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national academy of sciences

stanley smith stevens


A Biographical Memoir by
george a. miller

Any opinions expressed in this memoir are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academy of Sciences.

Biographical Memoir Copyright 1975
national aCademy of sCienCes washington d.C.

November 4 , 1906-January 18, 1973

was born in Ogden, Utah, to Stanley and Adeline (Smith) Stevens. He attended Mormon schools in Salt Lake City and after being graduated from high school in 1924 was sent on a three-year mission to Belgium and Switzerland for the Mormon Church. He returned in 1927 to enroll in the University of Utah and in 1929 transferred to Stanford University, where he received the A.B. degree in 1931. After two years of graduate study, he received his Ph.D. degree in psychology from the Department of Philosophy, Harvard University, where he served under E. G. Boring as assistant in psychology from 1932 to 1934. T h e following year he spent studying physiology under Hallowell Davis at the Harvard Medical School, on a National Research Council Fellowship; in 1935-1936 a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation enabled him to become a Research Fellow in physics at Harvard. Psychology had achieved departmental status at Harvard in 1934, and in 1936 Stevens accepted a position as instructor in experimental psychology. He was promoted to assistant professor of psychology in 1938, gained academic tenure as associate professor of psychology in 1944, and became professor of psychology in 1946. In 1962, at his own request, his title was changed-he became "the world's first Professor of Psychophysics."



a monstrous Victorian-Gothic building erected in 1875 as a dining hall. T h e Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory was housed in the basement of Memorial Hall. Stevens and L. Air Force. Beranek created joint laboratories at Harvard to study the effects of intense noise in military aircraft and the possibilities of reducing it. but he later wrote that "the hardships of the adults were mostly lost on us children." It ended in 1924 with the deaths of both parents and his subsequent departure on the mission to Belgium. In 1930 Stevens married Maxine Leonard. Beranek. Stevens assembled a large and distinguished staff and welded them into a highly effective team. T h e major effect of noise was to make voice communication impossible. Utah. of the Electro-Acoustic Laboratory. Peter Smith Stevens. T h e laboratory began in the old furnace room. by the end of the war. Shortly afterward Maxine was overwhelmed by a postpartum depression that devastated their lives. T o carry on this work. Their performance was not impaired by noise. and in 1936 they had a son. Orson Smith. although they suffered temporary hearing losses. Stevens was director of the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory. frontier style of life. In 1940. in Logan.426 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS Stevens spent much of his boyhood in the polygamous household of his grandfather. its rapid expansion into the abandoned kitchens was a project that occupied much of the director's attentionmuch of the work was done with his own hands. the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory had expanded to some fifty people. young adults were exposed to 115 decibels of noise for periods of seven hours. During the first year. It was a hard. surrounded by cousins of all ages. at the request of the U. . In 1963 Stevens married Geraldine Stone. she returned to Utah to live with her parents and died two decades later. L. during which a battery of psychomotor tests was conducted.S. so the program of the laboratory shifted to testing and redesigning components of intercom and radio systems.

as he increasingly preferred to devote his major efforts to his own research. the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. H e was consultant to the Research and Development Board from 1946 to 1952. over Stevens's strong objections. the laboratories and Department of Psychology were moved again. Phi Beta Kappa. the Psychonomic Society. the Acoustical Society of America. the American Psychological Association. the Society of Experimental Psychologists. the Society for Neuroscience. which had been built for the Department of Psychology and Social Relations. and recipient of a Presidential Certificate of Merit. the American Association for the Advancement of Science. the American Physiological Society. Stevens was a member of the American Philosophical Society. the Optical Society of America. and from 1949 to 1962 Stevens served as director of the Psychological Laboratories as well as of the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory. this time t o William James Hall.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 427 T h e laboratory continued after the war with a reduced staff. and in 1947 Stevens brought Georg von Bkkksy to the United States to become a member of it. T h e remaining space in the basement of Memorial Hall was remodeled under Stevens's close supervision in order to accommodate the Department of Psychology in 1946. His interest in these activities declined after 1952. however. and Sigma Xi. T h e accomplishments of the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory during the war brought well-deserved credit to its director. the Eastern Psychological Association. Stevens rechristened his own laboratory in 1962 as the Laboratory of Psychophysics. Chairman of the National Research Council Division of Anthropology and Psychology for three years. His awards included the Warren Medal of the Society of Experimental Psychologists in 1945. the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the Amer- . I n 1965. and during the years immediately following the war Stevens was active in the bureaucratic affairs of science at the national level. the Philosophy of Science Association.

Such are the facts. Colorado. H e was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1946. however. the Beltone Institute Award for distinguished accomplishments as an educator in 1966. T h a t explains only part of it. 1973. ADMINISTRATOR My introduction to Dr." As chance would have it. There was Stevens the administrator of laboratories. in fact. his son. only tactical maneuvers brought on when circumstance has confronted desire. There was Stevens the professor and educator. H e is survived by his wife. the Rayleigh Gold Medal Award of the British Acoustical Society in 1972. for among the chance encounters there are some that take effect. But such facts are little more than the skeleton of a man's life. interested in speech and hearing. those encounters that took effect on Stevens thrust him into at least four separate careers. I n some "Notes for a Life Story" written in 1970. whereas against other exposures a person stands as though inoculated with some natural antibody. A series of accidents. they give barely a hint of the man himself or what he suffered and accomplished. the teacher who had sent me to Harvard recommended me for . T h e overreaching design that his friends can see in his life grew out of his art in blending these careers. Stevens commented that his career "exhibits no plan o r purpose. while attending a meeting of the Winter Conference on Brain Research in Vail. and three grandchildren. H e died quietly but unexpectedly in his sleep on January 18. There was Stevens the philosopher of science.128 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS ican Psychological Association in 1960. Like most skeletons. using each in the service of the others. I was a new graduate student. It is probably worthwhile to summarize them for reference purposes. no over-reaching strategy. And there was Stevens the scientist. Stevens occurred in August 1942. Any man's life builds on a succession of accidents.

