Robert B. Malmo


The following resolution on the death of Professor Robert Malmo was presented by Dean Fuks and adopted unanimously by Senate.

Professor Robert Beverley Malmo was born on October 24, 1912, in the Panama Canal Zone of American parents, and died suddenly on July 1, 2002, in Montreal. His mother, a member of the Beverley family of Virginia, went to Panama with her brother, a physician who was one of the first flight surgeons in the U.S. Army, flying one of those early planes. His uncle was part of a medical team coping with the yellow fever menace that had, for years, stalled the completion of the Panama Canal. His father, from Minnesota, was an accountant with the Panama Railroad. While still in his infancy, his family left Panama for the U.S. Midwest where his father became an accountant with the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad. After several moves they settled in St. Louis, Missouri. It was not until more than a half-century later that he returned to Panama, on the occasion of an Interamerican Society of Psychology Congress, where he gave his presidential address. His father died at the age of 39 from a cardiac condition (now, but not then, treatable by surgery). He was 15 at the time. His mother and her three sons moved to Columbia, Missouri (where the State University is located), to take a position as manager of the Episcopalian Student Center, which provided a home for the family at a most difficult time. He always felt he owed his mother a lot, including the opportunity to attend university. His two younger brothers predeceased him. By a previous marriage to Louise Darby, he has a step-son, David Malmo, and a daughter, Marjorie Malmo Porter. His wife, Helen, whom he married in 1966, survives him.

At the University of Missouri he enrolled in the School of Business and Public Administration, but became more interested in economic theory than in the practical aspects of business. On a visit to St. Louis, in his sophomore year, he was introduced to the psychologist, Hyman Meltzer, at Washington University who, in a vocation oriented interview, asked him if he had taken any psychology courses, which he had not. By the time he had taken two psychology courses with John A. McGeoch his interest had shifted. Later it was McGeochÕs invitation in his senior year to accept a graduate assistantship that brought him full-time into psychology. He obtained his B.A. (1935), his M.A. (1937) from the University of Missouri, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. He obtained his Ph.D. (1940) from Yale University. He was awarded an honorary LL.D. from the University of Manitoba in 1970, the Twentieth Anniversary of the International Organization of Psychophysiology Award in 2002, the Citation of Merit from the University of Missouri in 1969, and the Centennial Medal of Canada in 1967.

At Yale he studied frontal lobe functions in monkeys, and also studied residual vision in rhesus monkeys after striate cortex ablation. In his paper: Malmo, R.B., 1942. Interference factors in delayed response in monkeys after removal of frontal lobes. Journal of Neurophysiology, 5, 295-308, his discovery that monkeys with bilateral removal of the frontal association areas succeeded in delayed response performance when darkness was maintained (but failed when a bright light was turned on in the delay interval), necessitated the revision of previous hypotheses concerning the functions of the frontal association areas. After his Ph.D. in neuropsychology at Yale, he took an internship in Clinical Psychology at the Norwich Connecticut State Hospital, passed the Connecticut State Civil Service examinations in clinical psychology, and subsequently received a diploma in clinical psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology. In 1944 he did war-time research at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, as part of an Aviation Medical Team.

Recommended by Dr. Wilder Penfield, Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute, to Dr. D. Ewen Cameron, Director of the Allan Memorial Institute, Robert Malmo left N.I.H. and came to Montreal in 1945 to establish the first psychological testing service for the Royal Victoria Hospital, and established the Laboratory for Psychological Studies (later the Neuropsychology Laboratory), for research and for training students and residents. He had joint appointments in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, McGill University, appointment as Medical Scientist, Royal Victoria Hospital, continued his intellectual pursuits until his death, had a major publication of 65 pages in the International Journal of Psychophysiology in 2000 (Malmo, R.B., Malmo, H.P. On electromyographic (EMG) gradients and movement-related brain activity: significance for motor control, cognitive functions, and certain psychopathologies. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 38, 145-209), and finished writing his Keynote Address for the 11th World Congress of Psychophysiology three days before his death. An adaptation of his Keynote Address is in press: Malmo, R.B., Malmo, H.P., Ditto, B. (2003). On reversible deafness, generalized anxiety disorder, and the motoric brain: a psychophysiological perspective. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 17 pages.

