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Department of Psychology

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Kenneth Craik, one of the most remarkable scientists to have worked in the Cambridge Psychological Laboratory. Although he was only 31 at the time of his death, his contributions had lasting impact. In visual science, he is remembered for the phenomenon nowadays known as the Craik-Cornsweet Effect and for the proposal that sensory systems adjust their sensitivity to match the prevailing stimulus level. But he is especially important as one of the pioneers of modern cognitive psychology. He introduced the idea of internal models that allow predictive thought; and his practical wartime studies on man-machine interaction led him to the concept of the human operator as a component in a control system.

Kenneth Craik was a Fellow of St John's and he was the first Director of the MRC Applied Research Unit, then embedded within the Psychological Laboratory.  His published programme for the MRC Unit (Nature, 1944, 154, 476) is a masterly outline of the future of applied psychology.

Several accounts of Craik agree that he was a reckless cyclist. On the evening of the 7th of May 1945, he was bicycling towards St John's, on his way to the Feast of St John ante portam. It was the eve of VE Day and the streets of Cambridge were busy with celebrating crowds. As Craik rode along King's Parade, he was caught by the opening door of a car driven by a Flight Lieutenant of the RAAF. Craik was thrown under a passing lorry. He was taken the short distance to Addenbrooke's Hospital 'in the Borough Ambulance' and died in hospital without regaining consciousness.

J. D. Mollon