When the skies cleared and you found to your surprise that the landscape was still where it had been before. It was a matter of understanding his ways. In appearance he could have been a matinee idol. Those who could not weather the storms disliked him. Stevens as an actor would strike anyone who knew him as absurd. level gaze and an expression that in repose seemed sad. he was as little concerned as Nature for who might be caught in the storm. if ever anyone was. he could be one of the most affable people I have ever met. ankles crossed. even disapproving. I was directed to Dr. I did not actually join the laboratory until eighteen months later. But those willing to stick it out were greatly rewarded. a 4-4-4 on the somatotype scales. As he sat up and turned to greet me I saw a handsome man in his mid-thirties-tall and muscular. round-shouldered with long arms and large hands. an open. H e was not really as difficult to get along with as many seemed to think. Stevens's office and found him in what I came later to recognize as a characteristic posture-legs extended. wavy black hair and a natty moustache. Sometimes he would appear at the door of your room and bark. but the idea of S. When he was seriously interested in a problem. by then I had learned that my first impression was only one side of a very complex personality.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 429 employment in the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory. . he could move forward only at full speed-sometimes he ran over you. He was his own man. Stevens was a primitive-he had in him the force of Nature. When the clouds gathered and thunder rolled forth. and even those who admired him often found him difficult to work with. When he wished. the day could be filled with sunshine. He could never have spoken lines from another's script. a long face with a high forehead and excellent features. but could break into an irresistibly winning smile. S. I remember leaving that brief meeting completely charmed and excited by the prospect of being paid for what I wanted to do anyhow. feet on corner of desk.

A man who is "congenitally unsuited" to making decisions obviously cannot be a good administrator. As he said of himself. He had an intense dislike for administration-for making decisions. but he himself did little trading. and trying to decide to do something often tears me apart more than doing it. He was a wise man with broad experience. and all his friends with any capital sought his advice on investments. but for the head of a wartime laboratory they were remarkably effective. for interrupting his work to cope with the crisis of the day. "Decision never comes easy to me. Other insights into his mannerisms took longer to come by." he said. Indeed." He had a great interest in the stock market. I am congenitally unsuited to the making of even one decision-correct or not. An equally important part was that often he had not yet made the decision one thought he was withholding. he was a superb administrator. he often used it as proof of his incompetence when he wanted to avoid administrative responsibilities." the what-have-I-done panic subsided. then Stevens was a very successful administrator. For years I thought him inordinately secretive. however. He was an astute judge of intellectual horseflesh. however painful the process . Stevens's gruffness protected a basically shy person. If success is to be measured in terms of assembling a good team of scientists. Stevens knew that. however." Administrators are decision makers. often carrying his reluctance to give out information so far as to withhold his decisions from those directly affected by them. "you have to average two correct decisions on each trade. for accommodating superiors.430 I( BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS Know what you're doing?" Once you recognized this as his way of saying "good morning. I eventually learned that his natural retentiveness was only part of the reason. using them wisely and keeping them happy in their work until they do better than they know how. for compromising his own opinions. His methods might not work elsewhere. In truth. "In order to be successful. so when he did make a decision.

could be heard to call him miserly or worse. And because decisions did not come easy. H e painstakingly edited or rewrote reports. it went deeper than a mere respect for . But in his case. Anyone who tried calling him "Stanley" was lucky to be merely ignored. Stevens3'-he was "Smitty" to everyone. or cousins. Certainly a frugal childhood and the lean depression years had left their mark on Smitty. in the early days. but also for the social life of its members-dinner at the Faculty Club. later. as on most of his peers. Younger staff members.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 43 1 may have been. I t never occurred to us to call him "S. but of a patriarch. T h e laboratory was his famliy. nephews. everyone was on first-name terms. weekends at "the farm" in New Hampshire. H e set an example of dedication. he would be priced out of the market when the time came to leave Harvard. This family provided not only for work. When confronted on the subject. S. His was not the strategy of an executive. Smitty was a close man with a dollar. it was usually the right decision. he was never tempted to overcontrol. and he rewarded them or disciplined them for their own good and the good of the group. frustrated in their hopes of receiving what they regarded as deserved raises in pay. These may not be practices recommended in manuals on how to become a successful administrator. with maintenance work in the summers and skiing in the winters. and he spent his laboratory budget as if it were his personal checking account. H e lavished his concern on good equipment and an optimal arrangement of the laboratory environment. he would explain that if a staff member's salary were too high. As in any family. At the time it seemed perfectly natural and fulfilling. but they worked for him. and members were given the duties and privileges of siblings. a group foray to Boston's Chinatown or three carloads of incompetent but enthusiastic beginners invading the Fresh Pond Municipal Golf Course. T h e head of this extended family was concerned for the welfare of his kindred. working fourteen hours a day.

For many months. but no one ever doubted that the director was intensely concerned about every detail of the work that went on in his laboratory. shrewdness. He was instinctively conservative. masking the central invariances of both life and science. Such episodes were exceptional. He disliked discarding or replacing personal possessions. One rainy morning during the early days of the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory. . and intelligence. Smitty expected a full day's work. In a rage. honest criticism wounded many tender egos. His memory was excellent and detailed. Retentiveness was a personality trait. and to insure that he got it. He liked documentation and record-keeping. Smitty would not tolerate fuzzy thinking. He saw variability as noise. He could be as severe and critical of himself as of others. He was intensely loyal to his students and collaborators. and his blunt. His combination of wisdom. but at least you knew he really cared about you and your work. but if you ever convinced him that you had a better idea. loudly berating its tardy owner. a staff member who had arrived late hurriedly hung his hat where water dripped from it onto the Webster's dictionary below. Smitty respected you for it. T h e fact that he was usually right didn't make it easier to take. coupled with his training as a debater in school and college. the scene was recounted in whispers by the awed onlookers. Smitty threw the offending hat to the floor and stamped on it. Anyone willing to play the paternal role is bound to inspire ambivalence. Even his contempt for "the seductive myth that experience writes on an empty slate" was consistent. He retained his identity as a Mormon of frontier stock. he often would wait near the door of the laboratory in the morning to intercept late arrivals. He held to his opinions regardless of their popularity. Usually the battles were intellectual. in the true sense of that much-abused term. made him almost invincible in arguments. He disliked lending books. genetic endowment is something you can hold onto.432 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS money.

