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Texas A&M University was founded in 1876 as a land-grant college emphasizing agriculture and engineering. Because of this, the social sciences and humanities received very little attention throughout much of the University’s early history. However, an academic precursor of scientific psychology, known as Mental Philosophy, was taught in the first year the college opened. The first course with the word “psychology” in the title – Educational Psychology – was offered in 1913, and the first course on General Psychology, a survey of the science of psychology at the time, was taught in 1920. Faculty who taught these early psychology courses had little, and in some cases no, training in psychology. The first professor with a doctorate in psychology was not hired until the 1940s, and it was not until 1965 that students could major in Psychology. Graduate degrees were first offered in 1971 (Master of Science) and doctoral degrees in clinical, experimental, and industrial-organizational psychology were approved in 1984.

In 1963, the name of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas was changed to Texas A&M University, indicating a significant change in the scope and mission of the University. Its enrollment increased from 7,000 students in the 1960s to greater than 50,000 today. Of that number, approximately 1,400 students are psychology majors, making it once of the largest majors at the University. There are more than 100 students currently enrolled in one of six PhD programs: Behavioral and Cellular Neuroscience, Clinical, Cognitive, Developmental, Industrial-Organizational, and Social Psychology.

Expand the areas below to read more about the history of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University.

A Brief History of Psychology at Texas A&M University Expand A Brief History of Psychology at Texas A&M University
by Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. with research assistance from
Darren Marshall, Abby Miller, Jennifer Sembera, and Ashley Williams

Texas A&M University (TAMU) opened its doors in 1876 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas at about the same time that Harvard University’s William James was offering what were arguably the first scientific psychology courses in America.  At the end of the 19th century, American graduate students studied the new scientific psychology in German universities, especially in Leipzig, and brought that laboratory psychology home with them.  The earliest of the American psychology laboratories were founded in the 1880s, and by 1900 there were 40 psychology laboratories at American universities, most of those offering PhD degrees in the new psychology.  TAMU had been established by the Texas Legislature as a Land Grant university to provide the State with expertise in agriculture and engineering.  For much of its early history, other subjects, such as English or history or psychology, were viewed as service courses to be offered in support of the engineering and agriculture emphases but not to be fields of extended study on their own.  Thus, it would be a long time before a psychology laboratory or psychology major would make an appearance at TAMU.

Before there was a scientific psychology, however, there was another academic psychology known as mental philosophy.  Courses in mental philosophy-a blend of British empiricism and Scottish realism-were common offerings in American universities in the second half of the 19th century.  These courses covered such subjects as the senses, attention, learning, memory, consciousness, dreaming, reasoning, emotion, imagination, and will, subjects that today comprise much of the content of introductory psychology courses.  Whereas scientific psychology was late in its arrival at TAMU, mental philosophy was not.  It was offered in the very first semester of courses at TAMU, taught by Thomas Sanford Gathright, who was the first president of the College and Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy.  The text used in his course was Joseph Haven’s Mental Philosophy which defined the subject as ascertaining “the facts and laws of mental operation.”  The book presented the study of mind as an empirical science but not an experimental one.  By 1879, the year of the founding of Wilhelm Wundt’s Leipzig laboratory, the course in Mental Philosophy was required of all TAMU seniors.

The first course offered at TAMU with the word “psychology” in the title appeared in 1913.  Educational Psychology was taught by M. L. Hayes, emphasizing the relevance of psychology for teaching in such topics as “instincts, habit formation, memory, [and] attention.”  This class was part of the curriculum for teacher preparation and reflected the growth of pedagogical curricula in American universities at that time.  The following year Hayes added a course on Adolescence, emphasizing the “study of the psychology of adolescence.”

