Dorothea Jameson

From The Almanack:

Dorothea Jameson, the University Professor of Psychology who was one of the world's foremost theorists of color and vision, died on April 12 at the age of 77, in New York City where she and her colleague and husband of some 50 years, Dr. Leo M. Hurvich, had lived since retirement from Penn.

Dorothea Jameson

A 1942 alumna of Wellesley College, Professor Jameson began work on sensory processes during her second year in college and, graduating into the World War II research environment, continued to work on perception as a research assistant at Harvard, where one of her main projects was aimed to improve the accuracy of visual rangefinders. There she met Leo Hurvich, and they began the collaboration that would take them to Eastman Kodak in Rochester, to the psychology department of NYU, 1957-62, and to their longtime academic home in Penn's department of psychology and Institute of Neurological Sciences.

Beginning as a research associate during a time when Penn had a nepotism rule, Dorothea Jameson was named full professor upon the rule's discontinuation, and in 1975 she was awarded an endowed chair as University Professor of Psychology. She also held visiting positions at Rochester and Columbia Universities.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, she served on many of its committees and boards, chairing the psychology section in 1983-86 and the NAS-NRC Commission on Human Resources' Committee on Fellowships and Associateships in 1979-80. Among her many other professional and scholarly roles were her service on the visiting committees of MIT, Maryland, and Harvard; on the U.S. National Committee for the International Union of Psychological Science; and on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Corporation Board.

Professor Jameson won the 1971 Warren Medal of the Society of Experimental Psychologists; the 1972 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, and the 1973 Godlove Award for Research in Color Vision of the Inter-Society Color Council. The following year she received the Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award for Scientific Research. She also won the Edgar Tillyer Award of the Optical Society of America in 1982; the Deane B. Judd Award of the Association Internationale de Couleur in 1985, and the Hermann von Helmhotz Award of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute in 1987. The State University of New York conferred upon her the honorary degree Doctor of Science in 1989.

During her career Professor Jameson published some 95 papers in her field, writing freqently with Leo Hurvich, in a collaboration that Columbia Professor David H. Krantz, who took his Ph.D. with Professors Jameson and Hurvich 35 years ago, described as "remarkable for quality, length, and equality of contribution." As they moved to Eastman Kodak in 1947 and married in 1948 to begin their pioneering and profound study of color perception, Dr. Krantz's memoir continues,

"The dominant scientific orthodoxy of that time decreed that subjective appearance could not be studied scientifically at all, and that mechanisms of color perception could not be bidirectional, since the visual responses depend merely on the count of light photons captured by each visual pigment in the retina. Jameson and Hurvich were the first to use subjective appearance of colors as a guide to rigorous, quantitative experimentation.

"In the 19th century, the physiologist Ewald Hering had emphasized the bidirectionality of color attributes: any single color might appear either reddish to some degree or greenish to some degree or neither, but never both at once, and likewise for yellowness/blueness. Jameson and Hurvich recognized that bidirectionality could be used as the basis of a measurement method. The redness of a light could be measured by the intensity of a standard green light that must be mixed with it to cancel exactly the reddish appearance; similarly, the yellowness could be measured by the intensity of a standard blue needed to cancel exactly the yellowish appearance. Using such measurements, they proceeded to construct a quantitative model, opponent-color theory, that embraced all the known facts of color vision: facts about color matching, color discrimination, contrast, adaptation and color weakness or color blindness, as well as the subjective appearance of colors. Theirs was the first truly comprehensive quantitative model. For a time it was controversial and widely misunderstood; today, bidirectional color responses have been much studied physiologically, in part because the functional importance of bidirectionality could be understood from the opponent-color theory. Despite much additional physiological information, there is still no comprehensive model with the scope of their original theory.

"The projects that she undertook independently of Leo tended to focus either on visual physiology or on modern art. On the physiological side, she paid close attention to advances in visual physiology and on their implications for perception. The discovery of bidirectional processes in fish retina led her to undertake her own studies of color vision in fish. Another main interest was the function of retinal nerve cells that integrate inputs over different-sized areas and their role in perceptual averaging of colors versus perceptual contrast. She was an art lover who also had strong intellectual interests both in the history of art and in the relationships of visual effects found in art works to the physiology of vision. To mention one example, she pointed out how the differences in area of integration between peripheral and central retina contributed to the aesthetic effects obtained by impressionist painters.

"Jameson's students, colleagues and friends will greatly miss her gentle manner, her luminous, probing intelligence, her scientific wisdom and her love for truth."

Professor Jameson's survivors, in addition to her husband, are two brothers, Robert and Richard; a sister, Marie Cooper; and her nephews and nieces. [Richard has since died.]

Jonathan Baron
Last modified: Mon May 12 10:43:35 EDT 2003