Memoir

Robert Yerkes

May 26, 1876 - February 3, 1956


Election Year: 1923
Membership Type: Member

Robert Yerkes’ research, which he referred to as “comparative psychobiology,” initially focused on the psychology of lower animals, then extended to higher primates and finally to the intelligence and psychology of humans. This latter work was utilized by the U.S. military, for which he developed an intelligence-testing program.

Yerkes graduated with a bachelors degree from Ursinus College in 1897 and earned his PhD in psychology from Harvard in 1902. As an assistant professor in comparative psychology at Harvard, he began studying issues of sensory reception, habitat formation, and intelligence in animals such as fish, amphibians, small mammals, and eventually primates.

Yerkes’ academic career was interrupted during World War I, when he accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel attached to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office and took charge of the U.S. Army’s intelligence testing program. He returned to academia in 1924 as a professor of psychology at Yale. Between 1942 and 1944, he served as chairman of the Emergency Committee in Psychology, which was the arm of the National Research Council that advised government agencies and the Department of Defense during World War II.

In addition to his membership in the National Academy of Sciences, Yerkes was a member of the American Philosophical Society and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served for two years as president of the American Society of Naturalists and was awarded the Gold Medal of the New York Zoological Society in 1954.

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