Kenneth Craik

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13 Abercromby Place, Edinburgh
The grave of Kenneth Craik, Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh

Dr Kenneth James William Craik (K.J.W. Craik) (1914–1945) was a philosopher and psychologist.


He was born in Edinburgh on 29 March 1914, the son of James Craik a solicitor. The family lived at 13 Abercromby Place in Edinburgh's Second New Town.[1] He was educated at Edinburgh Academy then studied philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.[2] He received his doctorate from Cambridge University in 1940. He then had a fellowship to St John's College, Cambridge in 1941, and was appointed to be the first director of the Medical Research Council's Cambridge-based Applied Psychology Unit in 1944.

During the Second World War he served in the fire-fighting sections of the Civil Defence. Together with Gordon Butler Iles he made major advances on flight simulators for the RAF and did major studies on the effects of fatigue on pilots.[3]

He died at the age of 31 following an accident, where a car struck his bicycle on the Kings Parade in Cambridge on the 7 May 1945. He died in hospital on the following day: V E Day.[citation needed] He is buried in the northern section of Dean Cemetery. His parents Marie Sylvia Craik and James Craik WS were later buried with him.

The Kenneth Craik Club (an interdisciplinary seminar series in the fields of sensory science and neurobiology) and the Craik-Marshal Building in Cambridge are named in tribute to Craik.


In 1943 he wrote The Nature of Explanation.[4] In this book he first laid the foundation for the concept of mental models,[5][6] that the mind forms models of reality and uses them to predict similar future events. He was thus one of the earliest practitioners of cognitive science.

In 1947 and 1948 his two-part paper on the "Theory of Human Operators in Control Systems" was published posthumously by the British Journal of Psychology.[7][8] An anthology of Craik's writings, edited by Stephen L. Sherwood, was published in 1966 as The Nature of Psychology: A Selection of Papers, Essays and Other Writings by Kenneth J. W. Craik.[9]



BMJ editors (26 May 1945). "Dr. Kenneth James William Craik [Obituary]". The British Medical Journal. 1 (4403): 752–753. PMC 2057427Freely accessible. 

Bartlett, F. C. (16 June 1945). "Dr. K. J. W. Craik [Obituary]". Nature. 155 (3946): 720. doi:10.1038/155720a0. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 

Bartlett, F. C. (May 1946). "Kenneth J.W. Craik, 1914 – 1945 [Obituary]". British Journal of Psychology. General Section. 36 (3): 109–116. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1946.tb01113.x. Retrieved 17 July 2014. . The most substantial biographical source to date, first published in the St. John's College (Cambridge, UK) The Eagle (March 1945) and included in S.L. Sherwood's 1966 edition of Craik's writings, The Nature of Psychology.

Bartlett, Sir Frederic (October 1951). "The Bearing of Experimental Psychology upon Human Skilled Performance" (PDF). British Journal of Industrial Medicine. 8 (4): 209–17. PMC 1037340Freely accessible. PMID 14878955. doi:10.1136/oem.8.4.209. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 

Collins, Alan F. (September 2012). "An Asymmetric Relationship: The Spirit of Kenneth Craik and the Work of Warren McCulloch". Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 37 (3): 254–268. doi:10.1179/0308018812Z.00000000020. 

Collins, Alan F. (May 2013). "The reputation of Kenneth James William Craik". History of Psychology. 16 (2): 93–111. PMID 23527535. doi:10.1037/a0031678. 

Craik, K. J. W. (January 1939). "The effect of adaptation upon visual acuity". British Journal of Psychology. General Section. 29 (3): 252–266. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1939.tb00917.x. 

Craik, K. J. W.; Zangwill, O. L. (October 1939). "Observations relating to the threshold of a small figure within the contour of a closed-lined figure". British Journal of Psychology. General Section. 30 (2): 139–150. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1939.tb00948.x. 

Craik, K. J. W.; Vernon, M. D. (July 1941). "The nature of dark adaptation". British Journal of Psychology. General Section. 32 (1): 62–81. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1941.tb01010.x. 

Craik, K. J. W.; Vernon, M. D. (January 1942). "Perception during dark adaptation". British Journal of Psychology. General Section. 32 (3): 206–230. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1942.tb01021.x. 

