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Benjamin Kleinmuntz (1930 –2006)

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The following is extracted from a profile in the current American Psychologist written by Josh Klayman and Don Kleinmuntz: Klayman, J., & Kleinmuntz, D. N. (2007). Benjamin Kleinmuntz (1930 –2006). American Psychologist, 62(7), 698. (My father sent this my way. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I always thought of Ben Kleinmuntz as the dad of the family who lived across Forbes Avenue from us. As I moved into this field, his methods inspired mine, but before reading this profile, I did not appreciate just how central he was in shaping the field – Ed.)

In the 1960s, the idea that clinical judgments should be aided, or even replaced, by computerized algorithms was quite radical. Computerized interpretation of standardized tests is accepted now, although its role remains controversial. Benjamin Kleinmuntz was a pioneer in the study of computers in clinical reasoning and a founder of the field of judgment and decision research. He passed away at his home in Wilmette, Illinois, on June 28, 2006, at the age of 76.Ben was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1930 and, as a child, fled Nazi Germany with his family, settling in Brooklyn. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1952 with a major in literature and was then drafted into the U.S. Army. Luckily for Ben, the Army decided that this college-educated native German speaker would best serve with a NATO intelligence unit located in a French chateau rather than on a Korean battlefield…

Ben’s early research concerned statistical methods for identifying psychopathologies and interpreting personality profiles. Frustrated in his initial attempts to secure a faculty position, he accepted a clinical position in the University of Nebraska counseling center. A year later he moved to the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), because the position included a part-time appointment in the Department of Psychology. There Ben met Allen Newell and Herbert Simon and found their work with computer simulations of problem solving and information processing to be very compatible with his own interests and inclinations.

Ben then focused on investigating the use of computers in clinical diagnosis. In 1963, he published an article in Science that demonstrated the superiority of computerized personality test interpretation, an idea that was distinctly cutting-edge at the time. He soon became a full-time faculty member in psychology and was promoted to full professor in 1967. With Newell and Simon, he organized the first three Carnegie Symposia on Cognition, an annual series that continues today. He edited three books of influential papers from those symposia. The third volume, Formal Representation of Human Judgment (1968), was particularly important to the field of judgment and decision-making research, anticipating many of the developments that launched that field in the 1970s….

In Chicago, Ben renewed his friendship with Hillel Einhorn, whom he first met when Einhorn visited Carnegie- Mellon in 1971. Einhorn had established the Center for Decision Research (CDR) at the University of Chicago. Ben encouraged his eldest son Don to work at the CDR and to join the doctoral program there. Don, Ben, and Hilly collaborated on a 1979 Psychological Review article, “Process Tracing and Regression Models of Judgment,” which integrated cognitive characterizations of decision processes a la Newell and Simon with statistical models of decision making in the tradition of Meehl. To Ben’s delight, he and Don eventually published three more papers together, and Don continued the family business in decision research and its applications.

During the 1980s, Ben (with his student, Julian Szucko) investigated polygraphic lie detection and became an outspoken critic of the method. In 1990, Ben published another article, “Why We Still Use Our Heads Instead of Formulas: Toward an Integrative Approach” (Psychological Bulletin), which synthesized the extensive research literature on statistical and intuitive judgment. Many of its themes remain central in judgment and decision research. As his friend and colleague Zur Shapira remarked, “The beauty of his work stems, among other things, from his effort to not criticize intuition, as many of his colleagues did and do, but rather to integrate it with formal approaches…”.