel Prize, six Distinguished Contributions awards from the American Psychological Association, and three William James Fellow awards from the Association for Psychological Science (APS). Additionally, two faculty members have previously served as presidents of the APS, twelve faculty members are fellows of the APS, and four faculty members have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.

Since 2002, the department has been chaired by social psychologist Deborah Prentice.


In 1893, fourteen years after Wilhelm Wundt founded the first psychology laboratory in the world, a Psychology Laboratory was established in Nassau Hall, the oldest building in the university, under the leadership of James Baldwin. When the departmental system was instituted in 1904 by university president Woodrow Wilson, psychology was taught as part of the Philosophy Department. In 1915, psychology received recognition in the title when the department was renamed Department of Philosophy and Psychology. It was not until 1920, however, that the Department of Psychology was established with Howard Warren as its first chairman. In 1924, Eno Hall was built to house the department. The building was named in honor of Henry Eno, the principal donor and research associate in psychology. Warren was also a donor, but he chose to keep his donation anonymous at the time. He commented that it was "the first laboratory in this country, if not in the world, dedicated solely to the teaching and investigation of scientific psychology. According to university president John Hibben, the laboratory was the realization of a dream that Warren had cherished for a long time.

University president James McCosh, primary professor of psychology in the early days of the department, was one of the first people to bring the experimental psychology of the German psychologists Wilhelm Wundt and Gustav Fechner to the attention of scholars in the United States. Baldwin, who studied under both McCosh and Wundt, continued this tradition. Warren was succeeded as chairman of the department by Herbert Langfeld. Under Langfeld, Ernest Wever, pioneer in the study of hearing, Hadley Cantril, noted for his work in public opinion and his study of people's reactions to Orson Welles's Martian invasion broadcast, and Harold Gulliksen, one of the country's foremost authorities on mental testing, joined the department's faculty. This blend of theoretical and practical interests continued under the chairmanships of Carroll Pratt, Hadley Cantril, and John L. Kennedy in the two decades following the Second World War. During this period, the department's research was expanded with the appointments of Silvan Tomkins, a leading figure in personality theory and assessment, and Frank Geldard, expert on cutaneous perception and communication.

In 1963, the department relocated to Green Hall on the corner of Washington St. and William St. The building, which had been previously occupied by the School of Engineering, was redesigned by university alumnus Francis W. Roudebush for the use of the psychology and sociology departments. Professors Kennedy and Joseph Notterman, who were instrumental in planning and supervising the building's reconstruction, brought in young scientists to expand the department's coverage of psychological disciplines. Since Leon Kamin assumed the chairmanship in 1968, the department has concentrated on four major areas: Physiological psychology and the neurosciences, social psychology, cognitive processes and perception, and the psychology of learning and motivation. In addition, the study of behavioral development has been emphasized within each of these areas.

In 1972, the Princeton Psychology Colloquium Committee, which schedules weekly speeches and discussions for psychology students, invited Richard Herrnstein, psychology professor at Harvard University to speak about the vision of pigeons. At the time, Herrnstein was the victim of serious criticism because he had written an article in which he argued that genetic differences would play an increasingly larger role in the determination of social status. Because Princeton's University Action Group, a radical student organization, threatened to sabotage the event on the grounds that Herrnstein was a racist, the Harvard professor canceled his appearance. Kamin asserted that "the climate in which [Herrnstein's] decision was made raises serious questions about freedom of speech."

Despite the constriction of the academic job market, the department attracted many more graduate students than could be accommodated and it had an enviable record in placing its graduates in suitable positions throughout the country. Most of the department's graduates from the classes of 2004 to 2007 had placements in the faculties of research universities and post-doctoral positions.

Thanks to a group of faculty and students who work across traditional disciplines and departments, interdisciplinary research and scholarship in the department has grown significantly since the end of the twentieth century. Biology and biochemistry have become integral to neuroscientific work, linguistics and anthropology now play a key role in cognition, and mathematics and computer sciences have come to be essential and useful tools in the study of memory, perception, and learning.


