Neal Miller

100 Year Anniversary


 Several experiments conducted by Miller, that were spurred by his efforts to integrate psychoanalytic principles with learning theory, led to discoveries of specific brain sites, such as the reward-escape site. His revlolutionary discoveried led him on a path that was to end with him as  the founding father of SFN, The Society for Neuroscience.

Included in this section is a detailed introduction of Miller’s entrance in to the world of neuroscience.



(formerly Physiological Psychology)


Miller in the 1950’s undertook a variety of experiments to test the strong form of the drive-reduction hypothesis that it is only the reduction in a drive that results from the attainment of a goal that constitutes that goal’s ability to reinforce the behaviors attaining it.  1) He showed that food introduced directly into the stomach reinforced a targeted behavior and thus that taste, because it was by-passed, was not an essential reinforcer.  2) As part of another planned test, a lesion of the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus produced a rat that though overeating to the point of gross obesity failed to show other signs of hunger thus producing a cautionary tale that in research, especially brain research, a variety of measures is essential for understanding the nature of a phenomenon.  3) The search for and discovery of a region in the rat’s hypothalamus which when electrically stimulated produced immediate feeding and all the accompanying signs of true hunger resulted in an inconclusive hypothesis test for whether turning off the stimulation would prove reinforcing because rats would press to turn on the stimulation.


This discovery of stimulation-bound feeding and Miller’s pursuit of James Old’s findings that rats would vigorously self-stimulate the hypothalamus by pressing a lever for a brief pulses of current opened flood-gate of brain research in Miller’s lab that resulted most primarily: a) in the discovery of “reward-escape” sites in the brain where rats would cycle in pressing one lever to turn the current on and then another to turn the current, b) in the use of this behavioral preparation to test various psychotropic drugs, 3) in the discovery of chemical coding in the brain from the finding that a neurotransmitter-like cholinergic agent injected down a cannula into the hypothalamus would elicit drinking while a neurotransmitter-like catacholaminergic agent would produce eating.  Other work from Miller’s lab included research on memory consolidation, studies devoted to understanding the signals for thirst, salt appetite, and hunger.  The studies that emerged later on the behavioral factors on which stress is contingent and the mediating actions of the nervous and endocrine systems are dealt with in the section on Behavioral Medicine.

Comments are closed.