Neal Elgar Miller (August 3, 1909 – March 23, 2002) was an American experimental psychologist. Described as an energetic man with a variety of interests, including physics, biology and writing, Miller entered the field of psychology to pursue these. With a background training in the sciences, he was inspired by professors and leading psychologists at the time to work on various areas in behavioral psychology and physiological psychology, specifically, relating visceral responses to behavior.
Miller was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1909. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest. His father, Irving Miller, worked at Western Washington University as Chair of the Department of Education and Psychology. His father's position in Neal Miller's words, "may have had something to do with" his interest in psychology.: 244 Originally having a curiosity for science, Miller entered the University of Washington (1931), where he studied biology, physics and also had an interest in writing. His senior year he decided that psychology would allow him to pursue his wide variety of interests. He graduated from the University of Washington with a B.S. and a piqued interest in behavioral psychology. Afterwards he studied at Stanford University (1932) where he received his M.S. and an interest in psychology of personality. At Stanford he accompanied his professor, Walter Miles, to the Institute of Human Relations at Yale University as a research assistant. There he was encouraged by another professor to further study psychoanalysis. He received his Ph.D. degree in Psychology from Yale University in 1935, and that same year he became a social science research fellow at the Institute of Psychoanalysis in Vienna for one year before returning to Yale as a faculty member in 1936. He spent a total of 30 years at Yale University (1936–1966), and in 1950 he was appointed professor at Yale, a position he held until 1966. In 1966 he began teaching at Rockefeller University and afterwards spent the early 1970s teaching at Cornell University Medical College. In 1985 he returned to Yale as a research associate.
Miller's early work focused on experimenting with Freudian ideas on behavior in real-life situations. His most notable topic was fear. Miller came to the conclusion that fear could be learned through conditioning. Miller then decided to extend his research to other autonomic drives, such as hunger, to see if they worked in the same way. His unique ideas and experimental techniques to study these autonomic drives resulted in findings that changed ideas about motivations and behavior.
Miller was also one of the founding fathers behind the idea of biofeedback. Today, many of his ideas have been expanded and added to, but Miller has been credited with coming up with most of the basic ideas behind biofeedback. Miller was doing experimentation on conditioning and rats when he discovered biofeedback.
Neal Miller, along with John Dollard and O. Hobart Mowrer, helped to integrate behavioral and psychoanalytic concepts. They were able to translate psychological analytic concepts into behavioral terms that would be more easily understood. Specifically, they focused on the stimulus-response theory. These three men also recognized Sigmund Freud's understanding of anxiety as a "signal of danger" and that some things in Freud's work could be altered to fix this. Miller, Dollard and Mowrer believed that a person who was relieved of high anxiety levels would experience what is called "anxiety relief". Together with fellow psychologist O. Hobart Mowrer, Miller gives his name to the "Miller-Mowrer Shuttlebox" apparatus.
Over the course of his career, Miller wrote eight books and 276 papers and articles. Neal Miller worked with John Dollard and together they wrote the book Personality and Psychotherapy (1950) concerning neurosis and psychological learning concepts.
Miller's regular use of laboratory animals, over many years, aroused criticism from animal rights groups, but he was a forthright defender of the practice. He once argued that if people had no right to use animals in research, then they had no right to kill them for food or clothing. Even so, Miller acknowledged that the issue was complex, saying: "There is sacredness of all life. But where do we draw the line? That's the problem. Cats kill birds and mice. Dogs exploit other animals by killing and eating them. Humans have to draw the line somewhere in animal rights, or we're dead."
Miller, Neal E. (2007) . Learning, motivation, and their physiological mechanisms. New Brunswick, NJ.: AldineTransaction. ISBN9780202361437. OCLC144328310.
Miller, Neal E. (2008) . Conflict, displacement, learned drives, and theory. New Brunswick, NJ: AldineTransaction. ISBN9780202361420. OCLC156810019.
Richter-Heinrich, Elisabeth; Miller, Neal E., eds. (1982). Biofeedback: basic problems and clinical applications. Selected revised papers presented at the XXIInd International Congress of Psychology, Leipzig, GDR, July 6–12, 1980. Amsterdam: North-Holland. ISBN978-0444863454. OCLC10751840.
Miller, Neal E.; Bugelski, Richard (1948). "Minor studies of aggression: II. The influence of frustrations imposed by the in-group on attitudes expressed toward out-groups". The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied. 25 (2): 437–442. doi:10.1080/00223980.1948.9917387. PMID18907295.