Colleagues Remember Dr. Thomas Bower, Child Development Pioneer
Dr. Thomas Bower
Dr. Thomas G. R. Bower, Founders Professor of Human Development Emeritus in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, passed away on Aug. 26. He was 72 years old.
As a pioneer in child development, Bower focused on infancy and its relationship to perception, cognition, motor skills and learning. His research challenged predominant beliefs in the 1960s that infants were completely unaware, helping demonstrate that they mentally organize their worlds similarly to adults.
“Dr. Bower was a seminal figure in the field of infant cognitive development,” said BBS assistant professor Dr. Noah Sasson, who recalls studying Bower’s work in graduate school. “Anyone who has studied this field has invariably encountered his work, or at the very least has felt his influence upon it. Dr. Bower pioneered creative methods for assessing the perceptual and cognitive capacities of young infants to determine what they understood about the physical world.”
Sasson also said that Bower’s work in the 1960s and ’70s was critical for challenging the prevailing assumption that infants are passive observers of the world. He expanded upon Jean Piaget’s theories to demonstrate that babies are actively engaging with and learning about the world around them. Many of his experiments also showed that Piaget may have underestimated the cognitive abilities of infants.
Preserving the relevant ideas of past theories was important to Bower. To avoid reinventing the wheel several times over, he encouraged incorporating information into new theories.
“Tom Bower was one of the pioneers in understanding the inner world and repertoire of infants. His creative techniques and insights were important building blocks for our current understanding of infant development.”
“Thomas Bower had a unique and brilliant mind that was able to look at research questions in exceedingly innovative ways,” said Dr. Michelle Aldridge, Bower’s colleague and former spouse. “He encouraged and pushed all of us who knew him to think big and aim high. I am not alone when I say he influenced my life and mind in ways that cannot be easily described or measured.”
Bower wrote or contributed to more than 85 books and articles on child development, including “The Rational Infant: Learning in Infancy,” which was published in 1989.
The University benefited from Bower’s service for more than two decades — from 1988 until 2011, when he became a professor emeritus. His career also included positions at Harvard University, Edinburgh University, Piaget Institute, Stanford University, Brussels University and École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in France.
“Tom Bower was one of the pioneers in understanding the inner world and repertoire of infants. His creative techniques and insights were important building blocks for our current understanding of infant development,” said Dr. Bert Moore, dean of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “Tom was also an important figure in our own developmental psychology program. The weight of his teachings can still be seen in our research labs and clinical services.”
Bower received his master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1963 and his doctoral degree from Cornell University in 1965.
Bower is survived by four children: Nicholas Bower, Elanor McGarry, Clio Gorman and Penelope Bower.
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