James Townsend

James Townsend

Distinguished Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Rudy Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences


  • Ph.D., Stanford, 1966

Research interests

Interests include the development of general mathematical approaches to human information processing, cognitive psychology including visual pattern recognition, memory scanning, decision theory, and human factors.

Some specific research topics:

Mathematical models and experimentation in pattern (e.g., letter) and face recognition, and visual display and memory search.

Mathematical investigations of the testability of issues in information processing, such as parallel vs. serial processing.

Human decision making from an approach based on psychologically oriented stochastic process theories.

Dynamics and process models in clinical phenomena.

Professional Experience

  • Editor Emeritus, Journal of Mathematical Psychology
  • Past member, Executive Board, Society for Mathematical Psychology
  • Past president, Society for Mathematical Psychology
  • Society for Experimental Psychologists


  • Visiting Associate Professor Award, Mathematical Psychology Labs, Rockefeller University, 1972-1973
  • Senior Scientist Fellowship, Braunschweig University, West Germany, awarded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, 1976-1977
  • Visiting Scholar Award, University of California at Irvine, 1981-1982
  • Visiting Professorship Award, Stanford University, Winter and Spring, 1986
  • James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical Award, 1992-1993
  • American Council of Learned Societies and DAAD German-American Collaborative Research Award, 1992-1993
  • Winner, Society for Computers in Psychology/Erlbaum Distinguished Presentation Award, 1991
  • Distinguished Scholar, School of Natural Sciences, California State University, Fresno, 1995

Representative publications

Decision field theory: a dynamic-cognitive approach to decision making in an uncertain environment.(1993)
Jerome R Busemeyer and James T Townsend
Psychological review, 100 (3), 432

Stochastic modeling of elementary psychological processes.(1983)
James T Townsend and F Gregory Ashby
CUP Archive.

Varieties of perceptual independence.(1986)
F Gregory Ashby and James T Townsend
Psychological review, 93 (2), 154

Multialternative decision field theory: A dynamic connectionst model of decision making.(2001)
Robert M Roe, Jermone R Busemeyer and James T Townsend
Psychological review, 108 (2), 370

Serial vs. parallel processing: Sometimes they look like Tweedledum and Tweedledee but they can (and should) be distinguished.(1990)
James T Townsend
Psychological Science, 1 (1), 46-54

Spatio-temporal properties of elementary perception: An investigation of parallel, serial, and coactive theories.(1995)
James T Townsend and Georgie Nozawa
Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 39 (4), 321-359

Quantum dynamics of human decision-making.(2006)
Jerome R Busemeyer, Zheng Wang and James T Townsend
Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 50 (3), 220-241

A note on the identifiability of parallel and serial processes.(1971)
James T Townsend
Perception & Psychophysics, 10 (3), 161-163

Theoretical analysis of an alphabetic confusion matrix.(1971)
James T Townsend
Perception & Psychophysics, 9 (1), 40-50

Methods of modeling capacity in simple processing systems.(2014)
James T Townsend and F Gregory Ashby
Psychology Press. 211-252

Issues and models concerning the processing of a finite number of inputs.(1974)
JAMES T Townsend
Human information processing: Tutorials in performance and cognition, 133-168

A theory of interactive parallel processing: new capacity measures and predictions for a response time inequality series.(2004)
James T Townsend and Michael J Wenger
Psychological review, 111 (4), 1003

Measurement scales and statistics: The misconception misconceived.(1984)
James T Townsend and F Gregory Ashby
American Psychological Association. 96 (2), 394

Uncovering mental processes with factorial experiments.(1984)
James T Townsend
Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 28 (4), 363-400

Human information processing: Tutorials in performance and cognition.(1974)
RW Pew, SE Poltrock, EB Hunt, KT Spoehr, EE Smith, MR Jones ...
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, Hillsdale, NJ.

Dissertation Committee Service

Author Dissertation Title Committee
Ase Helene Kvist Innes-Ker Gestal Perception of Emotional Expressions (May 2003) Townsend, J. T. (Co-Chair), Niedenthal, P. M. (Co-Chair), Hirt, E., Scout, J. C.
Bergert, Franklin Bryan Using Response Time to Distinguish Between Lexicographic and Linear Models of Decision Making (January 2008) Nosofsky, R. (Chair), Kruschke, J., Todd, P., Townsend, J.
Blaha, Leslie A Dynamic Hebbian-style Model of Configural Learning (December 2010) Townsend, J. (Co-Chair), Busey, T. (Co-Chair), Gold, J,. Trosset, M.
Carroll, Christine Temporal Processing in Schizophrenia: An Integrative Study of Behavioral Judgment, Motor Execution, and Quantitative Modeling (December 2007) Kruschke, K., O’Donnell, B., Sporns, O. (Co-Chair), Townsend, J., Hetrick, W (Co-Chair)
Chadderdon III, George L A Neurocomputational Model of the Functional Role of Dopamine in Stimulus Response Task Learning And Performance (March 2009) Sporns, O. (Chair), Brown, J., Townsend, J., Todd, P.
Fific, Mario Emerging holistic properties at face value: assessing Characteristics of face perception (January 2006) Townsend, J. (Chair), Busemeyer, J., Maki, D., Shiffrin, R.
Honey, Christopher Fluctuations & Flows in Large-Scale Brain Networks (April 2009) Townsend, J,. Goldstone, R. (Co-Chair), Beggs, J., Sporns, O. (Co-Chair)
Houpt, Joseph Statistical Measures for the Double Factorial Paradigm (April 2012) Townsend, J. (Co-chair), Busemeyer, J., Kruschke, J. (Co-chair), Huang, C.
Huber, D. E. Perception And Preference in Short-Term Word Priming (January 2000) Shiffrin, R. M. (Co-Chair), Townsend, J. T. (Co-Chair), Carraghty, P. E., Busey, T.
Johnson, J. G. A Computational Modeling Account of Robust Preference Reversal Phenomena (December 2004) Busemeyer, J. (Co-Chair), Townsend, J. (Co-Chair), Sherman, S. J., Winston, W. L.
Kieffaber, Paul Components of Attentional Control in Schizophrenia (June 2006) Hetrick, W. (Co-Chair), O’Donnell, B., Kruschke, J. (Co-Chair), Sporns, O., Townsend, J.
Silbert, Noah Integration of Phonological Information in Obstruent Consonant Identification (May 2010) de Jong, K. (Co-Chair), Townsend, J. (Co-Chair), Lentz, J., Pisoni, D.
Trueblood, Jennifer An Investigation of Context Effects in Multi-Alternative Choice Behavior Through Experimentation and Cognitive Modeling (June 2012) Busemeyer, J. (Chair), Kruschke, J., Shiffrin, R., Townsend, J.
Vigo, Ronaldo Mathematical Principles of Boolean Concept Learning (May 2008) Allen, C. (Co-Chair), Kruschke, J. (Co-Chair), Goldstone, R., Nosofsky, R., Townsend, J.
Wang, P. Non-Axiomatic Reasoning System - Exploring the Essence of Intelligence (August 1995) Hofstadter, D. (Chair), Townsend, J. T., Rawlins, G. J. E., Leake, D. B.
Wild, Heather Applying Signal Detection Theory to Evoked Response Potentials For Understanding Mechanisms of Bias and Sensitivity in Face Detection Tasks (September 2006) Busey, T. (Co-Chair), Candy, R., Gold, J., Townsend, J. (Co-Chair)