Woodworth, Robert Sessions

Woodworth, Robert Sessions (1869-1962) was an American psychologist known for his work in experimental psychology, a field that developed in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Experimental psychologists study such elements as learning, memory, and behavior in humans and animals. They often work in a laboratory performing controlled experiments. Woodworth worked in the fields of learning, physiological psychology, psychophysics, and testing. He believed that the study of individual behavior should concentrate on physical as well as mental activities.

Woodworth was born in Belchertown, Massachusetts. His parents were William Walter Woodworth and Lydia Ames (Sessions) Woodworth. He graduated from Amherst College in 1891 and entered Harvard University in 1895. At Harvard he studied with the famous psychologist William James and received an M.A. degree in 1897. In 1899, Woodworth earned a Ph.D. degree from Columbia University and joined the Columbia faculty.


From 1902 to 1903, Woodworth studied physiology in Liverpool, England, with British physiologist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, a 1932 Nobel Prize winner for his research in the nerve coordination in controlling body functions.

Woodworth returned to the United States in 1903 and rejoined the faculty at Columbia. He taught there until 1958.

Woodworth studied individual learning differences with American educational psychologist Edward Lee Thorndike, who made important contributions to the study of learning, teaching, and mental testing. Woodworth sought to create objective tests of emotional stability.

Woodworth published several texts on psychology including Contemporary Schools of Psychology (1931), Experimental Psychology (1938), and Dynamics of Behavior (1958). In 1914, Wood-worth was elected president of the American Psychological Association. In 1956, he received the first Gold Medal award of the American Psychological Foundation.