History of the Australasian Society for Experimental Psychology (ASEP)



The ASEP had its beginnings in an earlier and more informal organization, the Canberra Symposia in Perception, formed in the late 1950s following a series of papers presented at an annual conference of The British Psychological Society, Australian Branch, in Melbourne in 1958. Three members of the Society, Gavin Seagrim, Bob Pollack, and Ross Day coincidently presented their recent research on visual spatial after-effects to a disappointingly sparse audience. They arrived at the view that a forum to discuss and exchange ideas among themselves, their graduate students, and others with an interest in perception and related problems was desirable.  They therefore decided to meet again the following year in Canberra and to invite others to join them. Gavin Seagrim arranged the first meeting at the then University College, Canberra in May 1959. The meeting which was attended by a dozen or so research personnel and graduate students proved both stimulating and helpful. Thereafter meetings were held annually over the next twelve years rotating between Sydney, Canberra, and Melbourne with good attendances by psychologists, optometrists, and physiologists. Slowly and, with hindsight, inevitably, the boundaries of what was acceptable became more fluid and papers in the areas of learning, cognition, and neuroscience were also offered and accepted. Toward the end of the 1960s interest and attendances began to decline due mainly to the formation of other specialist groups, particularly in psycholinguistics, cognitive science, and physiological psychology. Following some poorly organized meetings the symposia petered out.


The demise of the Canberra Symposia left many without a forum to present their research and to exchange ideas. In consequence, from about 1970 there was a good deal of informal discussion in both Sydney and Melbourne concerning the formation of an experimental psychology group. These discussions arose in some part from a perceived failure of the newly formed Australian Psychological Society to provide and foster an appropriate forum for experimental psychology. In the event, the initiative to fill the vacuum was taken by Don McNicol and Ralph Hall of the School of Applied Psychology in The University of New South Wales. In a letter of 18th May, 1973 to appropriate parties in other Departments of Psychology in Australia they pointed out that "some form of organization of experimental psychologists could be established to ensure that conferences get held, people get to hear about them, and people know what topics others are interested in and working on."  The letter went on to point out that “As many experimental psychologists will be at the A.P.S. conference in Sydney in August, we plan to hold a meeting to discuss such a proposal if enough people are interested.”  A well attended meeting was duly held during a lunch break and, following an offer from Ross Day who was invited to chair the meeting, it was agreed that the first Experimental Psychology Conference would be arranged at Monash University in 1974.


Early in March, 1974 a notice announcing the first conference to take place at Monash University during  June  28-30, 1974 was sent to all to all Departments of Psychology in Australia and thirteen other institutions and individuals. The deadline for enrolment and submission of titles was set at May 17. The enrolment fee was $4.00 and the total charge for dinner and three lunches was $5.55! All other costs were borne by the Department of Psychology. Fifty three papers were presented in two parallel streams.


The locations of conferences in the ensuing  years can be found at this link.


Until 1997 the Experimental Psychology Conferences were not guided by or answerable to any central body. Initially, the only formal arrangement was a bank account operated by two members of staff in the Department of Psychology at Monash University. Seeding funds were made available from this account to the committee responsible for arranging the next conference. As attendances and expenses rose the need for more formal governance became evident. In addition, there was view by many who regularly attended the meetings and applied to their institutions for travel and other expenses that it was time to form a registered society. Although this issue had been raised regularly at the concluding business meetings (the item “Formation of an Experimental Psychology Society” was on the business agenda for the inaugural conference in 1974) no action was taken until the conference at Deakin University in June, 1997. On that occasion the decision was made to form and register the Australasian Experimental Psychology Society. The term Australasian was chosen in recognition of the regular attendance and participation of experimental psychologists from New Zealand. Later in 1997 the Society was formally incorporated in Western Australia and from 2006 it has had one Registered Public Officer, Professor David Badcock of the School of Psychology in the University of Western Australia.


This brief historical account was provided by Emeritus Professor Ross Day.


 Ross Day Ross Day (click image for web page)