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James Olds (May 30, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois - August 21, 1976 in California) was an American psychologist who co-discovered the pleasure center of the brain with Peter Milner while he was a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University in 1954. He is considered to be one of the founders of modern neuroscience[1][2][3] and received numerous distinctions ranging from election to the United States National Academy of Sciences to the Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Early life and education[edit]

Olds was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father Leland Olds later became Chairman of the Federal Power Commission under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His grandfather George D. Olds was the ninth President of Amherst College. Olds grew up in Nyack, New York. Olds attended college at a number of schools including St. John's College, Annapolis, and the University of Wisconsin, but received his undergraduate B.A. from Amherst College in 1947. His undergraduate years were interrupted by military service in the U.S. Army during the Second World War as part of the Persian Gulf Command. Following the war, Olds went on to get his Ph.D. at Harvard University in the Department of Social Relations under Professor Talcott Parsons. His thesis was focused on motivation and led to his subsequent interest in the biological basis of motivation.[4] Olds married fellow neuroscientist, Marianne E. Olds in 1946. They had two children, Jacqueline Olds and James Leland Olds.


Following his Ph.D., Olds went on to do postdoctoral work at McGill University under Donald Olding Hebb, where he made his most important discovery with Peter Milner.[5] Subsequently Olds moved to UCLA, where he took his first academic appointment at the Brain Research Institute.[6] In 1957 Olds was appointed associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan.[7] He left Michigan in 1969 to become the Bing Professor of Behavioral Biology at the California Institute of Technology[8] where he continued his research and led a large lab until his untimely death in a swimming accident in August 1976. His last work was aimed at understanding the mechanisms of learning and memory.


  • 1954 Olds, J., and P. Milner. Positive reinforcement produced by electrical stimulation of septal area and other regions of rat brain. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 47:419-27.
  • 1955 Olds, J. "Reward" from brain stimulation in the rat. Science 122:878.
  • 1956 Olds, J. Runway and maze behavior controlled by basomedial forebrain stimulation in the rat. J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 49:507-12.
  • 1956 Olds, J., K. F. Killiam, and P. Bach-Y-Rita. Self-stimulation of the brain used as a screening method for tranquilizing drugs. Science 124:265-66.
  • 1956 Olds, J. Pleasure center in the brain. Sci. Am. 195: 105-16.
  • 1958 Olds, J. Self-stimulation of the brain. Science 127:315-24.
  • 1958 Olds, J., and M. E. Olds. Positive reinforcement produced by stimulating hypothalamus with iproniazid and other compounds. Science 127:1175-76.
  • 1965 Operant conditioning of single unit responses. Proc. 23rd Congr. Physiological Sciences. Excerpta Med. Int. Congr. Ser. no. 87, pp. 372–80.
  • 1967 The limbic system and behavioural reinforcement. Prog. Brain Res. 27 144-64.
  • The central nervous system and the reinforcement of behaviour. Am. Psychol. 24 (1969) 114-32.
  • 1969 Olds, J., and Hirano, T.: Conditioned responses of hippocampal and other neurons. Electroencephalogr. clin. Neurophysiol. 26 159-66.
  • 1969 Olds, J., and Best, P. J.: Single unit patterns during anticipatory behaviour. Electroencephalogr. clin. Neurophysiol. 26 144-58.
  • 1972 Olds, J., Disterhoft, J. F., Segal, M., Kornblith, C. L., and Hirsh, R.: Learning centres of rat brain mapped by measuring latencies of conditioned unit responses. J. Neurophysiol. 35 202-19.
  • Drives and reinforcements Raven Books ISBN 0-89004-087-7 (1977)


External links[edit]

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127 news items

National Science Foundation (press release)

National Science Foundation (press release)
Wed, 03 Sep 2014 11:45:00 -0700

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected George Mason University's James L. Olds to serve as assistant director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO). BIO's mission is to enable discoveries for understanding life. BIO-supported ...

Yahoo News UK

Yahoo News UK
Mon, 30 Mar 2015 06:07:30 -0700

James Olds is head of the U.S. National Science Foundation's Directorate for Biological Sciences and is a named professor of molecular neuroscience at George Mason University. Olds contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.


Mon, 08 Sep 2014 09:41:44 -0700

Interdisciplinary researcher James Olds has joined the National Science Foundation as assistant director of the Directorate for Biological Sciences, NSF announced Wednesday. The academic leader, who starts in his new role in October 2014, is a ...


Sun, 19 Apr 2015 09:06:02 -0700

Sans doute quelque chose de similaire à cette expérience menée dans les années 50 par deux scientifiques canadiens, James Olds et Peter Milner, visant à implanter des électrodes dans le cerveau de rats afin de stimuler leur système de récompense, ...


Tue, 07 Apr 2015 08:10:47 -0700

1954 年,神經科學家歐爾茲(James Olds)在老鼠大腦中的內隔核(septal nuclei)置入電極。歐爾茲原本以為,當老鼠進入房間角落並受到大腦電擊後,應該會學會避開角落,沒想到,老鼠竟然一直跑回那個角落,仿佛希望被電擊似的。後來深入研究後才發現。原來這個 ...
Post Searchlight
Tue, 23 Jul 2013 16:54:17 -0700

Funeral services for Mr. Johnny James Olds Jr., 39, were held Saturday, July 20, 2013, at Antioch M.B. Church in Brinson, with the Rev. Kelvin Wells officiating. Interment was at Oak Long Cemetery in Miller County, with Larry Williams, Carye Collier ...

Live Science

Live Science
Thu, 26 Mar 2015 17:27:09 -0700

... brain science, and for more on what scientists expect from the future of brain research, read the related essay "Unlocking the Brain, Earth's Most Complex Biological Structure " by neuroscientist, and NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences head ...


Fri, 06 Mar 2015 07:08:06 -0800

Panksepp was inspired by the work of American psychologists Peter Milner and James Olds, who in 1954 discovered the brain reward system. By using electrodes to target certain brain regions in rats, Milner and Olds found they could train the creatures ...

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