We are sad to announce the death of R. Conrad, universally known as “Con”, at the age of 103.
After active service in North Africa during WWII, Con read psychology in Cambridge and became Sir Frederic Bartlett’s research student. He joined the MRC Applied Psychology Research Unit, becoming an Associate Director in 1958. In the 1960s, Con was a pioneer of research into short-term memory, introducing the use of confusability to understand the internal representation of information. In an influential line of work, he demonstrated acoustic confusions even when a list is presented visually, introducing the idea of phonological recoding. He also made an early demonstration that memory for lists of items is reduced by presentation of an irrelevant additional item – the suffix effect. Always keen to combine data, theory and application, Con also worked influentially on development of the UK post code and data entry systems for letter sorting machines. The tragic death of his wife, Rachael, motivated him to change his life direction and to seek a new, socially valuable research topic. He re-educated himself in problems of hearing and moved to Oxford for a major programme of work on teaching language skills to deaf children, concerning himself especially with the most useful balance between lip reading and sign language.
He was a quiet and intensely sane man whose insights, empathy and helpfulness enriched the lives and work of those lucky enough to be mentored by him.