Beach, Frank Ambrose, Jr.

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(b. Emporia, Kansas, 13 April 1911; d. Berkeley, California, 15 June 1988)

psychology, behavioral endocrinology, animal behavior, ethology.

Beach was a comparative and physiological psychologist of the first order. Along with William C. Young, he was responsible for establishing the field of behavioral endocrinology—the study of hormones and behavior. He has been called the “conscience of comparative psychology” because of his influence in directing those psychologists studying animals toward working on a wide variety of behavioral patterns in a wide variety of species. Further, he worked to establish the study of sexual behavior as a valid, scientific enterprise.

Biographical Information. Frank Beach’s father was a professor and head of the music department at the Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, later Emporia State University. Young Frank, who rarely used the “Jr.,” attended both the Teachers College and Antioch College, receiving his BS degree in education from the former in 1932. Unable to find a job during the Depression, he stayed on to complete an MS degree in psychology with a thesis on the question of color vision in rats. He continued graduate study at the University of Chicago, where he was influenced by such scientists as Harvey Carr, Karl Lashley, Paul Weiss, and C. Judson Herrick. Beach found Lashley’s disciplined, yet nondirective, approach appealing. Financial difficulties led him to leave Chicago for a year to teach high school English at Yates Center, Kansas. On his return to Chicago, he found that Lashley had moved on to Harvard University, but Carr was receptive to a dissertation on the effects of lesions to the cerebral cortex on the maternal behavior of rats. Beach completed his dissertation work in one additional year but a difficulty in completing the requirement in German delayed his PhD degree until 1940.

For 1936 and 1937, Lashley hired him as an assistant in neuropsychology at Harvard, where he studied the effects of brain lesions on copulatory behavior in rats. Beach then moved to the Department of Experimental Biology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Upon the death of his department chair, G. Kingsley Noble, in 1940, Beach took the lead in saving the department from extinction. He became a full curator and renamed his unit the Department of Animal Behavior.

In 1946, Beach moved on to the psychology department at Yale University; he was named a Sterling Professor in 1952. He spent 1957 and 1958 as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He then became a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1958, retiring to the status as professor emeritus twenty years later. He continued active in the field during his retirement.

After a failed first marriage, Beach married Anna Beth Odenweller, a theater student in Chicago, in March 1936. They had two children: Frank A. Beach III, born in 1937, and Susan Elizabeth, born in 1942. Anna Beth died in 1971, and Beach later married Noel Gaustad.

Beach was elected president of the Eastern Psychological Association in 1951, the Western Psychological Association in 1968, the Division of Experimental Psychology of the American Psychological Association in 1949, and the International Academy of Sex Research in 1977. He served as a charter member of the psychobiology panel of the National Science Foundation. In 1955, he joined the National Research Council Committee for the Study of Problems of Sex; he became the committee’s chair two years later. He also served on the Publications Board and Policy and Planning Board of the American Psychological Association, the Advisory Board of the Marine Studios and Marine Research Laboratory in St. Augustine, Florida, and on the Board of Scientific Directions of the Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

He was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences, the latter at the age of 38. Beach received the Warren Medal of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, and honorary doctorates from McGill University, Williams College, and Emporia State University.

The Frank A. Beach Award and Lectureship, designed to reward and encourage young scientists in behavioral endocrinology, was established in 1990. The lectures are published annually in the journal Hormones and Behavior.

Development of Scientific Contributions. Late in life, Beach could not recall how he first got interested in animal research. Because there was no relevant instruction at the Teachers College, he believed that it must have been through reading. As the department could offer neither instruction nor facilities, he had to develop apparatus and techniques on his own. In his research he concluded that rats are color blind.

At Chicago, Lashley’s permissive style allowed Beach the freedom he needed to explore problems of interest to him. Further, Lashley’s areas of primary interest coincided well with Beach's. With Lashley gone when he returned to Chicago, Beach again had to rely on his own skills, and those of fellow students, to complete his dissertation research. In his halcyon year at Harvard, Beach was able to mature his skills under Lashley’s tutorage.

