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William Banks, Pomona's Edwin F. and Margaret Hahn Professor of Psychology, Has Died

Professor William Banks in 2004

Professor Banks in 2004

Professor William Banks in 1974

Professor Banks in 1974

The memorial service for William Banks was held on Saturday, May 7, at 3 p.m. in Bridges Hall of Music. A reception followed the service. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Scleroderma Foundation.

You may also send your thoughts and memories of Professor Banks to and we will post it on our Personal Tributes page.

William “Bill” Banks, the Edwin F. and Margaret Hahn Professor of Psychology and a member of the Pomona College faculty for 42 years, died in Los Angeles on April 25, 2011. The cause was scleroderma.

As a professor and mentor at Pomona, Banks influenced hundreds of lives. He arrived at Pomona College in 1969, soon after earning his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, and quickly became a popular professor, known for his quirky sense of humor, his colorful class demonstrations of cognitive phenomena and his dedication to his students. His courses included Perception and Cognition, the Psychology of Evil, Seminar in Consciousness and Cognition and, since 1986, Intermediate Aerobics. He also taught first-year seminars that drew so many students that it was difficult to accommodate them all.

In 1978 and again in 2002, Banks received the Pomona College Wig Distinguished Professorship Award, the highest honor bestowed on faculty. On receiving the second award, Banks likened his teaching style to a form of show business, making his lectures enjoyable and hands-on to encourage his students to “think, talk and create.” He served as chair of the Psychology Department from 1977 to 1990 and again from 2001 to 2004.

In his research, Banks investigated the nature of human perception and the role of consciousness in cognition. His research publications helped launch the field of the scientific study of consciousness, which has become a burgeoning research area in cognitive science.

Among his many professional achievements, Banks is considered a founding father of the field of consciousness and cognition. He was a founding co-editor of the journal Consciousness and Cognition in 1990, serving as editor-in-chief since 2005. He was also editor-in-chief of the Elsevier Encyclopedia of Consciousness. A founding member of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness in 1994, he served as the main organizer of the ASSC’s first conference, which was so successful that it is considered to have firmly launched both the organization and the field. The conference is now in its 15th year and rotates between North America, Asia and Europe.

Among his broad research interests, Banks investigated cultural variables in cognition. One study focused on the differences between Western and Confucian-influenced societies in areas such as determining blame for actions and defining personal boundaries. He was particularly interested in why people can do evil to others, examining events such as the Nazi holocaust, the massacres in Rwanda and ethnic cleansings in areas ranging from the American West to Yugoslavia.

Banks has authored more than 100 research articles and served as an editor for several professional journals. His work has been supported by the Fetzer Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Irvine Foundation, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute for Mental Health, the National Science Foundation and the Sloan Foundation.

Originally from Clifton, Virginia, Banks earned his B.A., cum laude, from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, and later earned both his M.A. and Ph.D, from Johns Hopkins University.

Banks is survived by his children Abigail Banks, Joshua Banks, Sophie Banks and Olivia Banks, and his sister Betsy Ryland.