Craik, Kenneth J. W. (1943). The Nature of Explanation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521094450. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 

Craik, Kenneth J. W. (December 1947). "Theory of the human operator in control systems. I: The operator as an engineering system". British Journal of Psychology. General Section. 38 (2): 56–61. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1947.tb01141.x. 

Craik, Kenneth J. W. (March 1948). "Theory of the human operator in control systems. II: Man as an element in a control system". British Journal of Psychology. General Section. 38 (3): 142–148. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1948.tb01149.x. 

Craik, Kenneth J. W. (1966). Sherwood, Stephen L., ed. The Nature of Psychology: A Selection of Papers, Essays and Other Writings by Kenneth J. W. Craik. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521134804. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 

Gregory, Richard L. (2001). "Adventures of a Maverick". In Bunn, Geoff; Lovie, A. D.; Richards, G. Psychology in Britain: Historical Essays and Personal Reflections. Leicester, UK: British Psychological Society. pp. 381–392. ISBN 978-1-85433-332-2. Archived (PDF) from the original on 20 September 2013. Retrieved 18 July 2014. . See especially section entitled "Cambridge and the influence of Kenneth Craik's engineering ideas" (pp. 382–383 of book; pp. 2–4 of author's self-archived PDF).

Hayward, Rhodri (2001). "'Our Friends Electric': Mechanical Models of Mind in post-war Britain". In Bunn, Geoff; Lovie, A. D.; Richards, G. Psychology in Britain: Historical Essays and Personal Reflections. Leicester, UK: British Psychological Society. pp. 290–308. ISBN 978-1-85433-332-2. . See especially pp. 295–299 for an extended analysis of Craik, with many quotes and references.

Hayward, Rhodri (December 2001). "Kenneth Craik (1914–1945)" (PDF). The Psychologist. 14 (12): 631. ISSN 0952-8229. .

Husbands, Phil; Holland, Owen (September 2012). "Warren McCulloch and the British Cyberneticians" (PDF). Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 37 (3): 237–253. doi:10.1179/0308018812Z.00000000019. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 

Nersessian, Nancy J. (1992). "In the Theoretician's Laboratory: Thought Experimenting as Mental Modeling" (PDF). PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association. 1992: 291–301. doi:10.1086/psaprocbienmeetp.1992.2.192843. Retrieved 17 July 2014. The contemporary notion that mental modelling plays a significant role in human reasoning was formulated, initially, by Kenneth Craik in 1943. 

Reynolds, L. A.; Tansey, E. M., eds. (2003). The MRC Applied Psychology Unit. Wellcome Witnesses to Twentieth Century Medicine. 16. London: Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL. ISBN 978-085484-088-5. OL 25422751M. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 

Staggers, Nancy; Norcio, A.F. (1993). "Mental models: concepts for human-computer interaction research" (PDF). International Journal of Man-Machine Studies. 38 (4): 587–605. doi:10.1006/imms.1993.1028. Retrieved 17 July 2014. Although Johnson-Laird (1989) is generally credited with coining the term mental model, the history of the concept may be traced to Craik's (1943) work entitled The Nature of Explanation. 

Zangwill, O. L. (February 1980). "Kenneth Craik: The man and his work". British Journal of Psychology. 71 (1): 1–16. PMID 6988028. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.1980.tb02723.x. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 

Zangwill, O. L. (2004). "Craik, Kenneth James William". In Gregory, Richard L. The Oxford Companion to the Mind (second ed.). Oxford; New York:: Oxford University Press. pp. 224–225. ISBN 978-0-19-866224-2. . Entry reprinted verbatim from first edition (1987), pp. 169–170: ISBN 0-19-866124-X

External links[edit]

  • "Ten things you might not know about psychology". The British Psychological Society. Archived from the original on 7 October 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 6. Research by British psychologists on aircraft cockpit design has led to a reduction in air accidents (Craik, 1940). 
  • Strangeways, Simon (22 January 2013). "Historic overview:Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit". Cambridge, UK: Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. Archived from the original on 17 July 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2014. Kenneth Craik, the [Applied Psychology] Unit's first director, was a pioneer in the use of computation as a theoretical model for human information processing, developing what was probably the very first computational model of skill and applying it to the wartime task of gun-aiming.