At Harvard, Beach found that cortical lesions led to a loss of copulatory behavior in rats. A colleague there suggested that the deficit might be secondary to damage to the endocrine system. While at the American Museum, Beach audited a course in endocrinology at New York University. This was an important event. Finding that there was little information on endocrinological influences on behavior, Beach decided to gather what information he could find and published his first book, Hormones and Behavior (1948). This was the first comprehensive review of information on this important topic. He began active research on the effects of hormones on mating behavior during this period. His interest in the interaction of hormones and behavior remained with him the rest of his life; he conducted many experiments and wrote many papers. These included a 1975 article on the status of the field and a historical review of the field (1981). In 1979, Beach, along with Julian Davidson and Richard Whalen, founded the field’s first, and foremost, journal, Hormones and Behavior.

Exposure to the biologists at the museum helped to direct Beach’s interest toward an evolutionarily based animal psychology. He became an early supporter of the research of the European ethologists and helped to promote in the United States the ethological approach toward naturally occurring behavioral patterns and their evolutionary significance. He served on the first editorial board of the ethological journal, Behaviour.

In New York and New Haven, Beach began to expand his comparative base. In 1948, having already worked on rats, hamsters, cats, alligators, pigeons, and pouchless marsupials, Marmosa cinera, he instituted a research program on dogs, an emphasis that would occupy him for much of the rest of his career. He further expanded his horizons into human sexuality, collaborating on a 1951 book, Patterns of Sexual Behavior, with anthropologist Clellan S. Ford. The book dealt with both the evolution of mammalian behavior and cultural variations in humans.

The warm climate and sympathetic atmosphere of Berkeley appealed to Beach and he flourished there. He founded the Field Research Station for Behavioral Research there, which allowed him to continue and expand his interest in hormones and social and sexual behavior in dogs. From 1985 into the early 2000s, the facility was used for a major research program on hormones and behavior in spotted hyenas, a program in which Beach participated during his last years.

As his interest in sexual behavior continued to develop, Beach hosted two important conferences in which he brought together scholars from a variety of disciplines in 1961 and 1962. The edited volume Sex and Behavior resulted from these conferences. He was able to facilitate communication among researchers interested in sexual behavior from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. On the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday, former students and postdoctoral fellows held an honorary conference in Berkeley. This event resulted in a sequel, Sex and Behavior: Status and Prospectus.

Having eschewed major teaching commitments during much of his career, Beach increased his undergraduate teaching in his later years. In addition to courses in comparative psychology, he taught an experimentally oriented class in human sexuality. He was so highly regarded that he was awarded the American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in Biopsychology in 1985. As a result of his experience teaching courses in human sexuality, he published yet another book, Human Sexuality in Four Perspectives (1976).

Characteristics of His Work. Beach remained a Midwestern, hard-nosed empiricist throughout his career. His studies were conducted without elaborate equipment or complex mathematical analyses. Following in Lashley’s footsteps, he believed in simple, straightforward experiments that would uncover significant phenomena that would be apparent to the naked eye. By early twenty-first century standards, some of the methodology was a bit crude. Nevertheless, he was able to make some important findings.

As important as were his empirical studies, his integrative articles were even more significant. Beach had a knack for sensing either cutting-edge trends in his field or the need to bring together information that could alter the course of research. He not only wrote timely and insightful articles, but titled them in such a way as to make them stand out and have impact. His contributions in this area are remarkable.

His early integrative papers were reviews of material primarily on the brain mechanisms of reproductive behavior. Beach proposed that both the hormonal milieu and proper stimulus input were essential for the display of mating behavior. He believed that hormones played a greater role in the so-called lower vertebrates than in mammals and in females of most species than in males. He thought that stimuli in the various modalities summed to facilitate the occurrence of sexual activity.

