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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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193 news items

Daily Mail

Daily Mail
Sun, 11 Oct 2015 18:33:48 -0700

An arrest affidavit obtained by WTSP said that his son 'Steven Olds advised us, that his father (James Olds) is suffering from and is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and that James Olds currently has no use of extremities and can only move his ...

Orlando Sentinel

Mon, 05 Oct 2015 09:49:11 -0700

When deputies arrived on-scene, the victim, 57-year-old James Olds, told deputies that his wife, Cherry, held a pillow over his face and attempted to suffocate him twice on Wednesday, Sept. 30. Deputies say after the first attempt, James yelled at ...
Fox 35 Orlando
Tue, 06 Oct 2015 10:01:36 -0700

"Whatever prompted her to do this, I know my baby snapped and I know my condition is what caused it," said the alleged victim, James Olds. Deputies were notified by Olds' adult son, who tipped them off to the alleged crime. When investigators went out ...

Science /AAAS

Science /AAAS
Wed, 16 Sep 2015 11:00:00 -0700

... entitled NEON Warning Signs. The panel has asked Collins and James Olds, head of NSF's biology directorate, to discuss NEON's progress, NSF's oversight of the project, and “the capability of NEON Inc.'s leadership to continue managing the project.”.

Science Now

Science Now
Mon, 21 Sep 2015 09:18:45 -0700

But NEON isn't out of the woods, NSF's James Olds explained to a joint hearing of two subpanels of the U.S. House of Representatives's science committee, which oversees NSF. “If it is determined that NEON Inc. is not capable of completing construction ...

Ecotone (blog)

Ecotone (blog)
Wed, 30 Sep 2015 13:48:45 -0700

The Subcommittee heard testimony from NEON Board of Directors Chairman James Collins and NSF Assistant Director for Biological Sciences James Olds about the recent NSF decision to descope the NEON facility due to projected cost overruns.

National Science Foundation (press release)

National Science Foundation (press release)
Mon, 21 Sep 2015 12:36:21 -0700

"Olfaction is both an important and tractable problem in neuroscience," said James Olds, assistant director of the Biological Sciences Directorate. "By using the olfactory system, which is an ancient system, as a model for neural circuits, we can gain ...

Science /AAAS

Science /AAAS
Thu, 24 Sep 2015 15:37:07 -0700

On 8 September, NEON Inc., the nonprofit that manages the project, fired CEO Russ Lea, a former forestry professor and university administrator, after the head of NSF's biology directorate, James Olds, ordered the corporation to correct “deficiencies ...

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