The quality of the department's teaching and research has been recognized by several sources. The department's graduate program has been ranked fifth best in the United States by U.S. News and World Report (USNWR), fifteenth best in the United States by the Princeton Review's "Gourman Report of Graduate Programs, and twelfth best in the United States by the National Research Council. The department's undergraduate program has been ranked eighteenth best in the United States by the "Gourman Report of Undergraduate Rankings. Its individual graduate programs have received high national rankings as well. USNWR ranked its behavioral neuroscience program and its social psychology program sixth and seventh best in the United States, respectively.


The graduate program in psychology emphasizes preparation for research and teaching in psychology with specialization in the following broad areas: Systems neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, perception and cognition, personality and social psychology, and physiological psychology. The program is designed to prepare students for the attainment of a Ph.D., which takes approximately 5 years to complete, and a career of scholarship in psychology. Every year, six doctoral degrees and eight masters degrees are awarded on average. Students in the university's M.D./Ph.D. program, run jointly with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, are also able to pursue their doctoral degree in the department.

Laboratory units are organized around the research programs of the faculty. These programs range from animal motivation and conditioning processes to decision making in human social groups, from neurophysiological mechanisms controlling basic drives to attributional processes in judging other individuals, from the sensory and perceptual roots of human cognition to concept formation and problem solving behavior in the child and adult, from the mathematical and computer techniques employed in research to the mechanisms of attitude formation and change.

Admission to the graduate program is highly competitive. The number of applications received by the department has risen steadily from 2003 to 2007 and, consequently, the admission rate has declined accordingly. In 2003, twenty out of 192 applicants were accepted. Though seventeen applicants were admitted to the program in 2007, the applicant pool had almost fifty more applicants than the applicant pool from four years earlier.

Men are better represented in the department's student body than in the student bodies of most psychology graduate programs in the United States. Women account for about half of the department's graduate student body even though women made up 68 percent of the recipients of doctoral degrees in psychology in 2005. Gender representation notwithstanding, female graduate students in psychology programs may benefit from same-sex mentors in their departments. Whereas only 33 percent of faculty members in psychology departments in the United States are women, the Department of Psychology's faculty has a female representation of over 40 percent. Additionally, the department is one of two departments at Princeton University that has had women who have served as departmental chairs.

Nine percent of the department's graduate students are underrepresented minorities. In contrast, twelve percent of recipients of psychology doctoral degrees in 2005 were African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. However, the ethnic and racial diversity of the department's students is comparable to the diversity of the student body of the university's Graduate School Eight percent of the university's graduate students are members of the three aforementioned underrepresented groups. To reduce minority underrepresentation in graduate school, the department's faculty and graduate students participate in the Princeton Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program, which seeks to encourage students from underrepresented groups to apply to and succeed in graduate school.

Program in social psychology

The social psychology program is a cohesive and well-defined unit that has strong ties to other programs within the department and to other units within the university. Substantively, the group covers many of the major topics within social psychology and offers a wide array of undergraduate courses that reflect the diversity of its areas of specialization. The research interests of individual faculty overlap in significant ways to provide three areas of concentration that give shape to the graduate program: Social cognition in interaction, the social self, and morality, conflict, and law.

Program in cognitive psychology

The department is "a presence in the burgeoning field of cognitive psychology." The research of the cognitive psychology programs's faculty spans a wide set of issues within the study of cognitive processes that include cognitive control, memory, judgment and decision making, language processing, reasoning, and visual perception. The highly interdisciplinary quality of these topics of study results in research that is interactive and multifaceted. Most of the research is conducted at the intersection of fields like computer science and neuroscience.