The first general psychology course was offered in 1920 by the Department of Rural Social Science.  Psychology 202 was described in the catalog as a course in psychology “adapted especially to the needs of businessmen and administrators,[emphasizing applications] to life, advertising, and to the management of employees.”  A third psychology course was added the following year-Social Psychology-which used E. A. Ross’s text, Social Psychology and Social Control.  The catalog description emphasized group behavior and methods of social control.  And to remind us that this offering was part of the curriculum of a department now labeled Rural Sociology, the course was said to analyze “the mental attitudes of country people.”  Rural Sociology added a fourth psychology course in 1922 entitled Psychology Applied to Industry that included “the relation of the worker’s nervous system to his mind, cultivating right habits in workers, increasing the quantity and quality of production,[and] reducing turnover.”  By 1925 the Social Psychology course was taught using Floyd Allport’s textbook, Social Psychology (1924).  Lest some believe that social neuroscience is entirely new, the catalog description for the 1925 social psychology course noted that “some attention will be given to the neurological foundations of social behavior.”

In 1935, a separate Department of Psychology was established, headed by Professor Charles Herman Winkler, a 1904 graduate of TAMU.  Before moving to Psychology, Winkler had served as Head of the Department of Agricultural Education.  As Psychology head, Winkler presided over a very congenial department, perhaps because he was the only faculty member.  Winkler offered the courses in Educational Psychology, Adolescence, and a new course entitled Mental Efficiency.  But Social Psychology was still taught in Rural Sociology. Even though Psychology was now recognized as a department, students were not allowed to major or minor in the subject.

The first individual trained in scientific psychology did not arrive at TAMU until 1941 when Walter A. Varvel (Ph.D, Kansas, 1938) joined Winkler’s Psychology Department.  Professor Varvel (1908-1990) served on the TAMU faculty until his retirement in 1974.  Varvel’s early research focused on the Rorschach Inkblot Test, particularly with regard to methods for validation, and the use of the test in assessment of depression.  In his first year at TAMU, Varvel added a course on Measurement in Psychology, a course focused on psychological testing, especially intellectual assessment.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Texas Legislature redefined the mission of TAMU as a university, although the official name change from college to university did not occur until 1963.  Yet because of the Legislature’s action, the University began some major restructuring in 1947, creating a separate Graduate School.  Further the Department of Psychology was joined with faculty from education to become the Department of Education and Psychology.  In that same year, a second psychologist was hired, Milam S. Kavanaugh (1899-1999) who taught at TAMU for 22 years.  A course on Personality Adjustments was added in his first year, and the industrial course was re-established as Industrial Psychology.  It was also in that year (1947) that students were first allowed to minor in psychology with successful completion of 12 hours.

The psychology curriculum expanded in the 1950s with the addition of courses in Child Psychology, Dynamics of Human Behavior (motivation), Differential Psychology, Learning, Experimental Psychology, and in the 1960s with Research Methods, Comparative Psychology, Physiological Psychology, and Abnormal Psychology.  Of course, psychology faculty numbers also increased during this time.

Although the Department of Psychology had been founded in 1935, it would be another 30 years before students could elect a major in the discipline.  It was not until 1965, nearly 90 years after the establishment of the University that a baccalaureate degree (B.S.) in psychology was offered.  By that time the Department had added its first female faculty member, Carole Annette Golightly, a social psychologist who came to TAMU in 1964 but stayed only two years.  Conditions were not entirely favorable for women faculty in those years.

Psychology was coupled with Education for more than 20 years in a single department, and most psychology courses were seen as supporting one of the several educational degrees or the program in rural sociology.  The first graduate psychology course appeared in 1951, an advanced course in Educational Psychology, and five years later was joined by a second graduate course in Human Development.  Both courses were meant to serve graduate degrees in teaching and educational administration.  No other graduate psychology courses appeared until 1966 when a Research Techniques course was added.  The psychologists within the Education and Psychology Department were eager to create their own graduate psychology program and began laying the groundwork for that in 1967 by creating four new psychology courses.  The following year, 1968, they were successful in engineering a split of the Department into two separate departments.  Faculty were allowed to choose to be in either Psychology or Education.  Six faculty members were part of that newly created Psychology Department, including Anthony Bourgeois, Arnold LeUnes, and Albert Casey.  Casey, a behaviorist trained at the University of Kansas, was especially instrumental in establishing and strengthening the core experimental psychology courses. The second and third female members of the Department were Sara Jarvis Jones, a clinical psychologist, who arrived in 1970 and social psychologist Hanna Levenson who arrived in 1971 and added a Psychology of Women course to the curriculum.  Both were gone by 1976.  In 1971 the M.S. degree in Psychology was offered for the first time with emphases in “general-experimental, industrial, and pre-clinical psychology.”

