Tracy Kendler
Did it all:
► Jewish Psychologist
► Researcher
► Professor
► Wife
► Mother of two sons
Parents never went beyond an elementary education
 They had to work
Worked all of time throughout Tracy’s childhood
 Financial hardship
Tracy took care of herself
 Said this caused her to “develop an independent streak that
later stood me in good stead”
Her father died when she was 8 years old
► Mother remarried and had her half-sister
 Tracy helped take care of her sister
Name Change
► Tracy
born with the first name Sylvia
► She worked at a summer camp for preschoolers
 4 out of the 5 counselors were named Sylvia
► Tracy
had just seen “The Philadelphia Story”
 A romantic comedy movie
 The main character’s name is Tracy
► Decided
to change her name to Tracy
 Later it was changed legally
Developmental Psychologist
► Researched
development within a
neobehavioristic then cognitive orientation
►Researched and wrote many articles with
her husband, Howard Kendler
►Howard was supportive of Tracy and treated
her as an equal
 The unfair treatment of her angered him
Historical Antecedents
“To be born in interesting times is said to be a
curse. Looking back now, I find the interest
generated overshadowed the discord
–Tracy Kendler in her autobiography “A
Woman’s Struggle in Academic Psychology
Historical Antecedents cont.
 Parents emigrated to U.S. from Eastern Europe
(Hungary and Russia) to escape anti-Semitism
 Especially prevalent throughout Kendler’s early
years, adolescence, and college years
 Tracy born during the end of it in New York City
in 1918
Historical Antecedents cont.
►The Great Depression
 She was 11 years old when stock market crashed
 Italian Fascism and German Nazism on the rise
 Communist ideology becoming prevalent in NY
 Political and social interest in her neighborhood, Coney
Island (childhood), Brighton Beach (adolescence)
 Tracy became a student political activist in high school
 Everyone had financial problems including Tracy’s family
Historical Antecedents cont.
WWII (1939)
Tracy was…
► 18
yrs. old when Hitler came to power in Germany
► 21 yrs. old when war started
Historical Antecedents cont.
►Status of Women in psychology leading up
to Tracy’s time:
 Very few compared to number of men
 Difficult (sometimes impossible) to get into
graduate school for psychology
 No jobs in psychology for women (could not be
 Most psychologists considered women inferior
to men
Historical Antecedents cont.
Developmental Psychology:
►Began from academic interest for the betterment
of children
 The use of scientific methods for social purposes
►The Iowa Child Welfare Research Station
 In 1906 a woman who had lost some of her children
worked with the University of Iowa and legislators to
start it (began in 1917)
 Devoted to research in child development (their physical
and educational well-being)
Developmental Psychology cont.
►The Iowa Child Welfare Research Station cont.
 Bird Baldwin started the Preschool Laboratories part of
it in 1925
 Began doing research in naturalistic settings in 1930s
(Stoddard, Skeels, Wellman, Updegraff) and found
unstimulating environments can cause a loss of IQ in
children (1938)
►Experimental Child Psychology: 1950s and 1960s
 Using children as subjects to test general psychological
theories for the purpose of extending scientific
 Charles Spiker established the first graduate program
Historical Antecedents cont.
Gestalt Psychology
► Founder considered to be Max Wertheimer (1880-1943) in
► Other important influences: Koffka, Kohler (Wertheimer’s
students), Lewin, Perls (founded Gestalt therapy)
► Emphasis on the whole
► Our consciousness and behavior occurs within a perceptual
► Phenomenology: A technique used by Gestaltists; is the
study of that which naturally appears in consciousness
Historical Antecedents cont.
►Solomon Asch
 Became a distinguished social psychologist
 Taught Tracy’s experimental psychology course
during her undergraduate studies
 Taught Gestalt theory
 Convinced Tracy (and Howard Kendler, her
future husband) to go to graduate school in
psychology at the University of Iowa to study
with Gestaltist Kurt Lewin
Historical Antecedents cont.
 Neobehaviorist that converted Tracy from Gestalt
psychology to neobehaviorism: Kenneth Spence
 Tested elaborate, associative theories about the learning
 Mental processes can be inferred from behavior but
they are not publicly observable
 Focus on S-R and everything besides the S that
impacted the R
 Attempted to find lawful relationships to explain
►Thomas Kuhn
 At the time, he was researching children’s discrimination
learning and how it differed from animals.
 The Kendlers’ started researching behavior in rats, but
when they saw other experimenters using children, they
then veered more toward studying children’s behavior.
►Science was moving toward a more concrete
pragmatic approach and concentrating less on
Zeitgeist cont.
► Role
of women in science
 “Most important social influence” A Woman’s Struggle in
Academic Psychology (257).
 Called herself an antediluvian feminist—a feminist
before the feminist movement
 All of the male graduate students in psychology had
research or teaching assistantships. Tracy never did.