His research career spanned more than sixty years with major contributions in experimental and comparative psychology, neuropsychology, neuropsychophysiology, and psychophysiology. Soon after his arrival in Montreal, he undertook the assessment of patients who had already undergone gyrectomies, did the pre- and post-operative assessments of five patients who underwent gyrectomies after his arrival, and concluded that, on the whole, psychological test results were indicative of cognitive deficits following surgery. He presented enough findings of impairment in his paper: Malmo, R.B., 1947. Psychological aspects of frontal gyrectomy and frontal lobotomy in mental patients. Research Publications, Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Disease, 27, 537- 564, and in his paper with Abram Amsel: Malmo, R.B., Amsel, A., 1948. Anxiety produced interference in serial rote learning, with observations on rote learning after partial frontal lobectomy. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 440-454, to raise doubts about any benefits that might be attributed to psychosurgery for A.M.I. patients. One of his suggestions, based on the results of his earlier research with monkeys, was that frontal lobe removal increased associative interference causing impaired memory. He considered his findings of extreme importance in the decision of Dr. D. Ewen Cameron (first Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, McGill University, and Director of the Allan Memorial Institute, 1943-1964) to terminate this surgical intervention for psychiatric patients at the A.M.I.

In the early years his laboratory developed electromyography to the point where it became extremely useful in the study of clinical conditions such as anxiety disorders (for which he received credit for doing the seminal electromyographic research on clinical anxiety), hysterical conversion, and schizophrenia, as well as in the dynamics of interpersonal verbal interactions. Very important was the discovery of EMG gradients, which he found to be an extremely pervasive phenomenon. His extensive EMG findings provided convincing support for the principle that the brain is strongly motoric. His book: Malmo, R.B., 1975. On Emotions, Needs, and Our Archaic Brain, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. was based, to a large extent, on his research over a thirty-year period at the Allan Memorial Institute

His chief interest in motivation and the brain, emerging from psychophysiological observations of human subjects, needed to be followed up with research on animals. In the late 1950s he had secured enough grant money to enable him to set up animal research laboratories. Hence his research in later years (in collaboration with his wife, Helen) focussed on brain recording work with the awake, behaving animal in the study of a basic need system where thirst appeared to be the strongest candidate. Simultaneous recordings of multiple unit activity (MUA) and of head and body movement revealed striking movement-related brain activity in the dorsal midbrain. A much more impressive indication of motor predominance in the brain was revealed by finding highly significant movement- related neuronal activity in the lateral preoptic area, which is so far removed from the motor system. These exciting findings suggested an organizing principle for the need system, which is motoric. By means of brain-recording studies the dorsal midbrain was identified as being an integral part of the neural circuitry for thirst-related behavior. Later data from lesioning this area amply confirmed this finding when long-lasting (even permanent) adipsia was produced in animals, which was proved not to be due to low arousal.

As he approached retirement age he depended less and less on graduate students to generate data in his laboratory, although throughout his career he kept his hand in laboratory work. By the time he went on pension he and his wife Helen worked together more closely as they became a team. He regarded her a talented neuroethologist, and the brain-recording from awake freely-moving animals was her work. In addition to this, they often worked together in the lab on neurophysiological experiments with anesthetized animals. His motivation to continue working beyond retirement age was his belief that life is much more interesting and fulfilling when one is striving toward important goals.

One hundred and one publications in the form of journal articles, and book chapters, in addition to his book, were published over the years. Included in these publications were a total of five chapters which appeared in the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry in editions 1, 2, 3, and 4. There were also 77 articles by students and/or staff members (including 6 by H.P. Malmo) for which he declined co-authorship. Malmo, R.B. 1959. Activation: A neuropsychological dimension. Psychological Review, 66, 367-386 was identified as a Citation Classic in Life Sciences by the Institute for Scientific Information.

In an article by Walter Kirsch and John T. Cacioppo entitled "Introduction to the 100th anniversary of the Psychological Review, published in the Psychological Review, 1994, 101, 195-199, it was stated that R.B. Malmo's 1959 paper (above cited) was one of the 20 most frequently cited articles from the Psychological Review during the period 1945-1992. He was a member of numerous scientific organizations, was elected to membership in several, and served on many committees too numerous to mention. He was a Past-President, and an Honorary Past-President of the Canadian Psychological Association, Past-President of the Quebec Psychological Association, and Past-President of the Interamerican Society of Psychology.