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JOSEPH C. STEVENS

Obituary
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STEVENS--Joseph C., a prominent experimental psychologist and longtime member of the Yale University faculty, died unexpectedly but peacefully on February 7, 2014, at his home in New Haven, CT. He was 84. Dr. Stevens was widely known for his work investigating human sensory perception using principles of psychophysics. Psychophysics refers to methods for quantifying what a person can perceive through the senses, such as the smallest noticeable concentration of an odor or the physical intensity of a sound perceived to be louder than another. Dr. Stevens was born on February 28, 1929 in Grand Rapids, MI, and graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids with an A.B. in Biology in 1951. He began his graduate studies at Michigan State University, earning an M.A. in psychology in 1953, and continued them at Harvard University, where he worked under the supervision of S.S. Stevens (not a relation), a founder of modern psychophysics. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1957, and then continued at Harvard as an instructor and assistant professor of psychology until 1966, when he joined the John B. Pierce Laboratory, an independent research institute in New Haven affiliated with Yale University. Dr. Stevens was appointed as fellow at the Pierce Laboratory and as research associate (later, senior research scientist) and lecturer in psychology at Yale. At the Pierce Laboratory, he established its psychology-psychophysics group, which expanded under his leadership to six faculty scientists plus numerous supporting scientists, staff and students. The group quickly became recognized as a world-class center for research on human sensory processes, publishing, over a period of three decades, more than 500 articles, books, and other scientific and scholarly works. Notable among Dr. Stevens's many scientific findings was evidence of how aging blunts sensory perception, especially in touch, taste, and smell. Dr. Stevens found, for example, that many elderly individuals cannot detect the odor-warning agent added to natural gas. For his work on aging in smell and taste, Dr. Stevens received a special Merit Award Grant from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health. In addition to these scientific activities, Dr. Stevens taught and mentored scores of students at Yale. Dr. Stevens led an active life in New Haven surrounded by many friends and coworkers. Shortly after joining the faculty at Yale, he became a fellow of its Jonathan Edwards College, where for two decades he lived as a resident fellow. He is remembered for his loyalty to the college and for reaching out to its undergraduate students and counseling them. He was also a devout member of Christ Church, New Haven, and enjoyed the Yale Repertory Theater, the Yale Cabaret, good restaurants, classical music and Shakespeare's plays. An avid bike rider who also enjoyed hiking and skiing, he nevertheless donated considerable time to many causes, actively helping others. He was also devoted to his large extended family. He was one of six siblings, who included the late Joan Stevens VanderPloeg, Esther Stevens Wisse and Henry Ghysels Stevens. He is survived by two sisters, Miriam Stevens Loomis of East Lansing, MI, and Judith Stevens Hooker, and her husband, Robert L. Hooker, of East Grand Rapids MI, as well as fifteen nieces and nephews and 35 great-nieces and nephews. They, as well as his colleagues and friends, will miss his warmth, his kindness and his generosity of spirit. Memorial Services will be held at Christ Church (Episcopal) in New Haven on April 5 at 11:00am and in Grand Rapids at a later date. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven or Calvin College.

Published in The New York Times on Feb. 16, 2014
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