Obituary: Professor George Ettlinger

George Ettlinger, neuropsychologist: born 5 May 1927; Lecturer, Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Neurology 1952-60, Senior Lecturer 1960-62; Senior Lecturer, Department of Experimental Neurology, Institute of Psychiatry 1962-66; Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry 1966-70; Reader 1970-75; Professor of Neuropsychology 1976-80; Professor of Psychology, University of Bielefeld 1980-89; twice married (one son, one daughter); died 15 December 1993.

GEORGE ETTLINGER was a leading figure in the post-war development of the discipline of neuropsychology, the empirical study of the links between brain and behaviour.

Ettlinger was born in Germany, but was educated in Oxford, attending St Edward's School, and (after three years in, the Royal Tank Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps) reading Psychology and Physiology at Balliol. He gained his PhD at London University in 1955, and joined a loosely knit group of pioneers who helped shape neuropsychology during the late 1950s and 1960s. The meetings of this influentia1 group (which included Ennio De Renzi, Henri Hecaen, Mortimer Mishkin, Hans-Lucas Teuber, Brenda Milner, and Oliver Zangwill) became formalised as the International Neuropsychological Symposium, which still meets annually. In 1964, Ettlinger became a founder-member of the Editorial Board of Cortex (initiated by De Renzi), and an Associate Editor of Neuropsychologia (founded by Hecaen the previous year). He was elected to the organising committee of the INS, serving on it from 1966 to 1975.

Ettlinger began his research career under the supervision of Professor Zangwill, and published one of his most influential papers as a result of that early work. At the time (the early 1950s), there was widespread scepticism that it was possible for brain damage to cause a patient to suffer from a specific failure of visual recognition ('visual agnosia'). It was generally believed that recognition difficulties could be attributed to a combination of elementary sensory losses (ie of colour vision or visual acuity), along with intellectual deficits. By carrying out a series of tests, however, Ettlinger convincingly disproved this view: he showed that patients could suffer from severe sensory deficits and yet still be well able to recognise objects, whilst conversely a patient could be agnosic yet have only mild sensory deficits.

In 1956-57, Ettlinger spent a formative period of leave working with Karl Pribram in Hartford, Connecticut, and his career took a turn in the direction of primarily animal research. Yet this never formed his exclusive interest, and his primary motivation always remained that of trying to understand the human brain.

In his initial studies, Ettlinger used 'disconnection' techniques to demonstrate the crucial importance for visual recognition of a pathway connecting the monkey's primary visual cortex with its temporal lobe in the same hemisphere. This work was developed further by Mishkin and laid the foundation for the present enormous research effort being focused upon cortical visual areas.

Ettlinger's interests were never narrowly centred on the brain mechanisms of visual recognition. He carried out extensive work on the role of the corpus callosum in integrating activity between the two sides of the brain; on 'cross-modal transfer', whereby, for example, a seen object could be recognised through touch; on epilepsy and its effects on memory; on left/right- hand preferences; and on the brain mechanisms of tactile recognition. In an imaginative departure during the 1970s, Ettlinger started to address, both theoretically and empirically, questions of the differences and commonalities among human and non-human primates.

All George Ettlinger's scientific work was characterised by two things: an absolute honesty and integrity, and a careful and rigorous experimental approach. For these qualities of his research he gained the utmost respect, and admiration, of his peers and of his students and colleagues. He lacked, however, an inclination towards 'PR': he never pushed himself forward or attempted to popularise his work, and consequently he never gained broad recognition.

Ettlinger took early retirement from the Chair of Psychology at Bielefeld at the age of 62, and concentrated on enjoying life at his home beside the Thames near Twyford. His success in doing this (his principal interests being gardening, boating, DIY, music, and cine filming) will be an abiding and happy memory for his widow Madeline (wife, for only 20 months), and his two children Anthony and Jenni (both born to his first wife, Pam).

(Photograph omitted)

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 People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?