he taught the laboratory course in experimental psychology and sections of Boring's introductory course. Even he would not have been so successful with his methods had it not been for the organizational gifts of his secretary and his administrative assistant. he probably would have been willing to reduce it to a one-man show in support of his own research. I n the early fifties. this facet of his life ended on an unfortunately bitter note.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 433 His recipe for administrative success cannot be generally recommended. Smitty believed he was a great scientist and made every effort to provide space. I t was disgracefully ungenerous treatment of a senior professor who had contributed so much for so long to make Harvard's Department of Psychology one of the world's best. But the laboratory continued to shrink. As a young instructor at Harvard. so he continued. When his judgment was vindicated by the awarding of a Nobel Prize in medicine to BPkCsy in 1961. shaped for over a quarter of a century to meet Smitty's every need. Later he added a course in mathematics . T h e Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory continued on a reduced scale after the war. and money for his work. Didi Stone. but that pales into insignificance beside the anomaly of Stevens's accomplishments as an educator. when Smitty lost interest in administrative matters. when a stubborn president of Harvard forced him to step down from the post of director of the Psychological Laboratories and then in 1965 compelled him to leave his beloved basement. But Georg von BPkksy's beautiful research depended on support from Smitty's grants. Although Harvard could never find a way to give BCkksy a faculty appointment. facilities. Smitty seemed more elated than the recipient. assistants. Smitty's career as an administrator had ended even before 1962. TEACHER It may seem anomalous that a man could base a distinguished career as an administrator on his dislike of making decisions. Thus.

as I had already told Allport. but he decided that he preferred the title "psychophysicist" for himself. T h e chairman of the department used . "Allport was right. both to the administration and to Stevens's colleagues in psychology.434 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS for psychologists. I told Conant. . When in his opinion that prediction had been fulfilled. Only the most outstanding students should be admitted to the department. Another of Allport's objections was the aversion shown him by some of the students. but it was totally unacceptable at Harvard." As with all his strong opinions. chairman of the psychology department. President Conant discussed the letter with Stevens. Stevens tried to coin a new name for the old-time science and helped found the Psychonomic Society. psychology would attract students who would change it from a science into socially relevant but intellectually empty do-goodism. citing particularly his open disparagement of teaching. opposed Stevens's promotion in a long letter that detailed his shortcomings. and I know how well it works. of course. there was a well-developed network of arguments linking this sentence to his more general views of life and people. This is very close to the system followed at the Rockefeller University. Graduate education should be based on seminars and research apprenticeships. but to enjoy standing before classes was beyond my power. his reaction was to refuse to call himself a psychologist." Smitty summarized his educational philosophy in one sentence: "Anyone worth teaching doesn't need to be taught. who later wrote. But he disliked lecturing and was a mediocre classroonl teacher. any who did not fulfill their promise should be asked to leave at the end of the first year. Gordon Allport. for in neither temperament nor appearance am I the outgoing teacher . He predicted that if his colleagues persisted in giving undergraduate lectures on popular subjects. He applauded Boring's proposal that the department should abandon undergraduate teaching entirely. that I would teach my courses faithfully. . for graduate study.

These opinions contrasted sharply with those of B. "two forms of teaching give me great joy: the joint endeavor of laboratory apprenticeship. and highly competitive examinations." Smitty wrote. F. but afterwards most seemed glad they had gone through it. so graduate education in the department continued much as it had in the days of Boring and Allport. very much on Smitty's initiative. in the genetic basis of schizophrenia. they never resumed. "Actually.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 435 an increase in undergraduate enrollment in negotiating for increased support from the dean. Students gave weekly reports. Skinner. His unsuccessful efforts to reform Harvard were a continuing source of frustration to him. It was like an initiation ritual-no one enjoyed it at the time. but the professor was never reluctant to come down into the heat of debate and straighten them out. That semester concentrated on the history of psychology and on sensation and perception. but such arguments held no appeal for Smitty. It was a punishing course. T h e real teaching went on elsewhere. Neither Skinner the environmentalist nor Stevens the nativist could carry the day. and editorial give and take. in the dependence of personality on body type. in 1948. But deans count you . who was invited to return to Harvard. Stevens believed firmly in the primacy of nature over nurture. In those two ways I seem always to be teaching. He offered seminars in mathematical psychology and sensory psychology and until 1965 focused his efforts on one semester of the proseminar that was required of all first-year students. Smitty's responsibilities as a lecturer were interrupted by the war. But the classroom was merely a recruiting area. And some students discovered that their formidable professor was not as dangerous as he sounded. with 150 pages of technical reading to be covered each week. that the brand of science he practiced was really fascinating once you got the hang of it. in the inheritance of intelligence.

usually curbed. . you know what it means. pulling people out of the halls to serve as subjects. Boring worked alone in his study and sent you five pages of singlespaced commentary. Both had their most direct effects through their editing. the consummate stylist. Smitty. both felt that the most valuable skill they could give him was an ability to phrase his thoughts clearly and briefly. How often I remember this exchange: SSS: G*M: SSS: "What does this mean?" "Oh. G. Both believed that an author should do all in his power to save the reader's time." Working with Smitty on an experiment-setting up the equipment. Behind Smitty as a critic and editor stood E. the interaction intensified. He liked the sound of a well-rounded sentence." "Of course I know what it means. and their lessons in clear thinking were more valuable than all the psychological facts they taught you. running each other as judges. But look at what it says!" And then would come the rephrasings. Stevens was a master of clear. Stevens called you into his office and made you work through it with him. He had a gift for acting dense when it served his pedagogical purpose. T h e amount of time he was willing to devote to a word-byword review of his students' writing was extraordinary. his own was marred only a by tendency. When it came to writing up the results. You cannot write clearly unless you think clearly. to become slightly more flowery than necessary. And if they judged a student worthy of tutoring. plotting the data. and arguing what they meant-was a rich experience for a young student. expository prose.436 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS at work only when you stand before a group with your mouth moving. Both knew that the job of a scientist was not complete until the results of his experiment had been communicated. Boring.