Program in neuroscience

The department offers an interdisciplinary program that leads to a Ph.D. in biology and neuroscience, chemistry and neuroscience, engineering and neuroscience, applied and computational mathematics and neuroscience, philosophy and neuroscience, physics and neuroscience, or psychology and neuroscience. The program encourages the serious study of molecular, cellular, developmental and systems neuroscience as it interfaces with cognitive and behavioral research. The program in psychology and neuroscience is oriented toward the study of the role of the central nervous system in behavior.

Program in psychology and public policy

Run jointly by the university's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Psychology, the program was conceived as a “discipline plus” degree in which Ph.D. candidates are at once full members of the department and participants in an additional inter-disciplinary program that focuses on the causes, consequences, and remedies for inequality in the United States and abroad. The program was instituted under the assumption that experimental studies in the laboratory or in the field that focus on social cognition, interpersonal perception, intergroup relations, prejudice, aggression, and social influence are essential to understanding how the structural conditions of inequality filter down to shape individual identity, social interactions, social motivation, and perceptions of fairness or justice. The growing interest in the incorporation of psychology in law schools and public policy schools is another reason why the program was established. Such interest is evidenced by the fact that five members of the Department of Psychology's faculty have an additional appointment at the Woodrow Wilson School and the fact that the department is one of the sponsors of the Princeton Graduate Student Conference on Psychology and Policymaking


Undergraduate students can concentrate in Psychology to receive an A.B. in the discipline. As part of the degree requirement, they must complete two junior research papers and a senior thesis under the supervision of the department's faculty members. Psychology is one of the most popular concentrations on campus. It is one of the seven concentrations that have more than one hundred concentrators and undergraduate student enrollment in the department continues to rise steadily. Every year, the department confers 58 undergraduate degrees on average.

Additionally, undergraduate students can enroll in the Program in Neuroscience, which encourages the study of molecular, cellular, developmental, and systems neuroscience as it interfaces with cognitive and behavioral research, to earn a Neuroscience Certificate.


Current faculty

Social psychologists in the faculty are Joel Cooper, John Darley, Susan Fiske, Joan Girgus, Virginia Kwan, Deborah Prentice, Emily Pronin, Nicole Shelton, Stacey Sinclair, and Alex Todorov. Cognitive psychologists in the faculty are Philip Johnson-Laird, Daniel Oppenheimer, Daniel Osherson, Eldar Shafir, and Susan Sugarman. Neuroscientists in the faculty are Matthew Botvinick, Asif Ghazanfar, Elizabeth Gould, Michael Graziano, Charles Gross, Bart Hoebel, Barry Jacobs, and Yael Niv. Cognitive neuroscientists in the faculty are Jonathan Cohen, James Haxby, Sabine Kaestner, Kenneth Norman, and Anne Treisman. Emeriti faculty are Byron Campbell, Sam Glucksberg, Daniel Kahneman, George Miller, and Joseph Notterman.