 First woman Kenneth Spence sponsored.
► Shortly
after marrying Howard, Spence told her to concentrate
on being a “good wife.”
► Several years later, he changed his mind about women in
Zeitgeist cont.
►Kurt Lewin
 Sought to extend Gestalt theory to the
fields of personality and social behavior
 Member of the Child Welfare Research
 Along with Spence, applied their theories
(Gestalt and Neobehaviorism) in their
research with children and this started
basic, as opposed to applied,
experimental child psychology.
Zeitgeist cont.
►Kurt Lewin
 His life space model:
interacting forces operate to
determine the person’s
behavior, the personenvironment interaction is a
“life space”; this model did
not survive
 Much of his research was
done on children, but the
experiments were intended
to test, articulate, and
extend a general theory of
Zeitgeist cont.
► Kenneth
 Neobehaviorist—sought to convert Gestaltists
 Early in career, produced an influential theory about
discrimination learning in animals then tested it on
children and found similar learning principles in children.
 Opened the door to graduate school for Tracy,
converted her to neobehaviorism
 A step in achieving the goal of neobehaviorism was to
make “directly observable behavior” the subject matter
instead of the intangible mind. Mental processes can be
inferred from behavior, but not publicly observable—A
Woman’s Struggle in Academic Psychology (256).
Zeitgeist cont.
Kenneth Spence cont.
 Tracy was so intrigued by
Spence that she chose to do her
PhD thesis with him. This
thesis involved his theory
mentioned earlier.
 Doctoral research focused on
discrimination-learning with
white rats. Thesis was
designed to test a set of
predictions that would pit
Spence’s mathematical model of
discrimination-learning against
Gestalt theory.
 Howard and Tracy admired
Spence so much, they named
their second child, Kenneth,
after him.
Zeitgeist cont.
 Japan bombed Pearl
Harbor on December 7,
1941 when Tracy was in
her second year of
graduate school—the
US entered the war.
Professional struggles/obstacles
► Great
 Tracy did not have enough money to go to
college immediately after graduating high
school because her family had financial
► Family
 Mother opposed to her going to college. She
thought she should find a “wealthy husband”
instead—A Woman’s Struggle in Academic
Psychology (256).
Professional struggles/obstacles
 When going to register for
classes, Tracy was told that
the courses she wanted to
take were closed—partly
because she was a woman
and partly because she was
a Jew. When Kurt Lewin (a
Jew himself) learned about
the unfriendly welcome
Tracy and Howard received
he was furious.
Professional struggles/obstacles
► Lack
of respect for women in education
 When being interviewed by the head of the psychology
department at the University of Iowa, John McGeoch,
Tracy was told that there were no jobs for women.
 After obtaining her PhD, the only job Tracy could find
was as a clinical psychologist at the Chicago State
Hospital—a hospital for the seriously disturbed and
 Finally offered a graduate assistantship to teach
experimental psychology at Barnard College 11 years
after obtaining her PhD.
Professional struggles/obstacles
►Lack of respect for women in education cont.
 Applied for a faculty position in Child and Adolescent
Development at Barnard College, but the Chairman of
the Psychology Department told her that he “had an
application from a male psychologist whom…would be
hired, not because he had a superior record but
because he would not have the divided responsibilities
of a married woman with children” as she would—A
Woman’s Struggle in Academic Psychology (260).
 Tracy wanted to do graduate teaching at Columbia
University, but at the time there were no women
psychologists in the psychology department at
Professional struggles/obstacles
►Lack of respect of women in education cont.
 Finally obtained an assistant professor position at
Barnard College 12 years after receiving her PhD—the
man declined the position in Child and Adolescent
Development that she had also applied for.
 Always offered lower level job positions and less salary
than Howard despite the fact that both had same
qualifications and concentrated their research on the
same subject matter.
 The University Faculty Club at Columbia University
(Barnard College is the partnering women’s college)
even excluded women, unless they were granted with
the honor of being a guest of a male to the restaurant
on the top floor.
Kendler’s Work
► Discrimination
 Subject reinforced to respond to certain
characteristics of stimuli (size, shape, etc.)