Whether he was guiding you down an advanced slope on his short skis. His style of life. His teaching was not limited to graduate students. He was always prepared to shift the subject when irreconcilable differences loomed ahead. Some of his best pupils were the postdoctorals who came year after year. even in a community of individualists like Harvard. A strong personality invites analysis. Two such men could not long cooperate in . was an intellectual. and those who had to find ways to coexist with Smitty found him a fascinating topic for speculation. and for the limited audience he commanded. or driving a new wellpoint at the farm-whatever you did with him was accompanied by a steady but unobtrusive sharing of knowledge and opinion. taking you to see a Harvard commencement. Boring. W. In his own way. he was constantly instructing you about something. G. his tastes and outspoken opinions made him a thing apart. unpacking a newly arrived piece of equipment. it gave him a way to overcome his shyness and to reach out to people with gifts in hand. We sometimes debated whether he was an intellectual-he was more a man of action and argument than the intellectual stereotype seemed to allow. his independence of fashion. He spent three years editing the Handbook of Experimental Psychology when he could easily have done it in one if he had not felt compelled to educate even the most distinguished contributors. Allport was a paradigm intellectual. Consistent and well-established opinions guided him where others preferred to chat about current best-sellers or the latest intellectual fads. so graceful and flexible in style and mind as to seem positively slippery at times. He loved to teach. We knew that E. Stevens sought out the differences and tried to overpower them. he was one of the most effective teachers of his generation. with his great historical knowledge. G.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 437 Although Smitty did not include it on his list of enjoyable forms of teaching.

however. Oddly enough. It is odd because Smitty's exposure to philosophy and philosophers had been considerably more than incidental. he had begun to discover his eventual . In spite of his uncompromising opinions of the ways his colleagues undertook to teach psychology. T h e remark stuck in my mind because it conflicted so sharply with my view of him as an excellent expository writer. and Samuel Stouffer to create the Laboratory and the Department of Social Relations. and in 1946 Allport joined with Clyde Kluckhohn. Smitty was not really opposed to teaching. "the philosopher image seemed most congenial. a role that suited him far better than the role of professor of philosophy. PHILOSOPHER Smitty once told me that someone had discouraged him from studying philosophy because he did not write well enough. Talcott Parsons. but some of us felt it was as much an accommodation to personality differences as an innovation in teaching and research. He was merely opposed to being asked to do it in any style but his own. at that time. the initial impetus seems to have come from a physicist. He never really forgave those of us who worked to reunite the interesting problems of social psychology with the scientific methods of experimental psychology. T h e surge of interest in the philosophy of science in the 1930s. P. There were many benefits to Harvard from the new department. Smitty felt that the fission of the department gave the real scientists a chance to concentrate on the serious business of psychology." as he later called them.438 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS one small department. did provide him an opportunity to become a philosopher. W. Bridgman. Smitty abandoned any aspirations to become a professor of philosophy. Whether or not the evaluation was correct. As an undeqgraduate at Stanford he had shunned courses in science and mathematics in favor of "the windy subjects." As a graduate student at Harvard.

but psychology was still administratively a part of the Department of Philosophy. and. Smitty commented later that "an operational restatement of psychology's basic concepts was Boring's real aim." but at the time neither of them was able to d o it. the logical positivism of Vienna was transplanted to America. and discrimination is defined as a concrete.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 439 vocation. differential response on the part of a living organism. discrimination was to replace immediate experience as the basis of all science. These ideas enriched and reinforced Smitty's . Bridgman's operationism showed Smitty the way. Thus. that psychology is the science whose responsibility it is to test and measure discrimination. was that scientific concepts are defined by the operations scientists perform. with Boring's considerable help. Toward the end of the 1930s. where it produced enormous ferment. T h e argument. that discrimination is the basic operation of all scientists. But it was Bridgman's solipsistic operationism in T h e Logic of Modern Physics that stimulated Stevens to write three philosophical essays on operationism in psychology in 1935-1936. and that psychology can accomplish this by analizing mentalistic concepts such as experience. his laboratory assistant. and sensory attributes in terms of the operations available to study them. G. sensation. T h e problem he attacked in those papers had been set for him by E. the three papers were written in 1935. who in 1932 was struggling to escape the traditional cleavage between mind and body that he had inherited from Titchener. And from 1936 to 1940 he had to pass each day through the offices of the philosophy department on the first floor of Emerson Hall in order to reach the psychological laboratories on the third floor-it was often convenient to take a seat at lectures there. briefly stated. so there was more philosophy to be studied. H e asked Smitty. to read the manuscript of T h e Physical Dimensions of Consciousness. Boring. physical.

