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William K. Estes, 1979

Photo by George Sperling

William Kaye Estes (1919 – 2011) was an American psychologist. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Estes as the 77th most cited psychologist of the 20th century. In order to develop a statistical explanation for the learning phenomena, William Kaye Estes developed the Stimulus Sampling Theory in 1950 which suggested that a stimulus-response association is learned on a single trial; however, the learning process is continuous and consists of the accumulation of distinct stimulus-response pairings.

As an undergraduate, Estes was a student of Richard M. Elliott at the University of Minnesota. As a graduate student, he stayed at the University of Minnesota and worked under B. F. Skinner, with whom he developed the conditioned suppression paradigm (Estes & Skinner, 1941).

After receiving his doctorate, Estes joined Skinner on the faculty of Indiana University. After Estes got out of the U. S. Army at the end of World War II, he established his reputation as one of the originators of mathematical learning theory. Estes went from Indiana University to Stanford University, to Rockefeller University in New York, and finally to Harvard University. While teaching at Harvard University, Estes contributed as an instituting first editor of the Psychological Science for the Association for Psychological Science. He was also editor of Psychological Review from 1977 to 1982.

Years at The Rockefeller University: 1968-1979


stimulus sampling theory, learning phenomena, cognitive psyhology


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