Under President Earl Rudder, the 1960s had brought significant and historic changes to the campus.  Racial segregation was ended, women were admitted, and the formerly mandatory Corps of Cadets became a voluntary activity.  Further, as the College sought to remake itself as a University, a growing emphasis was placed on graduate education, especially the establishment of new doctoral programs.  Enrollment grew at unprecedented rates rising from approximately 7,000 students in 1960 to more than 30,000 by 1980.  No other university in the nation showed comparable growth in those two decades.  The master’s degree program in psychology was meant to be a stepping stone to acquiring a psychology doctoral program, and TAMU’s administration was eager to build such programs.  The Texas State Coordinating Board, however, resisted, arguing that the doctoral psychology programs in other Texas universities were sufficient to meet the State’s needs.  But the University was persistent, and finally in 1982 the Coordinating Board commissioned a team of nine distinguished psychologists from around the country to visit all Texas psychology PhD programs and the TAMU campus with the charge to evaluate TAMU’s plans for a doctoral program and its need within the State.  The team filed a favorable report that led to the creation of three doctoral specialties in TAMU’s Psychology program: General, Community-Clinical, and Industrial-Organizational Psychology.  Those doctoral programs were first announced in the 1984/1985 graduate catalog, and the first psychology doctorate was awarded in December, 1986.  In a few years the General program divided into four specialties that would, over time, become: Behavioral and Cellular Neuroscience, and Cognitive, Developmental, and Social Psychology.  The Community-Clinical program never really pursued the originally stated model of a community emphasis and created, instead, a traditional scientist-practitioner program in Clinical Psychology that has been accredited continuously by the American Psychological Association since 1988.  Today, the Psychology Department offers doctoral training in five specialties.

Under the leadership of Department Head Stephen Worchel, the Department secured its first separate building in 1988.  The building, which was constructed originally for the Physics Department, was renovated at a cost of $4.5 million to the specifications of psychology faculty and included a number of laboratories, classrooms, and special purpose rooms, including an extensive animal laboratory and a psychology clinic.  Paul Wellman was the faculty member most responsible for working with faculty to design the layout of the approximately 32,000 sq. ft. facility.

In 2009, the University’s enrollment topped 48,000 students.  Psychology was among the most popular subjects on campus with approximately 1,400 majors.  The doctoral programs, only about 25 years old in this year, continued to increase in quality and currently enroll about 100 students.  These programs were served by approximately 45 full-time and adjunct faculty members.

***Below are updates to the timeline after publication of the original report***

2013 Marks the introduction of the Diversity Science research cluster was formed and is made up of faculty and graduate students with the aim of of foregrounding the study of psychological dimensions of intersectional social identities with respect to sex, gender, race, ethnicity, cultural identity, age, language, sexuality, etc.

2014 Several graduate program study areas undergo name change. Social Psychology is now Social & Personality, Cognitive Psychology is now Cognition & Cognitive Neuroscience.  Also within this year, a new Affective Science research cluster was created which is a made up of both animal and human studies faculty and their laboratories which use a variety of methods and approaches in their work, from purely behavioral and organizational studies in humans to molecular and cellular studies in animals.

In 2015, The Department acquired the bottom 3 floors of the newly renovated Milner Bldg. which currently houses our clinic, it’s faculty and graduate student offices and research space. The undergraduate advisors as well as an undergraduate lounge for the students.

2016 Marks the first time in department history that a female department head has been nominated to serve in this position.

