Allan R. Wagner served on the faculty of the Psychology Department of Yale University from 1959 until his retirement as the James Rowland Angell Professor, Emeritus in 2012. During the 53 years he taught a variety of courses, including Introductory Psychology, Learning Theory and Laboratory Techniques in Behavioral Neuroscience, while serving as Chair of the Department of Psychology from 1983-1989, Chair of the Department of Philosophy from 1991-1993 and Director of the Division of the Social Sciences from 1992-1998.
His research has been aimed at the development of a quantitative, mechanistic theory of associative learning. The several models that have come from his laboratory (e.g., the so-called Rescorla-Wagner Model, SOP and AESOP) are primarily based upon behavioral data from well-characterized animal learning situations, including habituation, classical conditioning and instrumental learning, and are most germane to such circumstances. However, they are also intended to be in contact with available neurobiological data from various model systems (especially eyeblink conditioning in the rabbit) that are currently being exploited in investigation of the architectural and cellular basis of learning and memory. The neural-network form of the models has favored the incorporation of certain of their tenants into “connectionist” treatments of more complex human cognition. A major focus of his recent research has been on the contextual control of associative learning, as seen in conditional discriminations and “occasion setting.” A resulting theoretical product has been a “replaced-elements” conception (REM) of how stimuli are differentially represented in different contexts. Much of the current research is devoted to evaluating the applicability of associative models to human contingency learning, particularly as involved in the formation of causal judgments.
His scientific contributions have been recognized by his receipt of the Howard Crosby Warren Medal of the Society of Experimental Psychologists (1991), the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association (1999), the W. Horsley Gantt Medal of the Pavlovian Society (2009), the William James Lifetime Achievement Award of the Association for Psychological Science (2013), and election to membership in the National Academy of Sciences (1999).
He has served as Editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, and Co-Editor of Learning and Motivation, Animal Learning and Behavior and Quantitative Analysis of Behavior. Among his current advisory appointments are service on the Research Committee of the High Value Interrogation Group of the FBI, and the Board of Behavioral Cognitive and Sensory Sciences of the National Research Council.