as a function of the acoustic amplitude of the stimulus. loudness. that they were meaningless. For those who rejected the possibility of measurement. T h e members of the committee could not agree among themselves. the critical argument seemed to be that there was no possible operation for adding two sensations together . but if one rejects on philosophical grounds the cleavage between the physical and mental. and their relevance to the theoretical foundations of scientific psychology. and in 1939 he published a tutorial paper for his colleagues in psychology that reviewed operationism. and that the propositions of science have empirical significance only when their truth can be demonstrated by a set of concrete operations. and in 1937 (with Volkmann and Newman). "they all assert essentially that science seeks to generate confirmable propositions by fitting a formal system of symbols (language. how was one to reply? Between 1932 and 1940 a committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science had debated the question: Is it possible to measure human sensation? In its final report. mathematics. physicalism." Smitty's interest in these ideas was not confined to any armchair. such as those used to measure length and weight. he wrote. semiotics. logical positivism. What was really troubling him was measurement. the committee chose Stevens's scale of loudness as a concrete example. a similar scale for the measurement of the psychological magnitude. as a function of the frequency of vibration. pitch. they were directly pertinent to his work as a practicing scientist. then what were these measurements measuring? When a critic charged that they did not measure anything. logic) to empirical observations. In 1936 he published a scale for the measurement of the psychological magnitude. the unity of science. the hypothetico-deductive method. Loudness and pitch are subjective experiences. In one way or another.440 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS philosophical leanings toward physicalism. one which was said by its author to have all the formal properties of other basic scales.

and "ratio" for . the group structure of the resulting scales. Stevens made a preliminary attempt to classify types of scales and illustrate them by examples from sensory psychophysics. that endow subjective scales with all the desirable properties of the basic scales of measurement in physics. D. however. T h e name he proposed"nominal" for the permutation group. In order to sustain such a claim." he said later. "interval" for the linear or affine group. Birkhoff sent Stevens to the library to learn more about mathematical groups. "I began to tabulate the various kinds of scales and the kinds of operations needed to create them. At a Congress for the TJnity of Science in 1939. and suddenly one evening in Emerson Hall the picture snapped into focus-there exists a hierarchy of scales defined by the mathematical transformations that leave the scale form invariant. " Consultation with G. Campbell's broad definition of measurement as the assignment of numerals to objects or events according to rules. "It was a botch.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 44 1 comparable to the operations of placing two lengths end-to-end or two weights in the same scale pan. T h e only way to meet this objection was to demonstrate that psychologists have other operations. just as objectively describable as those for length and weight. and the statistical operations applicable to measurements made with each type of scale. Another part was to be found in physicist N. Then it became clear that each kind of scale permitted a different mathematical transformation. But Stevens's problem was to make explicit the various rules for assigning numerals. it was necessary to understand precisely what the relations were in physics between the measurement operations and the properties of the resulting scales. "ordinal" for the isotonic group. but he felt he was on the right track. R. Bridgman gave him part of the answer. His final classification was revealed to the Psychological Round Table in December 1940 and published in 1941 at the next Congress for the Unity of Science.

Others strong and talented enough to pursue parallel courses to Harvard generally preferred. Whatever he called it. SCIENTIST I t is a long way from a poor Mormon household in Logan. but his philosophical ideas dwindled into odd paragraphs tucked away here and there in the more popular summarizations of his scientific work. to take on protective coloration from their new environment. Utah. Stevens had found a philosophy he could live by. when they got there. but he could never have imitated them. T h e closest he came again to explicit philosophical pronouncement seems to have been in an article in Science. Having reached this operational resolution of his original problem.442 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS the similarity group-have since become so standard that many authors who use them are unaware of their origin. Scales of measurement are to be evaluated not in terms of the tangibility of the objects or events that are measured. After the war he published several articles expanding on his classification of scales. In his schemapiric view of science. but in terms of the operations of measurement that are used. In 1940 he and Rudolf Carnap organized a monthly discussion group at Harvard on the Unity of Science. T h e lessons he had learned along the way . Stevens may have envied them at times. words and symbols serve only the neutral purpose of implementing a schematic structure. to a professorship at one of the world's leading universities. But it was just a new name for views he had hammered out thirty years earlier. T h e answer to his critics was now complete. which may be related by operational rules to an empirical structure. but his growing responsibilities for the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory reduced his participation in such discussions to a sometime thing. Smitty's interest in the broader issues of philosophy seemed to recede. in which he dubbed his views "schemapiric"--a hybrid of the formally schematic and the empirically substantive.

He was not averse to generalizing his measure- . whether meter reader. he worked alongside the shop manusually Ralph Gerbrands. Although at various times and in various ways he contributed to a wide variety of psychological problems. Skilled hands and a knack for coaxing experimental equipment to perform were valuable tools in Stevens's scientist's kit." At Harvard. too important for what he wanted to do as a scientist. living in a tent in a construction camp beside a mountain stream where you almost froze to death at night. waterheater installer. As a result. Such colleagues were a constant irritation to Stevens. many psychologists who have worked in this field have had more interest in the methodology they used than in the results they obtained. or night troubleshooter. That meant that I had a new job almost every two weeks as I replaced the man on vacation. When he set up an experiment. abilities. The tough and skeptical view this experience had given him of his fellow man wasn't wasted either. I later worked up to summer utility man. and other topics of greater personal and social importance than the sensory magnitudes they were designed to measure. he worked side by side with the carpenters and electricians. who never viewed measurement as an end in itself. "Summers I worked for the Idaho Power Company. He never forgot the skills learned at the Idaho Power Company. techniques of measurement worked out under the well-controlled conditions of the laboratory have been repeatedly generalized to the measurement of attitudes.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 443 were too much a part of him. starting as a grunt (hole digger and lineman's helper). In his "Notes for a Life Story." he describes how he worked to pay his way through college. This has always been a particularly seminal area of research in psychology. Forty years later. when he built a laboratory. Stevens's central concern throughout his life was psychophysical measurement. it becomes clear that my education for science took place more in the summers than in the winters.

