History of the EPS: Beginnings

The beginnings of our Society were at once modest and formal. The Convenor of the preliminary meeting,Oliver Zangwill, circulated a typewritten agenda to just eight colleagues:

  • G. C. Drew
  • R. W. Pickford
  • G. C. Grindley
  • D. Russell-Davis
  • N. Mackworth
  • B. Semeonoff
  • R. C. Oldfield
  • O. L. Zangwill

However, only five were present when the preliminary meeting was held in the afternoon of June 20th, 1946 in Professor Bartlett’s rooms, St. John’s College, Cambridge. Apologies, and written comments, were received from Drew, Grindley and Pickford.

A detailed set of minutes survive for this first meeting, although the 15th and last resolution passed by the five that afternoon was ‘That these Minutes be not incorporated in the Minute Book of the Group.’ The minutes appear to have been drawn up by Carolus Oldfield and record that ‘Zangwill opened the meeting by saying that as a result of discussions he had had during the past few years with a number of the younger experimental psychologists in this country, he had come to feel that there existed the need for a new body which would cater for those actually engaged in psychological research’.Needless to say, there was detailed discussion of what should be the name of the proposed society.Experimental, rather than Scientific, was chosen as best expressing the general intentions of the planners, and the term Group, rather than Society, was preferred as indicating the small and relatively informal nature of the proposed society.Whether Club was considered is not recorded, but it would not have been inappropriate in the context of the time.

‘After considerable discussion’ a list was drawn up of an additional seven persons to be invited to become members of the Group. The proposed annual subscription was Ten Shillings.

From the start, the planners were very concerned not be seen as in competition with, nor antagonistic to, the long-established British Psychological Society. Nevertheless, Oliver Zangwill was later to recall (in characteristic phrase): ‘At the same time, there can be no doubt that the formation of the Group owed something to misgivings felt by a number of us about certain tendencies current in British psychology at the time’ (Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1967, vol. 19, p. 368). From the start, the draft Rules of the EPG included the statement ‘The Group shall not, however, engage in any activity intended to affect the professional status of its members or of psychologists generally’.This phrase survives virtually unchanged in the current statement of the Society’s ‘Objects’.

When the first meeting of the Experimental Psychology Group was held in October 1946, R. W. Pickford of Glasgow was elected President and Zangwill became Secretary.The remaining three members of the Committee were Grindley, Oldfield and G. C. Drew. The other founder members listed at the beginning of the Minute Book were B. Babington Smith, J. M. Blackburn, D. Russell Davis, H. J. Eysenck, W. E. Hick, W. M. Honeyman, N. H. Mackworth, B. Semeonoff, M. D. Vernon and J. W. Whitfield. William Honeyman was unable to attend owing to illness and he died the following month; an obituary (by Russell Davis) is pasted into the Minute Book of the EPG.

The original membership of the EPG drew six of its members from the Cambridge Psychological Laboratory and three, including Zangwill himself, from the Institute of Experimental Psychology in Oxford. Drew was then in Bristol and Vernon in Reading, while Semeonoff was attached to Edinburgh University. Only Blackburn and Eysenck represented London. Clearly the initial Group did have the ‘light blue tinge’ that was to lead Eysenck later to resign and the membership very much reflected Oliver Zangwill’s network of contacts, made as a student in Cambridge, as a wartime clinician in Edinburgh, and as a young lecturer in Oxford. In the background was the ghost of Kenneth Craik, who had died the previous year on the eve of VE Day at the age of 31: already the first Director of the MRC Applied Psychology Unit, he was cycling along King’s Parade to the Feast of St. John the Evangelist when a car door was opened in front of him and he was thrown under a lorry. In the Minutes of the first meeting of the EPG, Zangwill writes: ‘The Convener added that he had confidently hoped that Kenneth Craik would have been a distinguished member of the Group, but believes that the type of work in which the Group will engage would have secured his approval’.

  1. History of the EPS: Beginnings
  2. History of the EPS: Meetings
  3. History of the EPS: Overseas Contacts
  4. History of the EPS: Publications
  5. History of the EPS: Membership
  6. Reflections on the Early Days: Past Perceptions
  7. Reflections on the Early Days: The EPS and the EPG
  8. Reflections on the Early Days: ‘….such a light blue tinge’
  9. Oral History
  10. List of EPS Officers and Committee Members