In 1949, the Chairman of the Canberra University College, Sir Robert Garran, announced that the Department of Psychology would be established given the strong demand from students (Canberra University College became the School of General Studies at the ANU in 1960). 

In January 1951, Mr Patrick Pentony arrived from the University of Western Australia and joined the Department as a Senior Lecturer responsible for teaching and research in Psychology. Additional appointments followed. 

In 1952 Gavin Seagrim was appointed and in 1955 the first Professor of Psychology, Cecil Gibb (Head of School 1955-1975) arrived in Canberra. Others soon followed including Margaret Middleton, Michael Cook and the second Professorial appointment, Ken Provins. 

From the very beginning, and still continuing today, ANU psychology has fostered, attracted, and collaborated with, the leading figures in the field.

In 1956 Pentony was awarded a Rockefeller Travelling Fellowship to visit Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago and the University Counselling Centre. Returning to ANU, Mr Pentony established for the first time in Australia a range of therapeutic clinical training programs including the establishment of student counselling services in Science and at the ANU. 

Gibb completed his PhD in 1949 under the supervision of Raymond Cattell at the University of Illinois (‘The emergence of leadership in small, temporary groups of men’) where he studied methods of leadership assessment. Gavin Seagrim visited and worked with Jean Piaget at the University of Geneva and was a key figure in embedding the latest knowledge on development and learning into Australian schools leading to a more child-centred approach. John Turner collaborated with Henri Tajfel on social identity theory and then developed self-categorization theory; one of the most influential perspectives in social psychology today.  

Gibb, as the foundation Professor in Psychology, insisted that psychology was a biological science, encouraged the development of biological interests within the Department, and lobbied effectively to locate psychology in the University's Science Faculty. He also wanted to build a Department strong in social psychology (most Australian departments were then dominated by "experimental" psychology). 

He outlined in his letter of application that the purpose of a psychology curriculum concerned the acquisition of knowledge about human experience and behaviour, the development of rigorous scientific habits of thought and the fostering of objective and responsible attitudes towards oneself and others… further that the “adequate teaching of psychology demands emphasis upon laboratories whether these be designed to examine the phenomena of learning, perception, thinking or intergroup relations and conflict.”

The psychology curriculum developed under Gibb's leadership had a strong emphasis on teaching the breadth of psychology and the scientific-basis of psychology at the undergraduate level. This was the foundation to applied training at a postgraduate level. Our present psychology course structure still reflects this philosophy. 

Key dates and appointments

  • 1949 Council decision to establish Department of Psychology at Canberra University College
  • 1951 Arrival of Mr Patrick Pentony 
  • 1952 Arrival of Gavin Seagrim 
  • 1955 Appointment Foundational Professor Cecil Gibb 
  • 1957 Expanding psychology offerings to Applied Psychology
  • 1959 Arrival of Margaret Middleton 
  • 1960 Amalgamation of Canberra University College and ANU and formation of School of General Studies 
  • 1960s Expansion of Department of Psychology & Cecil Gibb as Deputy Chairman School of General Studies (1966-1971) appointment of Ken Provins (1968-1975; became Deputy Vice Chancellor University of Adelaide 1975-1980), and Michael Cook (1961-1998; Head of School 1984-1990); Graduation of the first PhD in the School of General Studies: Barbara Gilliam
  • 1970s Expansion of behavioural biology and animal learning: Bill Bellingham; Release of Department of the Interior report on the conditions of Aborigines on pastoral properties in the Northern Territory. Chair: Cecil Gibb
    Appointment of Patrick Pentony as Acting Head of School (1975-1977)
    Appointment of William Scott as Head of School (1977-1983) 
    Trial of new smorgasbord syllabus – students selected courses with no requirement for pre-requisites.
  • 1980s Establishment of Psychology Clinic
    1982-1983 External review of Department of Psychology (Chair: Jacqueline Goodnow)
    Appointment of Michael Cook as Head of School (1984-1990)
    1989-1990 External Review of Department of Psychology (Chair: Max Coltheart)
  • 1990s Expansion of social psychology. Appointment of Professor John Turner as Head of School (1991-1994; 1997-1999, who also served as Dean of Science). Two subsequent Heads of School were social psychologists Penelope Oakes (1999-2003) and Craig McGarty (2003-2006).
    Appointment Professor Don Byrne Head of School (1994-1997; 2006-2014)
  • 2000s 2006: External Review of Department of Psychology (Chair: Leon Mann)
    Expansion of competitive funding through ARC with a number of Fellowships, Discovery and Linkage grants. Growing strength in Cognition and Perception and Health, Expansion of Psychology Clinic. 
    Penelope Oakes promoted to be first female Professor in Psychology (and Head of School)
  • 2010s Expansion of national and international research collaborations including through involvement in the Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (Evan Kidd), Centre of Excellence for Cognition and its Disorders (Elinor McKone), Centre of Excellence on Vision Science (Mark Edwards)
    Gender equity achieved in Professorial Appointments.
    Appointment of Michael Kyrios as Director of School (2014-2018)
  • Any information about the history of Psychology at the ANU please contact
    Professor Kate Reynolds

Updated:  21 March 2019/Responsible Officer:  Director, RSP/Page Contact:  Web Admin, RSP