In 2017, The Department of Psychology underwent a name change to better describe the studies and research that are being conducted within the department.  We welcome you to the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.  Also, this year marks the first time the department history that online courses for Introduction to Psychology have been offered.

Timeline Expand Psychology Department Timeline   by Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr.
  •   1876    Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas was founded.  Course in Mental Philosophy was taught by President Thomas Gathright
  •   1879    Six students graduated in “Mental and Moral Science”
  •   1913    Educational Psychology course offered
  •   1914    Adolescence course added
  •   1920    First course offering in General Psychology
  •   1921    Social Psychology course added
  •   1922    Industrial Psychology course added
  •   1923    Human Relations course added
  •   1935    Department of Psychology was established, headed by Charles Winkler (background in agriculture)
  •   1935    Mental Efficiency course added
  •   1941    Walter A. Varvel, Jr. (1908-1990) joined the faculty, the first PhD psychologist at Texas A&M
  •   1941    Measurement in Psychology course added
  •   1947    Psychology Department was combined with Education to become the Department of Education and Psychology
  •   1947    Milam S. Kavanaugh (1899-1999) joined the faculty
  •   1947    Personality Adjustments course added
  •   1947    Minor in Psychology was approved (12 hours of psychology courses)
  •   1950    Child Psychology course added
  •   1951    First graduate course offered ? Advanced Educational Psychology
  •   1955    Courses added: Dynamics of Human Behavior (motivation), and Human Development (graduate)
  •   1959    Donald G. Barker joined the psychology faculty
  •   1960    New Courses: Differential Psychology, Psychology of Learning, Experimental Psychology
  •   1962    New faculty: Albert J. Casey (1925-2016) , Lannes H. Hope
  •   1962    Comparative Psychology course added
  •   1964    New Faculty: Carole Anne Golightly, a social psychologist and first woman faculty member in Psychology
  •   1964    Systematic Psychology course added (later renamed History and Systems of Psychology)
  •   1965    New faculty: James M. Elliott
  •   1965    First offering of undergraduate major in psychology (B.S. degree)
  •   1966    New faculty: Arnold D. LeUnes, Anthony E. Bourgeois
  •   1967    New Courses: Psychology of Early Childhood, Physiological Psychology
  •   1967    Psychological Services Laboratory was opened to provide psychological testing services for public schools on a contractual basis
  •   1968    Education and Psychology Department was split creating two separate departments.  Faculty were allowed to choose which one to be a part of.
  •   1968    William R. Smith became the first Head (1968-1973) of the newly formed Psychology Department
  •   1968    New faculty: Larry B. Christensen
  •   1968    New graduate courses: Individual Testing, Behavior Modification, Standardized Tests and Measurements
  •   1969    New undergraduate courses: Abnormal Psychology, Experimental Social Psychology, Sensation-Perception
  •   1969    New graduate courses: Clinical Psychology, Reading Seminar in Experimental Social Psychology
  •   1969    Department of Educational Psychology was founded in the College of Education
  •   1970    The Department received a charter for a chapter of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology
  •   1970    New faculty: Sara Jarvis Jones, second female psychology faculty member.
  •   1971    New faculty: Hanna Levenson.
  •   1971    New undergraduate course: Behavioral Principles; new graduate course:  Psychophysiology
  •   1971    Master of Science in Psychology degree first offered
  •   1973    Clessen J. Martin appointed as Department Head (1973-1979)
  •   1979    Rand Boyd Evans appointed as Department Head (1979-1984)
  •   1984    PhD in Psychology first offered
  •   1984    Stephen Worchel appointed as Department Head (1984-1993)
  •   1984    Saul B. Sells (1913-1988), Professor Emeritus at Texas Christian University, donated his extensive library of more than 4,000 psychology books and thousands of journals to the Department.  He included a cash gift of $65,000 to endow continued journal subscriptions for the library and to support graduate student travel.
