Sam Glucksberg, pioneer of experimental psycholinguistics and ‘outstanding mentor’, dies at 89

Sam Glucksberg, professor of psychology, emeritus and pioneer in the field of experimental psycholinguistics, died of a stroke on August 29 in Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York. He was 89 years old.

Glucksberg taught at Princeton for 44 years. He joiled the faculty in 1963 and transferringed to emeritus status in 2007. He has contributed to many different areas of research including problem solving, thinking, categorization, and the psychology of language and communication in children and adults. During his last two decades at Princeton, he focused on the experimental study of figurative language – metaphors, idioms, sarcasm and irony – examining how people use and understand this language in everyday life.

“In addition to his seminal contributions to our understanding of language and cognition, Sam has been pivotal in establishing the intellectual cohesion and collegiality that defines our department,” said Kenneth Norman, the Huo Professor of Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and Department Head. “We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.”

Philip Johnson-Laird, the The Stuart professor of psychology, emeritus, struck up a long-standing friendship with Glucksberg at the University of Sussex in England more than 50 years ago, when Johnson-Laird was a professor there and Glucksberg was visiting. “Sam was an exceptional colleague who went out of his way to make me feel at home after immigrating to Princeton in 1989,” Johnson-Laird said. “Our friendship lasted until his death.” Towards the end of their career at Princeton, they combined their labs into one.

Johnson-Laird continued, “Sam’s the main research was to to test his hypothesis about metaphors – they weren’t akin to similes, but rather they created a new higher-order category. If you say, “My dentist is a butcher,” the interpretative system establishes an appropriate category of individuals whose actions are gross and bloody and assigns the dentist to its members. The hypothesis explains why metaphors are more vivid than similes. Sam and his students have conducted enough experiments to back this up.

Adele Goldberg, professor of psychology, said “Glucksberg’s clever experiments demonstrated that the existence of a metaphorical interpretation interferes with – slows down – the literal interpretation of an utterance, a finding that has undermined a widely held assumption in the era in which literal interpretations necessarily precede metaphorical ones.

Goldberg said that the example sentence Glucksberg often used in his classic work on metaphors was “My job is a prison”. “[But that] is not something Sam himself would ever have uttered,” she noted. “Instead, Sam exuded joy every day at work, inspiring and supporting hundreds of students, postdocs and colleagues throughout his distinguished career. To me, Sam was a dear friend as well as a close colleague. He welcomed me to Princeton, inviting me to join his regular lab meetings and those with Phil Johnson-Laird. We shared many lunches and jokes at Tiger Noodles as well as after-hours teas. noon at Phil’s. He inspired me to do experimental work on figurative language, taught me the theory of signal detection, and demonstrated what a life well lived looks like.

Like Goldberg, many former colleagues have said they benefited from Glucksberg’s hospitality and mentorship as early-career researchers and professors.

“Sam was a wonderful mentor when I came to the University in 1989,” said Eldar Shafir, the Class of 1987 professor of behavioral science and public policy, professor of psychology and public affairs, and director of the Kahneman-Treisman Center for Behavioral Science and Public Policy at Princeton. “Both in everyday life and in his academic work, Sam has combined real warmth, a sharp sense of humor, sensitivity to language and great wisdom. At a department meeting once reviewing a candidate with an advanced degree and years of training, Sam said he feared the candidate suffered from a “lack of inexperience.” Sam was a dream colleague, smart, supportive and funny.

“After a chance meeting at a national convention, Sam became my supporter, my booster and my friend,” said Joan Girgus, professor of psychology, emeritus, who came to Princeton in 1977 and taught for 40 years. “I owe a lot of my later career to him. He was also an excellent cook and a captivating storyteller.

Glucksberg was born on Feb. 6, 1933, in Montreal and emigrated with her family in New York in 1946. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the City College of New York in 1956 and a doctorate. in experimental psychology from New York University in 1960. He was a psychology researcher at the United States Army’s Human Engineering Laboratories before coming to Princeton.