Historic faculty

  • James Baldwin (1861-1934), experimental psychologist and philosopher, received an undergraduate degree and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the university. He later accepted the Stuart Chair in Psychology at the department in 1893 and founded the first psychological laboratory in the department.
  • Carl Brigham (1890-1943), psychometrist who chaired the College Board committee that created the Scholastic Aptitude Test, was an associate professor in the department in 1923.
  • Hadley Cantril (1906-1969), co-author of the classic study on selective perception in a Dartmouth-Princeton American football game, joined the department in 1936 and remained a member of the faculty until his death. He also served as chairman of the department.
  • Leonard Carmichael (1898-1973), psychologist, educator, and administrator, became a member of the department's faculty as an instructor of psychology in 1924 and was promoted to assistant professor in 1926.
  • Gustave Gilbert (1911-1977), co-author of the second of three stereotype studies that comprise the Princeton Trilogy, jointed the department as a visiting lecturer in abnormal psychology in 1948.
  • Harold Gulliksen (1903-1996), psychometrist renowned in part for the development and improvement of an effective screening test for United States Navy gunners during the Second World War, became a professor of psychology at the department after the war.
  • Edward Jones (1927-1993), who discovered the actor-observer bias in collaboration with Richard Nisbett, joined the psychology faculty in 1977 and remained in the department until his death. The university's Edward E. Jones Lecture Series were inaugurated in his honor.
  • Daniel Katz (1903-1998), co-author of the first of three stereotype studies that comprise the Princeton Trilogy, was a member of the faculty from 1928 to 1943.
  • Ronald Kinchla (1934-2006), quantitative psychophysicist, joined the department as professor of psychology in 1969 and attained emeritus status in 2003. He also served as director of graduate studies for the department and "helped to shape the modern-day psychology department."
  • Herbert Langfeld (1879-1958) was professor of psychology and director of the Psychology Laboratory. He continued in these positions for the next 23 years. In 1937, he became Stuart Professor of Psychology and chairman of the department. He received emeritus status ten years later. The department's faculty lounge is named after him.
  • Silvan Tomkins (1911-1991), one of the most influential theorists of twentieth-century psychology, had a teaching and research appointment in the department from 1947 until his retirement in 1975.
  • Howard Warren (1867-1934) was Stuart Professor of Psychology and chair of the department from 1903 until 1931. He was a graduate of the university and "devoted his entire professional life so untiringly to that institution that his name is indelibly associated with Eno Hall and Princeton psychology.
  • Ernest Wever (1902-1991), experimental psychologist who specialized in audition, joined the department in 1927 at the invitation of Langfeld. He was named Dorman T. Warren Professor, a position that he occupied from 1946 to 1950, and Eugene Higgins Professor, a position that he occupied from 1950 to 1971. From 1955 to 1958, he served as chair of the department.

Alumni in academic and research institutions

Unless otherwise noted, a date indicates the year in which a Ph.D. was conferred.

Equipment and facilities

The department is closely affiliated with the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind, and Behavior (CSBMB), which fosters research on the neural underpinnings of psychological function and plays a central role in the. Located in the basement of Green Hall, the CSBMB houses state of the art facilities for the study of brain function, including a research-dedicated, high-field fMRI scanner, an EEG laboratory, a TMS coil, an eye tracking laboratory, and high-performance computing facilities for data analysis and computational modeling. Seventeen faculty members from the department are affiliated with the CSBMB. Unique among research institutions that own and operate fMRI scanners, the CSBMB is the first facility to own a scanner that is run solely by neuroscientists that conduct basic research. Most scanners in the United States are located in clinical settings and are utilized primarily in applied research.

The university plans to build a 240,000 sq. ft. headquarters for the department on a site of about 98 acres. The psychology building, which would be in the shape of a half-circle cylinder, will consist of five floors above general ground level and one floor below ground level. The department, however, will share this space with the Princeton Neuroscience Institute The complex will house state-of-the-art labs, faculty offices, and classrooms in an attempt to push the university to the forefront of neuroscience and behavioral science research.

Psychology Library

When the department was moved to Green Hall in 1963, a room located next to the lobby in the first floor served as the department's academic library. By 1968, a second and a third room were added to house monographs and journal stacks. In 1990, the third journal room was moved into the basement to accommodate compact shelving. The Psychology Library, a branch of Princeton University Library, underwent significant renovations in 2002. The basement room was no longer used because the library gained a Reading Room, which has become a popular study space for psychology concentrators. A ramp that leads to the second room was built to ease the reshelving of materials and a customized Circulation Desk was added. A librarian’s office was built next to one of the computer clusters and glass display cases at the front of the library were set up to house a collection of books that have been authored by the department's faculty.

As of 2006, the Psychology Library comprises an extensive collection of more than 36,000 volumes, including about 460 of the principal psychology journals as well as standard reference works, texts, monographs. The library also maintains approximately 5,000 microfiche that range from various reference sources to journal subscriptions to a collection of psychological documents. A computer terminal in the Psychology Library provides online access to psychological and related bibliographic data bases.


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