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Fred Knubel, Director of Public Information
August 6, 1996

William N. Schoenfeld, 80, Pioneering Psychologist

William N. Schoenfeld, a Columbia University behaviorist who helped create a pioneering introductory college course in psychology that included laboratory work with animals and humans, died Saturday (Aug. 3, 1996) at home in Sun City West, Ariz., after a long illness. He was 80 years old.

He was the co-author with the late Fred S. Keller, a Columbia colleague, of Principles of Psychology, an influential college text published in 1950 that emphasized scientific methods in the study of psychology. Students first used it in courses at Columbia College, where the two professors offered two hours of lecture and, for the first time, four hours of laboratory work a week. Among their experiments, the students observed the responses of white rats to stimuli and rewards and measured human learning by testing people's ability to remember the pathways of mazes and other sensory processes.

"Psychology subsequently became a science credit course, changing the way the subject was taught," Dr. Eliot Hearst, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Indiana University and now an adjunct professor at Columbia, said today. "Some of the experiments Professors Schoenfeld and Keller devised with graduate and undergraduate students had never been performed before, and the students were excited to be making original contributions to science." Dr. Hearst was one of Professor Schoenfeld's students at Columbia then. Dr. Keller died last February 2.

Dr. Schoenfeld's own original contributions in a long research career as a behaviorist were influenced by those of B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov. In a carefully devised set of experiments in 1953 he led a team of Columbia psychologists in discovering that anxiety caused the human heart rate to slow rather than quicken under certain timing of stimuli.

Dr. Hearst said today: "Nat Schoenfeld was a skeptic and critic with a analytical mind who questioned things other people took for granted. He was a strict teacher with training in many sciences who helped us discover how we learn."

William Nathan Schoenfeld was born in New York City Dec. 6, 1915, was graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1937 and earned the Ph.D. at Columbia in 1942. He became a lecturer in psychology at Columbia that year, an instructor in 1946, associate professor in 1952 and full professor in 1958. He joined the faculty of Queens College of the City University of New York in 1966, became chairman of the psychology department and was named a professor emeritus in 1983. Later he taught in the psychology department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at universities in Mexico, Venezuela and Brasil. He was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Guadalajara in Mexico.

He wrote or edited three other books: The Theory of Reinforcement Schedules (1970), Stimulus Schedules (1972) and Religion and Human Behavior (1993).

He was president of the division of the analysis of behavior of the American Psychological Association and president of the Eastern Psychological Association and the Pavlovian Society of North America. He was an editor of the Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and Conditional Reflex: A Pavlovian Journal of Research.

He is survived by his wife, Melanie; a son, Joshua of New York City; two daughters, Naomi of New York City and Rivka of Jerusalem, and a son by a previous marriage, Mark of Hopewell Junction, N.Y.