The Society was conceived during discussions among varying combinations of Birgitta Berglund, Ulf Berglund, Bertram Scharf, Martha Teghtsoonian, and Robert Teghtsoonian, during the early part of 1985, and had its first meeting later the same year in Marseille, France. Scharf and his colleagues in the CNRS laboratories in Marseille agreed to serve as a local organizing committee and be our hosts for a first meeting divided between meeting rooms at the CNRS and various locations in the picturesque (and conveniently nearby) village of Cassis.
Despite the very short lead time available, the group in Marseille organized and conducted with great success that first meeting on October 21 and 22, the second of those days being the date widely associated with Fechner’s insight about the scaling of sensation. Some 35 scientists from seven different countries assembled and found the experience so rewarding that it was agreed then and there to meet again in Cassis the following year. Just before that first meeting began, a smaller group of about a dozen enthusiasts (not members because there wasn’t anything yet to belong to) gathered on a sunny terrace in Cassis to pick a name for the new Society, and to discuss its structure and purpose. As a result, a draft constitution was prepared (by Gunnar Borg, Jerry Tobias, and Helen Ross) for presentation at the 1986 meeting, and with its approval the Society was officially underway.
Subsequent meetings confirmed what we had believed at the outset: There is a lively group of scientists widely distributed geographically who, whether psychophysics is for them a primary interest or simply a tool focused on other research issues, are eager to meet each year to discuss their shared interests in the field. And so meetings have been planned for Cassis yet again in 1995 (commemorating the end of our first decade), Padua in 1996, and Poznan, Poland, in 1997, and at least the immediate future of the Society seems secure.
The rationale for such a group is easily stated. Psychophysics stands as the first and oldest discipline in the broad field of experimental psychology. Although its practitioners have never been large in number they have produced a steady stream of fundamentally important ideas and measurement techniques that have received wide acceptance in psychology and the biomedical sciences, as well as in such diverse disciplines as cartography, criminology, and exercise science. The pool of those directly concerned with the study of psychophysics itself, along with the much larger group of investigators who make use of psychophysical techniques, ensures a steady flow of contributors to the annual meetings of our Society.
We have envisaged at least two general categories of contribution corresponding to the general categories noted above. There is certainly a need among those doing research in psychophysics for a forum in which their ideas can be discussed with peers. For whatever reason, annual meetings of more broadly defined groups (such as the regional psychological associations in the USA, or the Psychonomics Society) have only occasional contributions to psychophysics. And, from the outset, the organizers have believed that it is vital to maintain close contact with those using psychophysical methods in applied settings. At nearly every meeting thus far, there have been sessions devoted to the use of psychophysics in some practical applications, such as food and beverage evaluation, pain assessment, and medical diagnosis. We expect this linkage between theorists and practitioners to continue.
Thus Society welcomes all those who contribute to the field, whether through basic research or experience in applied settings. And we have also been very happy to have sessions devoted to research in specialized areas where psychophysical measurement plays an important role, such as loudness adaptation, size and distance judgment, and music perception. Finally, it should be said that Society has no theoretical ax to grind and no hidden agenda. Everyone interested in the field is welcome as a member, and those who enjoy spending three days each year engaged in face-to-face discussion and debate on relevant topics are welcome to attend the annual meeting. For the present, those meetings are comfortably small (usually about 50-60 people), very informal, happily lacking in complex business issues (we collect dues to defray the costs of organizing and conducting the annual meeting and printing the proceedings), and always situated in locations where the opportunity for other forms of recreation is extensive. Although outsiders may think of psychophysics as a dull and dry field, both of those attributes have been notably absent from all our past meetings. Our members have displayed a remarkable penchant for the exploitation of local gastronomic resources (from couscous in Marseille to haggis in Scotland) and athletic opportunity (such as swimming in the Mediterranean, hiking on the Scottish moors, and tennis in Mallorca), and we fully expect future meetings to offer similar diversions as well as a continuing opportunity for relaxed and informal discussion of psychophysical science.