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Joseph Brady: Father of Behavioral Pharmacology

News from the Johns Hopkins Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Joseph Brady
Joseph Brady, Ph.D.

At the end of World War II, an Army major buttonholed Joseph Brady: “Quick! A major general on the second floor needs a Rorschach right away!” Brady, a lieutenant in the infantry, knew diddly about such tests, but also knew not to refuse. He went to the hospital library, crammed, and then administered the first of some 500 Rorschachs he’d give in the next few years.

In coming decades, Brady’s insightfulness, and that same pluck, led to seminal work on the effects of psychoactive drugs on physiology and behavior. It prompted his founding Psychiatry’s Division of Behavioral Biology. And it let his peers, years later, dub him the father of behavioral pharmacology.

As his first experiment—part of his doctoral work—Brady repeated a B.F. Skinner study on conditioned anxiety. “We built some rat boxes and had the animals pressing a lever for sugar water” as a normal behavior baseline. Soon they learned to associate a noise with an imminent, small shock. But Brady recognized the lever-pushing—which stopped when rats were “anxious”—as potentially useful: “It could be a very good model of psychiatric illness expressed as a change in a person’s rate of performance.”

That primed him for studies in the 1950s that created the first animal models of self- administering drugs. “The prevailing view of drug abuse was that people were driven into this terrible life style. Now, all of a sudden, we had monkeys pressing levers to obtain a drug.” The new ability to quantify addiction, to recognize it as biology gone astray, became a platform for today’s therapies.

Find other Hopkins Newsletter articles from past issues.