A classic integrative article was his 1950 “The Snark Was a Boojum.” Beach believed that comparative psychology had begun early in the twentieth century as the study of a broad range of behavioral patterns in a wide range of species but had lost this breadth. He presented data to suggest this trend and emphasized his point with a cartoon of a white rat as the Pied Piper of Hamelin leading animal psychologists down an unproductive path. He advocated a return to the earlier breadth. Beach followed this up with “Experimental Investigations of Species-Specific Behavior” (1960), in which he made the case for a decreased emphasis on the study of learning in animal psychology.

In “The Descent of Instinct” (1955), he traced the history of the instinct concept and delineated the difficulties of applying it to animal behavior and discussed the difficulties with the nature-nurture dichotomy. He believed that the development of behavior reflected the interactive influences of both genes and environment. Beach thought that once behavioral patterns had been carefully analyzed, there would be no need for a category such as “instinct.” With Julian Jaynes, he reviewed literature on the effects of early experience on later behavior (1954); in another article (1945), he reviewed the information then available about play in animals.

Under the title “Locks and Beagles” (1969), Beach summarized his research on sexual behavior in dogs, whose copulatory pattern features a lock, or mechanical tie, between male and female. He found sexual behavior in dogs to be less closely tied to hormones than in rats. For example, individual preferences play a key role.

Early in his career, Beach expressed many of the masculine biases typical of his generation. However, as the culture changed, so did he, and he came to welcome and encourage women in his laboratory. He sensed that the study of reproductive behavior in mammals had been biased by a sexist perspective, and he realized that females often took a more active role in sex than had been recognized by many scientists. In a remarkable paper, “Sexual Attractivity, Proceptivity, and Receptivity in Female Mammals” (1976), Beach delineated three aspects of female sexual behavior: their attractiveness to males, their receptivity to sex, and, most importantly, their appetitive component in actively soliciting mating. The latter component referred to this active role and altered the emphasis in the field. The paper opened up the broad nature of sexuality in female mammals to more realistic investigation. Beach was always careful in categorizing behavior into functional classes, such as “sexual” or “aggressive.” The same motor pattern might function in several different motivational contexts. He was equally cautious in generalizing both terminology and results back and forth between humans and other species.

Beach was less successful in “Hormonal Factors Controlling the Differentiation, Development, and Display of Copulatory Behavior in the Ramstergig and Related Species” (1971). This was published as research on the role of early hormones on adult mating patterns was coming into prevalence. The “ramstergig” was a hypothetical species satirically alleged to display characteristics of rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs. The prevailing interpretation, not yet supported by definitive evidence, was that the hormones organized the parts of the nervous system that controlled mating behavior. Although this proved to be largely accurate, and Beach misguided in his critique, his classic paper forced the reevaluation of the research and directed it toward the more satisfactory interpretations. These and other integrative articles both helped to coalesce developing trends and to direct research into productive areas.

Personally, Beach was an extroverted and friendly man; indeed, he has been called earthy. He was equally at home discussing the fine points of the English language and beating students in darts or pool. He was conservative in many ways, but he did not ask his students to follow him. This was especially apparent during the period of political activity on the Berkeley campus during the 1960s. Beach took federal funding reluctantly and preached the importance of responsible spending of such monies. He believed that scientists must communicate their findings in order to justify the work. His background as an English teacher made him both a persuasive author and a tough, but effective, mentor on the writing styles of his students. His style was clear and straightforward. Sachs (1988) wrote that “lively debate was spiced by Frank’s ample wit and rapier-like turns of phrase, which could, with a stroke, deflate pomposity or uncover poor preparation” (p. 312).

Beach was the embodiment of the scientist as a seeker of truth. He loved to discuss and debate scientific issues of the time. He rarely let his ego get in the way. He would applaud if an earlier finding of his was superceded by new and better research. However, Beach would insist that his work and conclusions were reasonable given the state of knowledge when it had been done. He was a firm believer in the importance of basic research. The job of the scientist, he thought, was to discover new knowledge. He left it up to the broader society to determine how to apply that knowledge. He had faith that it would be for human betterment.

