Donald Olding Hebb as a student: From poet to psychologist

Richard E. BROWN
Department of Psychology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


Donald Olding Hebb was born in 1904 in Chester, Nova Scotia, Canada and completed 11 grades in 9 years at the Chester School. When he was 16, his family moved to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and the following year, he entered Dalhousie University in Halifax. He majored in English with the intention of becoming a novelist and after he graduated with a BA in 1925 he taught at his old school in Chester for a year. In 1928, he was teaching school in Montreal, Quebec and started his MA in psychology at McGill University. In 1931, while bedridden with a tubercular infection of the hip, he studied Sherrington's Integrative Activity of the Nervous System and Pavlov's Conditioned Reflexes, and wrote a theoretical MA thesis entitled Conditioned and Unconditioned Reflexes and Inhibition. This thesis contains the first ideas of what we know as the Hebb synapse. In 1934 Hebb started his PhD with Karl Lashley at the University of Chicago, but before he completed his research, Lashley moved to Harvard. Hebb was accepted as a PhD student at Harvard but had to change his research topic. In 1936, Hebb completed a thesis on the vision of rats reared in darkness, and received a Harvard PhD. For the next year, he worked as a Research Assistant for Lashley, as a Teaching Assistant for Professor E. G. Boring, published his PhD research, and completed the research on spatial learning in rats that he had started in Chicago. In 1937 he took up a position as a research fellow with Wilder Penfield at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI). This presentation covers Hebb's life and student years from 1904 to 1937.


Session V -- Donald O. Hebb Seminar
Sunday, 27 June 2004, 2:30 - 5:00 pm

Ninth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Montreal, Quebec, Canada