Volume 30 | 2007 | Number 2
Murray Sidman Receives Honorary D. Sc. Degree from West Virginia University
by Dr. Kennon A. (Andy) Lattal, West Virginia University
Figure 1. Dr. Murray Sidman (left) with WVU President David Hardesty.
During its commencement exercises on May 11, 2007, West Virginia University (WVU) bestowed on Murray Sidman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Northeastern University, an honorary Doctor of Science degree. His selection was based on his distinguished contributions to the advancement of psychological science through his innovative research and teaching over the last 60 years and his contributions to the understanding and treatment of children and adults with developmental delays.
In the 1950s, Professor Sidman discovered a type of avoidance behavior in animals that now carries his name, Sidman Avoidance. This discovery and the research that
followed challenged many of the traditional assumptions about the variables important in the learning and maintenance of behavior. From a theoretical point of view, it is impossible to overstate the importance of the discovery of Sidman Avoidance in the psychology of learning and motivation. His 1953 article that first described the phenomenon is a Citation Classic, a designation given only to the most influential research articles. Methodologically, Sidman Avoidance is used frequently by psychologists and neuroscientists alike to study behavioral and neural mechanisms of learning.
In 1960, while continuing his extensive research on basic learning mechanisms, Professor Sidman published an advanced textbook entitled Tactics of Scientific Research, which continues today to be the standard methodology textbook for behavioral psychologists. Within behavior analysis, Professor Sidman’s textbook is on a par with the most important volumes of B. F. Skinner in terms of influencing the development of the discipline.
From the 1970s to the present, Professor Sidman has focused on complex learning in children and adults with and without developmental delays. His analysis of stimulus equivalence, sometimes labeled Sidman Equivalence, has suggested how such learning can be conceptualized in terms of environmental stimulus control. So viewed, stimulus equivalence offered new mechanisms for understanding the acquisition of language and reading, but also suggested how complex concepts are formed in the absence of direct rewards. His research on stimulus equivalence is summarized in his book, Equivalence Relations and Behavior: A Research Story. In this same period, Professor Sidman wrote another book, Coercion and its Fallout. In it he returned to the significant problems of aversive control in society by its reliance on negative reinforcement and punishment as the dominant methods of understanding and modifying human behavior. The book was an outgrowth of his early work on avoidance learning and negative reinforcement.
Professor Sidman has held appointments at many of America’s finest research centers and universities, including Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University Medical School, and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. His awards include lifetime achievement awards from the Association for Behavior Analysis International and another from the American Psychological Association (APA). For his contributions to the understanding of learning in adults and children with developmental delays, he received the National Association for Retarded Citizens Distinguished Research Award. For his “outstanding research and sustained contributions to the understanding of mental retardation and developmental disabilities,” he received the APA Division for Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Edgar Doll Award.
In 1986 and 1989, Professor Sidman was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Psychology at WVU, where he offered short courses summarizing his work on stimulus equivalence and on coercion. Congratulations, Murray.