Beach bemoaned the emphasis in psychology upon methodology. He believed that much research was conducted with first-rate methodology but without clear purpose. He believed that much of the research published in journals was worthless. He was fond of saying that if research is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well. He believed in progress in science—but only if research is conducted with clear purpose.

Frank Beach was among the very most important comparative and physiological psychologists of the twentieth century. He conducted groundbreaking research, helped to direct the field of psychobiology, and served as an effective mentor and sometime administrator.



“Central Nervous Mechanisms Involved in the Reproductive Behavior of Vertebrates.” Psychological Bulletin39 (1942): 200–226.

“Current Conceptions of Play in Animals.” American Naturalist 79 (1945): 523–541.

“Evolutionary Changes in the Physiological Control of Mating Behavior in Mammals.” Psychological Review54 (1947): 297–315.

Hormones and Behavior. New York: Hoeber, 1948.

“The Snark Was a Boojum.” American Psychologist5 (1950): 115–124.

With Clellan Ford. Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper, 1951.

With Julian Jaynes. “Effects of Early Experience upon the Behavior of Animals.” Psychological Bulletin51 (1954): 239–263.

“The Descent of Instinct.” Psychological Review 62 (1955): 401–410.

“Experimental Investigations of Species-Specific Behavior.” American Psychologist 15 (1960): 1–18.

Sex and Behavior. New York: Wiley, 1965.

“Locks and Beagles.” American Psychologist24 (1969): 971–989.

“Hormonal Factors Controlling the Differentiation, Development, and Display of Copulatory Behavior in the Ramstergig and Related Species.” In Biopsychology of Development, edited by Lester R. Aronson and Ethel Tobach. New York: Academic Press, 1971.

“Frank A. Beach.” In A History of Psychology in Autobiography, vol. 7, edited by Gardner Lindzey. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974.

“Behavioral Endocrinology: An Emerging Discipline.” AmericanScientist 63 (1975): 178–187.

“Sexual Attractivity, Proceptivity, and Receptivity in Female Mammals.” Hormones and Behavior 7 (1976): 105–138.

Human Sexuality in Four Perspectives. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.

“Confessions of an Imposter.” In Pioneers in Neuroendocrinology, vol. 2, edited by J. Meites, B. T. Donovan, and S. M. McCann. New York: Plenum, 1978.

“Historical Origins of Modern Research on Hormones and Behavior.” Hormones and Behavior 15 (1981): 325–376.


Dewsbury, Donald A. “Frank Ambrose Beach 1911–1988.” American Journal of Psychology 102 (1989): 414–420.

———. “Frank A. Beach.” Biographical Memoirs, vol. 73. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1997.

———. “Frank A. Beach, Master Teacher.” In Portraits ofPioneers in Psychology, vol. 4, edited by Gregory A. Kimble and Michael Wertheimer. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2000.

Fleming, Joyce D., and David Maxey. “The Drive of the Pure Researcher: Pursuit of Intellectual Orgasm.” Psychology Today8, no. 10 (1975): 68–77.

Glickman, Stephen E., and Irving Zucker. “Frank A. Beach (1911–1988).”American Psychologist 44 (1989): 1234–1235.

McGill, Thomas E., Donald A. Dewsbury, and Benjamin D. Sachs, eds. Sex and Behavior: Status and Prospectus. New York: Plenum, 1978.

Sachs, Benjamin D. “In Memoriam: Frank Ambrose Beach.” Psychobiology 16 (1988): 312–314.

Whalen, Richard E., et al. “In Memoriam Frank A. Beach (April 13, 1911–June 15, 1988).” Hormones and Behavior 22 (1988): 419–443. Eleven brief articles by various authors.

Donald Dewsbury

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Beach, Frank Ambrose, Jr.

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