Neville Moray (1935–2017)

An appreciation.

Professor Neville Moray, who died recently at the age of 82, joined the Sheffield University Psychology Department as a Lecturer in 1960. The department at that time was tiny. The first Chair, Professor Harry Kay, had only recently been appointed; there were only four full-time academic staff, and fewer than 20 honours students. The writers were part of a cadre of just eight second-year students.

In this rather comfortable milieu Neville, who was only a few years older than the undergraduates he taught, arrived like a whirlwind. He had opinions about everything, from physics to religion, and expressed them forcefully and persuasively. He sported a trim Van Dyke beard (maintained throughout his life), dressed nattily with a buttonhole carnation, and was proud of his Catholic faith in a department that was firmly agnostic. He gave lectures on physiological psychology, but explored a wide range of other interests, including cybernetics and artificial intelligence, programmed instruction and teaching machines. He published a chatty and accessible Introduction to Psychology, and even found time to devise one of the early programmed texts. He could sing a little and dabbled in calligraphy: both of us still have the address books given to us on our 21st birthdays with a beautifully written inscription by Neville.

Nor did he confine his activities and influence to the university. For example, he appeared on the very popular Tonight show to discuss his work on auditory perception, in particular the ‘cocktail party’ phenomenon in which people pick out the sound of their name in a noisy environment. When Arthur Koestler accused psychology of failure to predict any behaviour that went beyond the trivial, Neville recorded a robust response that was broadcast nationally on BBC radio.

While at Sheffield, Neville was appointed Sub-Warden of Crewe Hall of Residence, where one of us was a student, and later Senior Tutor. He enlivened the place greatly, gave witty after-dinner speeches, and entertained students and guests on high table. One memorable visitor, and friend from Neville’s schooldays, was a former child actor who had starred in the film The Fallen Idol, with Ralph Richardson. He even wrote and performed a ‘topical calypso’ in the manner of a popular TV troubadour, accompanying himself on the guitar.

Neville worked later at the University of Stirling and the University of Surrey, but the rest of his career was spent largely in North America, where he had first lived after being evacuated to Canada during the war. At the University of Toronto he held positions as Professor of Psychology and, later, of Industrial Engineering. He retired to a villa just outside Grasse on the Côte d’Azure. He spoke French fluently, and had taught at Université de Valenciennes in north-eastern France for two years.

In retirement he embarked on yet another new venture, painting in what he called a ‘neo-pop art’ style in bright acrylics. One of us was able to visit him there a few years ago, and found him to be just as curious, eclectic and inventive as he had been as a young man. In later life he wrote his final book, Science, Cells and Souls: An Introduction to Human Nature, that explored the links between science, philosophy, and human consciousness. Surprisingly, he also abandoned his Catholic faith, a remarkably courageous step by someone for ever seeking new insights into the drivers of human behaviour.

Professor Christopher Knapper
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

Professor James Hartley
Keele University

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