"What scientific discoveries. In the nineteenth century. was not in the variance. "owe their existence to the techniques of statistical analysis or inference?" In his Handbook he urged his colleagues to "cultivate a love for invariance" and to "seek uniformities in heterogeneity. There is always a distribution." and that a scientist's responsibility is to provide "measures that will stay put while his back is turned. not the technical versatility of the measurement operations used to obtain them. but difficult for many psychologists to take. between the search for universal laws and the concern for individual differences. the seriousness of offenses and the severity of punishments-but he always evaluated such work in terms of the meaning of the results. but Stevens was never guilty of this. Stevens's own area of central concern. socioeconomic status. It was the tendency to elevate the means over the ends that eventually gave operationism a bad name among scientists." he once asked. Elaborate statistical analysis never impressed him. perceptions of national power. Fechner had based psychophysical . With respect to problems of measurement." It was good advice. the value of money. tradition was against him. and psychologists have performed valuable services by informing people where they stand in it with respect to their peers. G. however. In the measurement of sensory magnitudes. T. it becomes a question of whether one is more interested in the first or the second moment of the distribution. Stevens's contributions were always refreshingly sensible. the prestige of occupations. I n a subject rampant with methodolatry." He believed that "the delineation of the conditions of invariance for any phenomenon would tell us all we want to know about the matter. of course. Stevens's interest. Great statistical sophistication has supported such studies of individual variability. but in the invariences of the measurements. One of the many schisms that divide psychologists into warring camps is that between the nomothetic and the idiopathic.444 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS ment techniques beyond their application to sensory magnitudes-to the measurement of physique and temperament.

by observing the variability. Their integration for the purpose of obtaining a reasonable numerical scale for the measurement of the magnitude of 'sensation' is obviously not valid. it was plausible enough to persuade psychologists for at least a century that sensory magnitudes are a logarithmic function of stimulus intensity. that is where the matter had to be left-as a puzzling disparity. based on a review of such direct estimations by B. Although the argument seemed somewhat backwards. this argument led Fechner to determine a logarithmic relation between the stimulus intensity and the sensory magnitude-each time the intensity is doubled. Churcher. you wished to measure the brightness of a light. Since the magnitude of a jnd was proportional to the magnitude of the stimulus to which it was added. T h e facts about differential sensitivity were true enough.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 445 measurement on the counting of just-noticeable differences (jnd's). for example. L. there should be a constant increment in sensation. Hence. one could infer the magnitude. If. but the relation between jnd's and sensation did not hold. If you ask people to adjust the intensity of one tone until it sounds twice as loud as another. Thurstone later provided the statistical rationale: T h e size of the jnd depends on inherent variability in the sensory system. T h e variability of any measurement is generally a function of the magnitude being measured. for example. you were supposed to count the number of jnd's a person could detect between complete darkness and the light to be measured. L. you find that loudness grows much more rapidly than the number of jnd's. T h e vast disparity between the subjective magnitudes of different jnd's "is astonishing in view of the original assumption by which they were considered equal. Stevens pointed this out in 1936 when he proposed his first sone scale for loudness." When this work was interrupted by the war. What bothered Stevens was that it wasn't true. T h e puzzle was sharpened by the fact that there was no comparable dis- . G.

Garner about the scaling of loudness with providing the impetus that finally sent him back into the laboratory for the final twenty years of his life. rebuilding the farmhouse in New Hampshire into a ski lodge and experimenting with skis. Stevens later generalized this distinction to other sensory modalities. When the frequency of a tone is changed." He credited an argument with W. ask people to adjust one magni- . calling the additive attributes "prothetic" and the substitutive attributes "metathetic. the loudness scale that is measured depends on the experimental operations performed. new excitation is added to old. commuting to the high councils of science in Washington. But his scientific puhlications during those years were accounts of prewar work on the theory of measurement or experiments conducted during the war. As any operationist would have expected. with the skilled editorial assistance of Didi Stone. unable to get back to the detailed work of research while his desk bloomed with important papers pressing for attention. jnd's for pitch are subjectively equal. He felt increasingly defeated by success." After the war he did not return immediately to this puzzle. He spoke of the "gnawing fear that the fire was spent. had now abandoned me. enjoying the honors and recognition he received. In 1940 Stevens and Volkmann suggested that this difference should be explained by the difference in the discriminatory mechanisms that mediate pitch and loudness. R. In his autobiography Smitty speaks of the years from 1945 to 1952 as "seven lean years." He was busy planning and supervising the renovation of the basement in Memorial Hall. was the 1400-page Handbook of Experimental Psychology. that science. directing the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory. You could count jnd's. when the intensity of a tone is increased. the jealous mistress I had abandoned for war research. and for three of those years his major preoccupation.446 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS parity for pitch. new excitation is substituted for old.

On operational grounds. and the person was asked to assign numbers to them. C . or use other clever schemes that psychologists had invented. for example. but thereafter the ratios of the numbers he assigned should correspond to the ratios of his subjective impressions. he repeatedly found not a logarithmic function. There followed an intense period of work extending this insight to other sensory modalities. T h e loudness. He began by adopting the method of magnitude estimation-which he invented as the simplest and most direct procedure he could think of for getting at a person's impressionsas his basic experimental operation. every time the intensity was increased by 10 dB. he could assign any number he liked to the first stimulus. the number assigned to it doubled. From this it follows that the underlying invariance is the simple principle that equal stimulus ratios produce equal subjective ratios.3. there seemed no better way to choose among methods than to flip a coin. but Smitty simply could not accept the idea that there was not an underlying invariance in all that heterogeneity. When loudness was the attribute to be judged. Stevens found that they yielded constant ratios in loudness. Stevens (no relation). And so he set out to find it.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 447 tude until it was halfway between two others or to make one magnitude twice another. When Smitty plotted the data obtained in this manner against the stimulus intensity. A series of stimuli were presented in an irregular order. ask people to rate magnitudes or ratios between magnitudes. was proportional to the energy to the 0. compare two ears with one. one of the most important of whom was J. . A more consistent operationist might have let it go at that. but a power function. Many collaborators. L. Whereas Fechner would have predicted that logarithmic increments in intensity would be judged as constant increments in loudness. And no two methods seemed to give exactly the same scale.3 power: L = k1°.

