Department History

Psychology has a long history at The University of Arizona. The first psychology course was taught by university President Theodore Comstock (a mining engineer and geologist!) in the Fall Term of 1894. Psychology courses were taught almost every year after 1898, justified for its relevance to teaching and education.  In 1914, the Department of Philosophy and Psychology was established.  In 1925, the department boasted three full-time faculty members, offering primarily undergraduate classes.  A Master’s Program was added soon after, which produced eight psychology theses in the 1930’s.  Class enrollments increased steadily over the next few decades, particularly with more advanced students yearning to become psychologists.  From 1945 through 1958, 275 Bachelor of Arts and 20 Master’s degrees in psychology were awarded.  During this time, there was little space or support for research, and no one had any external grants.  Authority to grant the Ph.D. doctoral degree was added in 1958, and Psychology split away from Philosophy, each becoming separate departments.

Dr. Neil Bartlett, the first Head of Psychology, joined UA in 1958 after faculty appointments at Johns Hopkins University and Brown University.  A pioneer in the field of visual perception, Dr. Bartlett engaged in ground-breaking research that today would be called “human factors psychology”.  During World War II he served as a Naval officer evaluating problems in operating electronic devices, particularly aboard submarines.  He studied how information could best be displayed in visual form so that it could be quickly and accurately detected on a radar screen.  He retired in 1975, to be succeeded by Lawrence Wheeler (1975-1982), Lee Sechrest (1984-1989), Lynn Nadel (1989-2002), Alfred Kaszniak (2002-2010 ) and Elizabeth Glisky (2010-2015), all internationally-renowned researchers in their fields.  Through their leadership, the Psychology Department has continued to grow and increase its reputation as a center for excellence in psychological research, undergraduate education, and graduate training, making it one of the top-ranked Psychology departments in the nation.