Donald Hebb: The father of neuropsychology

Donald Hebb was known as the “father of neuropsychology” for his work in merging the worlds of psychology and neuroscience. This was largely accomplished through his seminal work The Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychological Theory, published in 1949.

Hebb’s breakthrough idea was that psychology needed to integrate more closely with neurology and physiology in order to explain human behaviour. This resulted in the merging of the abstract “mind” on which psychology focused with physical and biological brain functions. Hebb argued that this approach was necessary for psychology to be viewed as a scientific discipline.

First coming to McGill in 1928 as a graduate student in psychology, Hebb earned his Master’s in 1932. After completing his PhD at the University of Chicago, he returned in 1937 to work with Wilder Penfield at the Montreal Neurological Institute. In 1947, he accepted a professorship in Psychology, and eventually served as Chancellor from 1970 until 1974.

Hebb was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1966, and served as the president of both the Canadian Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association. In 2003, he was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. As of 1980, the Donald O. Hebb Award is presented annually to members of the Canadian Psychological Association for their contributions to psychology as a science. The first winner (after Hebb himself) was Brenda Milner – today Canada’s preeminent neuropsychologist, and a celebrated McGill professor even at the age of 102.