Thus. In order to meet that objection. as many now call it. are matched to magnitudes of two other continua. more complex judgmental operations were rationalized away-at least to Stevens's satisfaction-and the whole psychophysical structure built on variability by Fechner and Thurstone was replaced by the power law. T h e ratio of the exponents of the function matching A and B to the function matching A and C predicts the exponent of the function matching B and C. reviewed the subject and rendered this verdict on Stevens's accomplishment: "After a hundred years of almost general acceptance and practically no experimentation. One repeated objection was that the yardstick Stevens was using was the number scale that people carry around in their heads-perhaps the invariance was attributable to their arithmetic habits rather than to their sensory transducers. anyone who regards them with suspicion can dispense with them. A. Stevens generalized the method to what he called "cross-modality matching. T h e numbers used in magnitude estimation can be regarded as simply another perceptual modality like the others.3 for brightness up to 3. "Stevens' Law. In every case they found power functions. This particular bit of reconstruction concerned a vital part of the craft. or." Magnitudes on sensory continuum. Stevens came to regard all measurement as a matching procedure. Fechner's logarithmic law was replaced by the power law. a distinguished psychophysicist in Stockholm. Discrepant results obtained by other. and it was not accomplished without considerable complaint from the other passengers. with exponents ranging from 0. T h e amount of experimental work performed in the 1950s on this problem by Stevens and other research workers was enormous.5 for electric shock.448 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS assisted in this work. . In 1965 Gosta Ekman. numerical matching is merely a special case. B and C." Science has been likened to a vessel that the crew must continually rebuild during the voyage.

possibly more firmly established than anything else in psychology. in the weeks before his death. . in literally hundreds of experiments. the power law is established beyond any reasonable doubt. Fortunately. As an experimental fact. Stevens completed the manuscript of a book that. when published. will summarize psychophysics and preserve his contributions to this old but still vital branch of scientific psychology. Stevens continued active work on these problems until he died. however. T h e power law was verified again and again. T h e premature deaths of both Ekman and Stevens were terrible blows to psychophysics.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 449 and the outcome was an outstanding success.

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Apparent reduction of loudness: a repeat experiment.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 453 With G. T h e new Harvard Psychological Laboratories. 1950 With J. J. S. E.. With J. Handbook of Experimental Psychology. . J. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Harper. pp. Stevens. In: Handbook of Experimental Psychology. Stone. Boring. 26: 1075-77. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Am. Science. 1954 Biological transducers. Soc. Acoust. 1952 T h e NAS-NRC and psychology. Psychol. 1 4 9 .. Psychol. 19371-80. and Kock's contention. Am. pp. Egan and G. P. Am. measurement. Bibliography o n Hearing. Convention Records of the Institute of Radio Engineers. Acoust. Acta Prima Congreso Extraordinario Sociedad Internacional Audiol6jic0.. 1948 With R. Cohn. T h e ear and the eye (El oido y la vista). Miller. pt. Hawkins.. Acoust. Psychol. Am. by S. Am. 2:239-43. easy and hard.. Soc. Mathematics. Rogers and R. S. Psychological writing. Editor. Buenos Aires. and psychophysics.. S.. Soc. With E. Pitch discrimination. Inc. J. Acoust. T h e masking of pure tones and of speech by white noise. Soc. Methods of measuring speech spectra. 9:27-33. O n the averaging of data. Press. With M. mels. 22:6-13. 61:343-51. Am. G. C. Herrnstein. 7: 119-24. A. J. 408-16. ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons. A psychological scale of weight and a formula for its derivation. J. Jr. Am. 27:326-28.. J. 121: 113-16. Loring and D. Psychol. Inc. G. 2:230-35. Am. 1955 With J.

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32: 1337-44. With J. 33: 160-67. C. J. Tactile vibration: dynamics of sensory intensity. C. Congr. Proc. Cambridge: M I T Press. With J.. Exp. Mark VI. Psychophysics of sensory function. perceived loudness and the effects of sidetone. 133:80-86. Reynolds. With G. With T . 26: 3 5 4 7 . vibration. by H . Reese. 57:201-9. Exp. Soc. J. 1-33. Subjective intensity of coffee odor. Stevens and J.. Procedure for calculating loudness. Acoust. Exp. Psychol. 33: 1577-85. In: Sensory Communication. Toward a resolution of t!ie Fechner-Thurston legacy. partition scales and confusion scales. J.. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Am. 88:606-2 1. O n the new psychophysics. Am. Soc. T o honor Fechner and repeal his law. and electric shock. Am. Acoust. Warmth and cold: dynamics of sensory intensity. 48:226-53. Acoust. Inc. 73:424-28. Binaural summation of loudness. J. Lane and A. 78-80.. C.. 3d Int. Soc.. C. Mack.. In: Psychological Scaling: Theory and Applications. Rosenblith. Stevens. Am. Gulliksen and S. L. Messick. T h e quantification of sensation. Amsterdam: Elsevier Pub. J. pp. Science. Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory (August). 57:210-18. pp. Psychol. J. Acoust. Soc. A. T h e auditory input-output function. Co. Voice level: autophonic scale. With H. Am. S. Catania. Stevens. 1960 With J. Psychol. 60: 183-92. 1:27-35.. Daedalus. ed.. Acoust. 49-66. Psychol. Psychol. 31:9951004. Psychophysics of sensory function. Growth of sensation on seven continua as measured by force of handgrip. S. Exp. Harvard University. Sci. D. 59:60-67. J . Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. pp. Psychometrika.. Ratio scales. T h e dynamics of visual brightness. . Am.. J. O n the validity of the loudness scale. J.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 455 Cross modality validation of subjective scales for loudness. ed. by W .