 Shifts
►Extradimensional shift
Shift Behavior by Developmental
► “An
Ontogeny of Optional Shift Behavior” in
the journal Child Development in 1970
 Studied differences in shift behavior among
kindergarteners, second graders, sixth graders,
and college students
 Found that the ease of making a reversal shift
increases with age
 But the ease of making an extradimensional
shift declines with age
► Mediation
 A way of defining what goes on internally
between stimulus and response
 Early “cognitive revolution”
 Originally an abstract Gestalt concept
 Through her work, Kendler tried to make it
something observable (neobehaviorist)
► Beginning
of cognition
► Mediation theory relied too much on
external stimuli and didn’t explain the
consistency of cognition
 Was supplanted by a more cognitive,
“interactionist” approach (Piaget)
Influence of Tracy Kendler
►Many accomplishments in psychology despite
being a minority and a woman and living through
many struggles
 Published more than 60 articles and 1 book in the
areas of learning and developmental psychology
 Levels of Cognitive Development (1995): Pointed to
cognitive psychology and neuroscience as the future for
understanding developmental changes in cognitive
 Basic Psychology: Brief Edition: Textbook for general
psychology classes she wrote with her husband
Influence of Tracy Kendler
Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship
► One of the 1st women members of the Society of
Experimental Psychologists
► 1st woman member of the Governing Board of the
Psychonomic Society
► President of the Western Psychological Association in 1977
► Consulting editor for Child Development
► Long-term member of the Society for Research in Child
► Received several National Science Foundation grants and a
United States Public Health Service grant to fund her
Influence of Tracy Kendler
►Helped change the minds of male psychologists to
be more favorable toward having women in the
field especially Kenneth Spence
 PhD thesis judged to be excellent
 Received PhD in 1943
 Successful in research and became a professor despite
 Endured unfair treatment for being a Jew and being a
woman in psychology
Influence of Tracy Kendler
►Worked against prejudice not only for those who
were Jewish but also for African Americans
 Worked for the Commission for Community Relations, a
branch of the American Jewish Congress (AJC), which
did research on social prejudice
 Worked with AJC in combination with the NAACP to
collect and interpret evidence relevant to the problem of
whether segregated schools can provide equally
effective education
Influence of Tracy Kendler
►Wrote “Contributions of the Psychologist to
Constitutional Law” (1950)
 A report against the “separate but equal” principle
based on her research findings
 May have contributed to the principle being overturned
in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas
►Made significant contributions to understanding
learning and development
 “Vertical and horizontal processes in problem solving”
 Identified as a Citation Classic by Current Contents
 Was cited over 337 times between 1963 and 1976
Influence of Tracy Kendler
 Applied a cognitive-behavioral approach to the
study of learning and problem solving
 Research on cognitive development helped
progress developmental psychology
►Mentor to graduate students
 Very important to her
 She called it a “peak experience” to have
graduate students help with her research
Influence of Tracy Kendler
►Family and career
 Had a professional career
 Still put her husband and children first
 Son, Kenneth Kendler, recently awarded the
distinguished Lieber Prize for outstanding
research in human genetics, which he dedicated
to his loving parents
Influence of Tracy Kendler
 Dedicated her book to her husband:
“ husband Howard Kendler, I am
indebted for putting up with me all these years
without losing his sense of humor. He
encouraged me to begin this line of research
and we collaborated on all the early
experiments as well as on the early theorizing.
Although the scientific collaboration eventually
ended, he remains my best friend and dearest
companion, as well as my severest critic.”
Tracy Kendler died of pulmonary
fibrosis on July 28, 2001 with
Howard at her side
Summary: Who was listening???
What type of psychology did Tracy Kendler focus on?
Who were some of the well-known psychologists who
influenced Tracy?
Solomon Asch
Abraham Maslow
Kurt Lewin
Kenneth Spence
What were some of Tracy’s main areas of
experimentation and research?
Discrimination learning
Mediation theory
Summary cont.
What were some of the obstacles that Tracy had to
Being a female in a time that women were not well-respected
Being a Jew during WWII and the aftermath of WWII
Mother not wanting her to go to college—instead look for a nice
Great Depression: did not have enough money to enter college
upon graduation of high school
Besides being an advocate for her own minority group,
what other minority group did she fight for the rights of?
African Americans
Basden, B. H. (2002). Tracy Seedman Kendler (1918-2001). American Psychologist, 57, 364.
Kendler, H. H. (2002). A personal encounter with psychology (1937-2002). History of
Psychology, 5, 52-84.
Kendler, H. H., & Kendler, T. S. (1962). Vertical and horizontal processes in problem solving.
Psychological Review, 69, 1-16.
Kendler, H. H., & Kendler, T. S. (1971). Basic psychology: Brief edition. East Norwalk, CT:
Kendler, T. S. (1950). Contributions of the psychologist to constitutional law. American
Psychologist, 5, 505-510.
Kendler, T. S. (1991). The development of developmental psychology. In Joan H. (Ed.).
Psychology at Iowa: Centennial essays. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates.
Kendler, T. S. (1995). Levels of cognitive development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Kendler, T. S., & Kendler, H. H. (2003). A woman’s struggle in academic psychology (19362001). History of Psychology, 6, 251-266.
Suppes, P. (1975). From behaviorism to neobehaviorism. Theory and Decision, 6, 269-285.
Woldt, A. L., & Toman, S. M. (Eds.). (2005). Gestalt therapy: History, theory, and practice.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Tracy Kendler - University of Tulsa