  •   1985    Frank N. McMillan endowed the McMillan Professorship in Analytical Psychology.  First holder of the professorship in 1986: David H. Rosen
  •   1986    First PhD psychology graduate: Daniel Gorenflo
  •   1986    A study-abroad class of 26 undergraduate students (mostly psychology majors) was the first group to tour the Freud Museum in London (Freud’s home in 1938-1939).  The Museum was scheduled to open in July but allowed the Texas A&M group to tour the Museum in June as a test run for the museum staff.
  •   1987    Jeffry A. Simpson developed the Psychology Honors Degree Program, the first departmental honors program in the College of Liberal Arts
  •   1988    Clinical Psychology PhD program was initially accredited by the American Psychological Association
  •   1988    Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology added as undergraduate option
  •   1988    The Department moved into its own building
  •   1990    Carolyn and Ernest Fay Lecture Series began.  The initial speaker was Verena Kast from Switzerland.  Her book, Joy, Inspiration, and Hope (1991) became the first book in the Fay Lecture Series.
  •   1993    Paul J. Wellman appointed as Department Head (1993-2002)
  •   2003    William S. Rholes appointed as Department Head (2002-2006)
  •   2003    In the inaugural year of the award established by President Robert Gates, Ludy Benjamin, Jr. received a Presidential Professorship in Teaching Excellence.
  •   2004    Clinical psychology student Cortney Warren won the Edwin Newman Graduate Research Award from the American Psychological Association (given annually to one psychology graduate student in the nation).
  •   2005    Nicole Baxter White Award for the Outstanding Graduating Senior in Psychology was established in memory of the former psychology major
  •   2006    Leslie C. Morey appointed as Department Head (2006-2010)
  •   2008    A team of psychology undergraduates under the coaching of faculty member Jennifer Bizon won the third annual Brain Bowl at Trinity University against Trinity and the University of Texas.  The competition was sponsored by the Society for Neurosciences.
  •   2011      Ludy Benjamin, Jr. appointed Department Head (2010-2012)
  •   2011      Saul Sells Research Award established for outstanding graduate students
  •   2012      Jack Nation Seminar Room (room 284) established
  •   2012      Paul J. Wellman appointed Interim Department Head (2012-2013)
  •   2013      PSYC/AFST 206: Black Psychology; PSYC/AFST 208: Stereotypes, Prejudice, & Minority Experiences; PSYC/AFST 209: Psychology of Culture & Diversity; PSYC 210: Psychological Aspects of Human Sexuality; and PSYC 354: Conflict & Negotiation courses officially added to the course catalog
  •   2013      Douglas Woods appointed Department Head (2013-2015)
  •   2014      Cognitive psychology student Sumeyra Tosun won the Edwin Newman Graduate Research Award from APA
  • 2015        Heather C. Lench appointment Department Head
  • 2015        Lisa Geraci and Mary Meagher selected as APS Fellows
  • 2016       Sherecce Fields names Ray A. Rothrock ’77 Fellow
  • 2016      Mindy Bergman appears as guest speaker on KPCC/NPR in Los Angeles: Topic of discussion-Diversity in the Workplace.
  • 2016      Emeritus faculty member Ludy T. Benjamin, Jr. popular magazine collection put on display at APA conference in Denver Colorado.
  • 2016      Arnold LeUnes honored with Vision Award from the Department of Aging and Disability Services
  • 2017      Steve Maren awarded the D.O. Hebb Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from the APA
  • 2017     Teresa Wilcox’s Infant Cognition Lab featured on KBTX News discussion on what age babies recognize human or mechanical objects.
  • 2017     Leslie C. Morey selected for Bruno Klopfer Award
  • 2017     Arnold LeUnes surprised by students with replacement Aggie Ring for the class of 1960.  Original ring had been lost in a house fire.
  • 2017     Phia Salter selected as Rothrock Fellow
  • 2018    Steve Maren named University Distinguished Professor
  • 2018    Masters program in Industrial/Organizational Psychology launched.
  • 2020   Psychology Building basement undergoes complete renovation to include state of art research facilities.