He introduced generations of Princeton students to psychological science through his undergraduate courses, including “Introduction to Psychology” and “General Psychology.” He has also drawn many students into the study of psycholinguistics with his advanced course, “Psychology of Language”.

Additionally, he was an influential advisor to graduate students, and many of his students went on to successful careers in academia.

Joe Danks, Research Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland-College Park and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Kent State University, earned his Ph.D. in 1968. He and Glucksberg published together for about a decade after Danks left Princeton, including co-authoring the book “Experimental Psycholinguistics” in 1975 and a chapter in the “Annual Review of Psychology” in 1980. They maintained a long-standing friendship.

Sam was a true mentor to me, a farm boy from the cornfields of Illinois, who introduced me to the intellectual world of college,” Danks said. “For that alone, I will always be grateful.”

Danks also noted that Glucksberg was an innovator at Princeton. In the 1960s, when Glucksberg joined the University, experimental psychology was undergoing what has been called the “cognitive revolution”, and Glucksberg was in the middle of it. He arrived at Princeton as a behaviorist – focusing on stimulus-response analyzes of thinking and problem solving that, by definition, did not consider anything in the subject’s mind, such as beliefs or desires. By the end of the decade Glucksberg had shifted his research to focus on cognitive analyzes of language and communication – and this shift meant that he began to talk explicitly about, for example, what people mean (in their mind) when they speak or hear. .

Glucksberg has been a leader in transforming the psychology department and in 1974 was appointed head of the department, although at the time he was a non-tenured assistant professor. He was president until 1980. “The department’s subsequent rebuilding laid the foundation for Princeton psychology to be at the forefront of the profession and to pursue groundbreaking research,” Danks said.

Sam was a distinguished researcher and teacher, but I remember him most as an exceptional mentor and a wonderful human being,” said Michael McCloskey, a professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins, who earned his doctorate. in 1978 and also co-published with Glucksberg. “Looking back on that time, I can see how much I benefited from his support and levity in offering intellectual advice. He always seemed to know how much advice to give: enough to keep me going while leaving me the necessary space to develop myself as an independent researcher.

“Sam’s influence and support changed my life,” said Boaz Keysar, Professor William Benton in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago and a 1989 graduate.He believed in me and has been my mentor for the past 30 years. He was incredibly wise and even kinder.

Keysar said he was also grateful to Glucksberg as a friend and role model. “He was very funny and his whole face would light up when the joke was right. I will miss his quick and priceless wit. His cooking was legendary — I always make his braised lamb shanks. He knew how to live and I will always remember of him as full of life.

Glucksberg’s contributions to the field of psychology extended far beyond his research. In particular, he was editor of two of the most important journals in the field: Psychological Science and Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. He has also participated as a fellow and member of numerous professional societies, including the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and numerous grant committees and editorial boards.

Glucksberg has also used his language and communication expertise in the area of ​​legal advice, typically on matters involving the adequacy and informativeness of product labels relating to consumer safety. He has consulted on cases ranging from asbestos in the walls and diving boards of above ground swimming pools to potentially hazardous industrial equipment. This work in applied psycholinguistics has had an influence on improving the quality of product descriptions in some of these cases.

After his retirement, he continued to collaborate with colleagues – including linguists, philosophers and psychologists – in Italy, France, England, Ireland and Israel.

He is survived by his wife, Kay Deaux, Professor Emeritus, Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, City University of New York Graduate Center, and Visiting Scholar in the Department of Psychology at New York University; his brother, Harold Glucksberg; his children, Matthew Glucksberg and his wife Harriet Stratis, Kenneth Glucksberg and his wife Sue Rosengard, and Nadia Glucksberg and her husband Steve Hamill; and two grandchildren, Max Glucksberg and Alexander Stratis.

Donations can be made to Energy Vision (, promote commercial and profitable solutions for a carbon neutral economy, 138 East 13th St., New York, New York 10003, or Kids in Danger (, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting children by fighting for product safety), 116 West Illinois St., Suite 4E, Chicago, Illinois 60654.

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