University of Rochester

Eminent Psychology Professor Vincent Nowlis Dies

June 13, 2003

Psychologist Vincent Nowlis, who pioneered the study of moods and worked on early groundbreaking studies in human sexuality and child rearing, died Saturday, May 24, in Fresno, Calif. He was 89 years old and was professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Rochester.

The creator of a mood survey that has been used in hundreds of psychological studies for more than five decades, Nowlis also served as a consultant on drug abuse prevention in the United States and in other countries.

Nowlis's work and writing on moods and the effects of drugs on behavior and mood were published as monographs and chapters in numerous books and as articles in the Journal of Comparative Psychology and the Journal of Experimental Psychology. He was frequently quoted as well in the popular press in articles about moods, which he called "barometers of the ego."

According to Robert E. Thayer, professor of psychology at California State University at Long Beach, "Vincent Nowlis was the foremost pioneer in the area of mood science, a field that has grown since his initial work to a place of such prominence as to generate thousands of research studies at the present time. His methods of conceptualizing and measuring mood formed the basis for much of this current research, and in many ways all scientists working today on studies of normal mood variations owe a great debt to his original and creative ideas." Thayer, known for his research and work in biopsychology, earned his doctorate at the University of Rochester and was a student of Nowlis's.

Nowlis received his doctorate from Yale in 1939 and began his career as one of the first psychologists to study primates to gain insight into the evolutionary roots of human social behavior. In the mid-1940s, he worked with Alfred Kinsey designing the interview and study that became the basis of the best-selling Kinsey report on sexual behavior. Later, at the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, he worked on developing studies into the effects of different styles of child rearing, research that was innovative in being both interdisciplinary and empirically based.

In 1951, Nowlis and his wife, Helen Howard Nowlis, also a psychologist, were invited to join the faculty at Rochester and expand their research into the use of drugs in analyzing human behavior. Here, Nowlis developed the Mood Adjective Check List, which he used to determine the effects on mood of a wide variety of settings or stimuli, including films, drugs, space travel, submarine confinement, and combat.

The couple's campus activities extended beyond the classroom and lab. During the 1960s, Helen Howard Nowlis served as dean of students and Nowlis led the faculty senate. He also spearheaded Rochester's first student course opinion questionnaires and worked on a committee recommending students be allowed to take one course satisfactory or fail.

Nowlis was a consultant to the National Institute of Mental Health and to the World Health Organization during the 1970s, working both in the United States and other countries on drug abuse prevention and the psychology of public health. At the invitation of President Richard Nixon, he served in the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention, an executive office created in response to growing awareness and concern about drug use among young adults.

Nowlis served on the National Research Council and on the editorial board of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. He was a member or fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Eastern Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. He also was a consultant to the Veterans Administration.

Nowlis held teaching and research positions at Yale, the University of Connecticut, Indiana University, and the State University of Iowa before coming to Rochester. After his retirement in 1979, he continued to live in Rochester until November 2002, when he moved to Fresno.

Nowlis was predeceased by two wives, Eleanor Riley Nowlis and Helen Howard Nowlis, and his son Geoffrey. He is survived by his sons, David Nowlis and his wife, Jean Crane, of Fresno, and Christopher Nowlis and his wife, Nancy Nowlis, of Jacksonville, Fla.; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Gifts in his memory may be sent to the Bowdoin College Alumni Fund, Brunswick, ME 04011. Nowlis earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin in 1935.

A memorial service will be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 28, in the Interfaith Chapel on the River Campus of the University of Rochester.