Neal E. Miller

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Neal E. Miller
File:Neal Elgar Miller.jpg
Born August 3, 1909
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US
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Hamden, Connecticut, US
Nationality American
Fields Psychology
Institutions Yale University
Rockefeller University
Cornell University Medical College
Alma mater University of Washington (B.S., 1931)
Stanford University (M.S., 1932)
Yale University (Ph.D., 1935)
Known for Biofeedback
Notable awards Newcomb Cleveland Prize (1956)
APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (1959)[1]
National Medal of Science (1964)
APA Award for Lifetime Contributions to Psychology (1991)[2]

Neal Elgar Miller (August 3, 1909 – March 23, 2002)[3] was an American experimental psychologist. Described as an energetic man with a variety of interests, including physics, biology and writing, Miller entered the field of psychology to pursue these.[4] With a background training in the sciences, he was inspired by professors and leading psychologists at the time to work on various areas in behavioral psychology and physiological psychology, specifically, relating visceral responses to behavior.

Miller's career in psychology started with research on "fear as a learned drive and its role in conflict".[5] Work in behavioral medicine led him to his most notable work on biofeedback.[4] Over his lifetime he lectured at Yale, Rockefeller University, and Cornell University Medical College and was one of the youngest members of Yale's Institute of Human Relations. His accomplishments led to the establishment of two awards: the New Investigator Award from the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research and an award for distinguished lectureship from the American Psychological Association.[5] A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Miller as the eighth most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[6]

Life and education

Miller was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1909. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest. His father, Irving Miller, worked at Western Washington University as Chair of the Department of Education and Psychology.[7] His father's position in Neal Miller's words, "may have had something to do with" his interest in psychology.[8] Originally having a curiosity for science, Miller entered the University of Washington (1931), where he studied biology, physics and also had an interest in writing. His senior year he decided that psychology would allow him to pursue his wide variety of interests.[4] He graduated from the University of Washington with a B.S. and a piqued interest in behavioral psychology. Afterwards he studied at Stanford University (1932) where he received his M.S. and an interest in psychology of personality. At Stanford he accompanied his professor, Walter Miles, to the Institute of Human Relations at Yale University as a research assistant. There he was encouraged by another professor to further study psychoanalysis.[4] He received his Ph.D. degree in Psychology from Yale University in 1935, and that same year he became a social science research fellow at the Institute of Psychoanalysis in Vienna for one year before returning to Yale as a faculty member in 1936. He spent a total of 30 years at Yale University (1936–1966), and in 1950 he was appointed professor at Yale, a position he held until 1966. In 1966 he began teaching at Rockefeller University and afterwards spent the early 1970s teaching at Cornell University Medical College. In 1985 he returned to Yale as a research associate.[5]


Miller's early work focused on experimenting with Freudian ideas on behavior in real-life situations. His most notable topic was fear. Miller came to the conclusion that fear could be learned through conditioning. Miller then decided to extend his research to other autonomic drives, such as hunger, to see if they worked in the same way.[9] His unique ideas and experimental techniques to study these autonomic drives resulted in findings that would change our ideas about motivations and behavior.

Miller was also one of the founding fathers behind the idea of biofeedback. Today, many of his ideas have been expanded and added to, but Miller has been credited with coming up with most of the basic ideas behind biofeedback. Miller was doing experimentation on conditioning and rats when he discovered biofeedback.

Neal Miller, along with John Dollard and O. Hobart Mowrer, helped to integrate behavioral and psychoanalytic concepts.[10] They were able to translate psychological analytic concepts into behavioral terms that would be more easily understood. Specifically, they focused on the stimulus-response theory. These three men also recognized Sigmund Freud's understanding of anxiety as a "signal of danger" and that some things in Freud's work could be altered to fix this. Miller, Dollard and Mowrer believed that a person who was relieved of high anxiety levels would experience what is called "anxiety relief". Together with fellow psychologist O. Hobart Mowrer, Miller gives his name to the "Miller-Mowrer Shuttlebox" apparatus.[11]

Over the course of his career, Miller wrote eight books and 276 papers and articles.[9] Perhaps the most famous was Personality and Psychotherapy. Neal Miller worked with John Dollard and together they wrote this book concerning neurosis and psychological learning concepts.


Miller's regular use of laboratory animals, over many years, aroused criticism from animal rights groups, but he was a forthright defender of the practice. He once argued that if people had no right to use animals in research, then they had no right to kill them for food or clothing. Even so, Miller acknowledged that the issue was complex, saying: "There is sacredness of all life. But where do we draw the line? That's the problem. Cats kill birds and mice. Dogs exploit other animals by killing and eating them. Humans have to draw the line somewhere in animal rights, or we're dead."[12]


Miller served as President of the American Psychological Association from 1960–61, and received the APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in 1959 and the APA Citation for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology in 1991. In 1964 he received the National Medal of Science from President Johnson, the first psychologist to receive this honor.[13]

He was also President of the Society for Neurosciences, the Biofeedback Society of America and the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research.[citation needed]

Major works


Miller wrote eight books, among them:

  • Dollard, J., Miller, N., Doob, L., Mowrer, O. and Sears, R. (1939), Frustration and Aggression, New Haven: Yale University Press ISBN 0-313-22201-0 (see Frustration aggression theory)
  • "Social Learning and Imitation." Yale Univ. Press, New Haven (1964)
  • "Personality and Psychotherapy"
  • "Graphic Communication and the Crisis in Education"
  • "Selected Papers on Learning, Motivation and Their Physiological Mechanisms". MW Books, Chicago, Aldine, Atherton, 1971. ISBN 0-202-25038-5
  • "Conflict, Displacement, Learned Drives and Theory." Aldine, ISBN 978-0-202-36142-0

Major papers

  • 1948: Minor studies in aggression: The influence of frustrations imposed by the in-group on attitudes expressed by the out-group. (with R. Bugelski), The Journal of Psychology, 25, 437-442


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Further reading

  • Cohen, D. (1946). Psychologist on Psychology. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., Inc., ISBN 0800865588
  • Jonas, G. (1973), Visceral Learning: Towards a Science of Self Control, New York: Viking Press, ISBN 0670747033

External links

Educational offices
Preceded by 70th President of the American Psychological Association
Succeeded by
Paul E. Meehl