Reflections on the Life and Work of Bertram Scharf (1931-2011)

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Jan 102015

Robert & Martha Teghtsoonian
Smith College Northampton, Massachusetts

We first met Bert in September, 1955, when all three of us were part of the incoming class of graduate students in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. For us, his most distinctive feature was the black beret that he always wore outdoors, and sometimes indoors as well. We might have taken him for French, but his broad Bronx accent betrayed his true origin. The beret was indeed French; he had acquired it while studying in Paris where he earned a Diplôme at the Université de Paris, and for us it remained a symbol of Bert’s deep affection for France. With his doctorate from Harvard, he was hired to teach and do research at Northeastern University in Boston, and remained there for the rest of his professional career.

In the late 1970s he began to spend his summers in Marseille, working as a Visiting Scientist in the Laboratoire de Mécanique et d’Acoustique. These summer visits grew into full years while on sabbatical leave, and he and his wife Anna-Liisa bought an apartment in nearby Cassis with an eye to becoming permanent residents there. He began a very productive collaboration with Georges Canévet, and they co-authored a number of publications dealing with the subject of loudness.

In 1983 we visited with the Scharfs and discussed the idea of creating an international society for those interested in the field of psychophysics. That discussion, along with conversations with Birgitta Berglund and Ulf Berglund, led to an informal meeting the following year in a sunny plaza in Cassis to consider what form such a society would take. In 1985, the first meeting of the International Society for Psychophysics was held in Marseille, hosted by Scharf and Canévet. It was judged to be a great success, and further meetings have taken place every year since then.

The study of loudness was a continuing interest throughout his career, and he became a leading authority on that topic. Our collaboration with him was based on his work on loudness adaptation. Among the many aspects of loudness that he pursued was the effect of duration on the loudness of a pure tone. Research by others had concluded that prolonged exposure to a tone of fixed amplitude resulted in adaptation: the longer the tone lasted the softer it sounded. But Bert showed that, to a large degree, this finding was an artifact of the method used, adjusting the level of a brief tone presented to the contralateral ear to match the loudness of the continuous tone presented to the other. He showed that when the loudness of the continuous tone is measured by the method of magnitude estimation (a technique devised by his thesis adviser, S.S.Stevens), adaptation occurred to a modest degree but only for relatively weak or high-frequency tones.

Using the same technique, he went on to ask about the loudness of a prolonged tone that was in fact steadily decreasing in amplitude. Canévet had found that as duration increased, the loudness of such a tone became increasingly softer than would have been the case for a steady tone presented at the same level for the same duration. Scharf and Canévet, reporting on further investigations of this phenomenon, named it decruitment, and it has become the focus of many reports on the perception of signals that vary in amplitude.

Of course there were many other research problems that interested him, and in recent years he undertook a program of research on attention with a colleague in Boston. Perhaps others will write further about that interest and others.

We had the pleasure of collaborating with Bert both in his lab at Northeastern and at the LMA in Marseille, and of visiting with him and his wife (always generous hosts) in Boston and Cassis. We had a long-running conversation with him, not only on psychological research, but on politics, religion, and economics, to say nothing of riding a bicycle. Suffice it to say that he had strongly held opinions in all of these areas, and those conversations were very lively.

We miss him—for his expertise in all matters having to do with loudness, for his many contributions to the ISP, and for his friendship


January 1, 2015.

Lorraine Allan (1940-2012)

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Jan 102015

Scott Parker
American University, Washington, DC

Lorraine was a longstanding and dedicated member of the ISP, and was a member of the Executive Board in 1996 and 1997. Born in Toronto, she did her undergraduate work at the University of Toronto and her graduate work at McMaster University. After receiving her Ph.D. she remained at McMaster, becoming Professor of Psychology in 1981 and Professor Emeritus in 2006.

Her research work in psychology spanned and integrated numerous approaches and topics. Much of her research exhibited considerable quantitative sophistication. And all of it exhibited a clarity of thought and expression that we could admire and envy. She had an uncanny ability to combine outlooks from seemingly contrary or unrelated areas of psychology, and she could apply those outlooks to topics that might have seemed unconnected to them. This ability stemmed in part from her thorough understanding of a great many psychological ideas.

Beginning in the 1970s and continuing for decades, Lorraine studied time perception in humans, investigating not only duration perception but also successiveness. Her studies used both “traditional” psychophysical methods such as discrimination, magnitude estimation, and bisection tasks as well as signal detection theory and also other procedures (e.g., masking) more associated with purely sensory research. Some of that work pursued the model that she had developed with Albert Kristofferson.

In the1980s Lorraine undertook the study of several color aftereffects, starting with the “McCullough effect”, with her colleague and partner, Shepherd Siegel. They brought ideas from the conditioning and learning literatures to bear on what had been thought to be purely sensory phenomena. This work demonstrated that what seemed to be purely sensory phenomena could profitably be viewed as products of classical conditioning processes, and that combining approaches from seemingly separate psychological traditions could provide valuable insights. Their studies showed some surprising connections between color-contingent aftereffects, homeostasis, and drug withdrawal.

Her involvement in the study of conditioning processes led her into the study of judgments of contingency and causality. Those had, not surprisingly, been thought of as the result of associative processes, but Lorraine approached them using signal detection theory. And she once again demonstrated the value of integrating several approaches to a single psychological phenomenon.

Lorraine also applied signal detection theory to the study of other topics that could benefit from it, notably the placebo effect and “depressive realism”.

Those of us who knew her, many of us by virtue of her presence in ISP, know that she was smart, thorough, honest, and clear-headed about everything – not just psychology — and she was also personally wonderful to spend time and talk with. ISP and Psychology were fortunate to have her with us, and we’ve lost someone special.


 Posted by at 10:35 pm

Jacques Kornbrot 1938 -2014

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Dec 192014

To all my good friends in ISP, sad to inofrm you of death of Jacques on 6th Nov.

He was my unfailing support in all my work for ISP, so any achievements and contributions of mine are also his.