Exp. . W. 3. Subjective hardness of compliant materials. Princeton: Excerpta Medica Foundation. Terrace.. Acoust. ed. 34: 1466-7 1. Acoust. ed by C. J. Harris. pt. 3. 16: 383-85. Harper. Psychol. 23943. 35: 611-12. Duyff.. Q. 144:115758. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corp. 66: 177-86. 16:204-15. 64:489-94. Acoust. Soc. November. J. T h e basis of psychophysical judgments. Subjective scaling of length and area and the matching of length to loudness and brightness. Psychol. 75:596-604. J. 4: 391-401. Psychol. M. Vision Res. J. C. Stevens. Q. Soc. by R. 5360. Am. T h e dynamics of subjective warmth and cold. pp. J.. J. In: Temperature-Its Measurement and Control i n Science and Industry. Psychol. W. Loudness. Guirao. Exp. Am. vol. With J. J... S. I n pursuit of the sensory law. In: Information Processing i n the Neruous System. Herzfeld. 36: 1176-82. Guirao. Relation of brightness to duration and luminance under light. With T. With M.. 17:29-39. Measurement of auditory density. Journal of the Optical Society of America. R . J. 53:375-85. Guirao. Gerard and J. Scaling of apparent viscosity. (2d Klopsteg Lecture. Am. Am.. With R. Sensory transform functions. With M. reciprocality. Science. Psychol. With M... at Northwestern University) 1963 With J. and partition scales. Am. T h e scaling of subjective roughness and smoothness. T h e quantification of tonal volume. Concerning the psychophysical power law. Exp. With J.. Exp. pp. Soc. C. With M.and dark-adaptation. Brightness function: effects of adaptation. Guirao. Stevens. With H. Psychol. Aiba.456 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS 1962 T h e surprising simplicity of sensory metrics.

& A.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS 457 With F. 1-3. Ciba Foundation Symposium. Greenbaum. luminance. Matching functions between loudness and ten other continua. Quantifying the sensory experience. . Guirao and A. January. Loudness.. Psychophys. 1:5-8. Duration. Sound and Hearing. Indow. With T. In: Touch. a product of volume times density. In: Mind. Soc.. Vision Res. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Effect of glare angle on the brightness function for a small target. I. Percept. and the brightness exponent. J. and Method. Science. ed.. 5:649-59. On the uses of poikilitic functions. Institute of Electrical Engineers Conference Publication 26. With M. 69:503-10. masking and recruitment. W. Heat and Pain.. Saturation of red: a prothetic continuum. 215-33. Psychophys. Psychophys. Churchill Ltd.. Slawson. 1966 Transfer functions of the skin and muscle senses. 24-29. Feyerabend and G. Am. 1:439-46. Psychophys. With D. Percept. 1:96-100. Maxwell. Power-group transformations under glare. Psychophys. pp. Intensity functions in sensory systems. 1:253-72. pp. J. Mostofsky. Minneapolis: Univ. In: Acoustic Noise and Its Control. Matter. pp. Regression effect in psychophysical judgment. New York: Time-Life Books.. London: J. International Journal of Neurology. pp.. B. Press. On the operation known as judgment. 54:385-401. 1:59-66. 39:725-35. Psychol. Masking and sensory dynamics. With H. 6: 202-9. Panek.. With A. by D. Warshofsky and the editors of Life magazine. Am. Percept. Exp. L. Percept. Sci. A metric for the social consensus. of Minnesota Press. ed. Diamond. Acoust. by P. In: Stimulus Generalization.. Percept. 3-17. 151:53041. Scaling of saturation and hue.

2:459-65. In: Handbook of Sensory Physiology. Tactile vibration: change of exponent with frequency.. vol. by W. et al. Science. On predicting exponents for cross-modality matches. 170:1043-50. statistics. 51 :575-601.. I . Amsterdam: Elsevier Pub.. 1969 Measurement and social science. Psychol. 6:302-8. ed. With B. 22:696-715. Am. 1972 Perceived level of noise by Mark VII and decibels (E). Psychophysics and the measurement of loudness. 171-99. Le quantitatif et la perception. Chalupnik. Loudness functions under inhibition. Bulletin de Psychologie. N. 161: 849-56. Sensory power functions and neural events... 6th Int. Tokyo. Japan. Percept.. Percept. R. D. ed. . Percept. Measurement. pp. Psychophys. Percept.. 78:426-50.J. In: Transportation Noises: A Symposium o n Acceptability Criteria. Psychophys. Psychophysics and Social Scaling. Cross-modality matching of brightness to loudness by 5-year-olds.. In: Handbook of Measurement and Assessm e n t i n Behauioral Sciences.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. by D. Sensory scales of taste intensity. pp.458 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS With M. Rev. Inc. of Washington Press. Bond. Issues in psychophysical measurement. Whitla. 22642. Neural events and the psychophysical law.]. pp. Berlin: Springer Verlag. Psychophys. Morristown.. Psychophys. by J. Edwin Garrigues Boring: 1886-1968. K. 81 :589-606. Soc. Seattle: Univ. Psychophys.. and the schemapiric view. 114-28. 27 pp. ed. Co. In: Proc. 2(1):5-6. Mass. Guirao. 6:25 1-56. Acoust. J Acoust. Percept. Am. Reading. Psychol. On the quantitative evaluation of noise. [sic. 6: 337-39. Science.: General Learning Press. Congr. Loewenstein. 3: 223-28. 1968 Ratio scales of opinion. J.

Calculating the perceived level of light and sound. Friedman. Stevens. New York: Wiley-Interscience. . In: Handbook of Perception. Reidel Publishing Co. C. and J. Science. Boston: D. 177:749-62. and Social Prospects. Stevens. 423-46.STANLEY SMITH STEVENS ' 459 A neutral quantum in sensory discrimination.. by E.. Sound Vib. Stability of human performance under intense noise. New York: Academic Press. Scharf. J. by H . R. J. vol. S. ed. B. ed. by Geraldine Stevens. Sound Vib. pp. 1975 Psychophysics: Introduction to its Perceptual. Moskowitz. C. Perceptual magnitude and its measurement. In: Sensation and Measurement: Papers i n Honor of S. 23: 297-306. Inc. Carterette and M. Notes for a life story. ed. P. 2: Psychophysical Judgment and Measurement. 21 :35-56. Neural.