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J. Anthony Deutsch - In Memoriam

J. Anthony Deutsch - In Memoriam

The Department of Psychology is deeply saddened by the death of J. Anthony Deutsch. Deutsch passed away on Saturday, September 10, 2016, in the loving and supporting presence of family.

J. Anthony Deutsch was born on March 27, 1927, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, the son of Richard and Ruth Deutsch. He arrived in England alone at age 12 in 1939. He attended Jesus College, Oxford, England, where he won First Class Honors in Psychology, Philosophy, and Physiology. He was appointed a lecturer in General Psychology at the University of Oxford, 1952-1960. In 1959-1960 he spent a year as a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He was then appointed Associate Professor at Stanford University, 1960-1964, then Professor at New York University 1964-1966, and finally Professor of Psychology at the University of California, San Diego 1966, until he retired in 1994.

Deutsch made original and experimental contributions to a remarkably wide range of important topics in psychology. His work was known for being bold, ingenious, and original. His first work, in the 1950s, was at the earliest stages in the field of artificial intelligence. For example, he devised a scheme that simulated shape recognition in the octopus, and another that simulated shape recognition in the bee. He created an algorithm for learning in the rat, and devised a working model that instantiated this algorithm. This theoretical and experimental work is described in his first book ‘The Structural Basis of Behavior’ (University of Chicago Press, 1960) which is based primarily on his doctoral dissertation. Later, together with his wife Diana Deutsch, he published a theory of attention in Psychological Review that had a major impact on the field. Together, they also wrote a textbook on Physiological Psychology (Dorsey Press, 1966) which was also profoundly influential.

In addition, Deutsch was one of the first to study cholinergic mechanisms in learning and memory, and conducted extensive theoretical and experimental work in this area. He also carried out extensive work on the neurobiology of hunger, thirst, alcoholism and drug addiction. Further, he devised an ingenious way of measuring the refractory periods of neurons mediating the reinforcing and motivating effects of brain stimulation reward.

Deutsch was a Fellow of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, and of the Society of Experimental Psychologists. His colleagues have called him ‘a towering figure’ in psychology. His work has influenced generations of researchers who followed in his footsteps. He was of enormous integrity – much beloved by his family, his students, and always gracious and generous. Upon learning of his passing, a prominent experimental psychologist commented, “Tony Deutsch was a great psychologist, who had an outsized influence on my own scientific development. From Tony I absorbed the idea that the purpose of behavioral experimentation was to constrain possible theories about the underlying neurobiological mechanisms, an idea that has animated most of the experiments I have attempted and much of what I have written. He was a giant. His passing fills me with sadness."

Deutsch is survived by his wife, Diana, two children, and four grandchildren.