Obituary: Professor Brian Foss

Brian Malzard Foss, academic psychologist: born Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire 25 October 1921; Lecturer, Institute of Experimental Psychology, Oxford 1948-51; Lecturer, Birkbeck College, London 1951-64; Professor of Educational Psychology, Institute of Education, London 1964-68; Professor of Psychology, Bedford College, London 1968-85, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London 1985-87; died London 23 December 1997.

Interviewed by a former colleague six weeks before he died, Brian Foss called psychology "the most wonderful subject - the best education possible", thus happily endorsing his own choice of subject and career at the end of the Second World War.

Foss's many publications ranged far more widely than his personal research, covering such topics as human conflict, the function of laughter, the control of movement, and biology and art. Interests relating to educational psychology were reflected in publications on the development of moral attitudes and behaviour, and on efficient learning.

His range, his succinct prose style, his energy and his little-paraded but ever-present critical acumen led to his shining success as an editor of scholarly but accessible psychological texts, notably, for Methuen, of The Determinants of Infant Behaviour, volumes i-iv (1961-68) and also, outstandingly, for Penguin Books, where New Horizons in Psychology - which was eventually translated into eight languages - was, in 1965, the first of the 70-odd psychology books to be published by Penguin under his aegis. Under Foss's editorship, the current status of thinking and research in a wide range of areas was described in straightforward language by experts in their fields.

Foss was the son of a Methodist minister. He went up to Cambridge to take a degree in Natural Sciences (Mathematics and Physics), after which he entered military service. At the end of the war he was working in a Military Operations Research Unit whose director led him to explore the library of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, the storehouse of research into human performance. He then went to the Institute of Experimental Psychology at Oxford to take a Diploma in Psychology, the subject not being dignified by university with degree status until 1949, by which time Foss was a Junior Lecturer there. He proceeded to a Lectureship at Birkbeck College, followed by two Professorships, also at London University, the first in Educational Psychology and the second in Psychology.

Foss's research career developed without pause for a doctoral thesis, and, indeed, at a time when a PhD, far from being de rigueur, was often conspicuous by its absence from the qualifications of the more illustrious academics.

An early research interest was in human and animal imitation. Foss kept mynah birds in his room at Birkbeck College and their spontaneous reproductions of his telephone, and the sounds of motor cycles starting up outside, did as much as his experimental data to convince him that imitation was a form of learning not dependent on reward.

Innovative investigations into the factors influencing infant development were funded by a series of grants, many for joint research within a specialist neonatal unit set up at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. Significant work examined the effects of maternal analgesics on neonatal behaviour, and of practice sucking on the feeding skills of pre-term infants.

In 1985, and as a consequence of the pressure to rationalise the constituent schools of London University, it fell to Foss to supervise his department's transfer from Bedford College in Regent's Park to the renamed Royal Holloway and Bedford New College to Royal Holloway's site at Egham. It is a tribute to his cheerful diplomacy and his organisational skills that he delivered staff and students in good order to the prefabs that became their temporary home, and where teaching continued without interruption. When he retired two years later, he left a department poised to take advantage of the expansion in psychology as a university subject.

Foss, an accomplished chairman, acted in that role from 1972 to 1978 for the Psychology Board of the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA), entrusted with overseeing the establishment of the many new degree courses to be offered by the polytechnics.

He thought it important for psychology students to acquire skills as well as knowledge, but was not one to view psychology as entirely laboratory- based. He looked to tackle the significant, if less amenable, questions posed by behaving organisms, and to integrate the answers with the available information in the biological, evolutionary and neurological sciences.

Brian Foss was a kind, sympathetic and discreet colleague, socially genial, outgoing and witty, and the most adept of hosts. He could do conjuring tricks and was a legendary performer of psychological lyrics at the piano. Some of his surplus energy was devoted to gardening. He also had a deep knowledge of, and love for, serious music.

- Mary J. Pickersgill

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution