Obituary: Professor Norman Hotopf

William Hugh Norman Hotopf, psychologist: born London 18 June 1914; researcher, Medical Research Council 1938-41; staff, Directorate for the Selection of Personnel 1941-44; researcher, Psychological Laboratory, Cambridge 1946-7; Lecturer in Psychology, London School of Economics 1947-64, Reader 1964-74, Professor 1974-79 (Emeritus); married Jill Passant (three sons); died London 15 November 1993.

THE PSYCHOLOGIST Norman Hotopf made an important contribution both to the understanding of the function of consciousness and that of literary comprehension.

He was born in 1914 and started his education at Bradfield College. After a period in Germany (whence the family originally came), he was at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from 1934 to 1938, reading History and changing to Moral Sciences. His early work for the Medical Research Council, from 1938 to 1941, had to do with personnel selection, initially for school-leavers and then for the armed forces. Hotopf designed the intelligence test later adopted as the basis for psychological selection throughout the Army. After being commissioned in 1941, he focused particularly on officer selection and sensory-motor tests for tank and anti-tank units. He was invalided out in 1944 and suffered some impairment from tuberculosis from 1944 to 1946, including the loss of a lung.

As a psychologist at the London School of Economics, from 1947 to 1978, Hotopf worked on a theory of the function of consciousness, in particular visual illusions and slips in speaking and writing. Typical of his extremely precise approach was a series of papers published from 1972 on the Poggendorff Figure, investigating visual illusion. Hotopf's interest in slips arose on account of the clues they offered to the basic processes of word production. He systematically collected omissions, transpositions, anticipations, and analysed types of relationship between intention and error, eg spoonerisms, calling Jim when you want Tom, saying turpentine for Serpentine. The approach was not psychoanalytic, though Hotopf did himself undergo analysis.

Hotopf's principal academic work was Language, Thought and Comprehension (1965). A minor aim of the book was the elucidation of the work of IA Richards as a literary critic and educational theorist, but the major aim was to present a case-study of how an author was comprehended and the way he carried out his thinking. Hotopf had already studied how well letters to newspapers were comprehended, deploying a theory of visual perception, and this theory he redeployed on Richards and on the understanding of him by critics. In addition Hotopf related his approach to Richards's own approach to comprehension. The aims of Hotopf's book were convoluted, but the result was work of considerable intellectual beauty as well as passionate integrity.

Norman Hotopf's mind was singularly well-ordered and capacious. He had a very wide range of reference, and interest in music, literature and the arts. His qualities of intellect were reflected in a person who was scrupulous, unemphatic in speech and demeanour, and gently humorous. His wife, Jill, and his family remember him as loving husband and father, and his colleagues as exemplifying the best in the academic vocation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn