UCI Recruits Another Expert in Mathematical Psychology

Times Staff Writer

In its continuing quest to attract and hire distinguished scholars, UC Irvine has recruited one of the top authorities in the field of mathematical psychology, a branch of theoretical psychology that seeks to show how the mind works through mathematical models.

Jean-Claude Falmagne, who was lured away from New York University, becomes the second such scholar in the emerging field to be hired at UCI in 8 months. The 54-year-old Falmagne will join a recently formed research unit directed by R. Duncan Luce, who was hired away from Harvard University in May, UCI spokeswoman Colleen Bentley-Adler said Wednesday.

The research unit, which is associated with UCI’s School of Social Sciences and has 20 faculty members, applies mathematical models to behavioral sciences to better understand human behavior, she explained. “If it (UCI’s research unit) is not the very best, it is one of the top three in the country,” said Robert A. Scott, associate director of the Palo Alto-based Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

Falmagne said he was attracted to UCI by the large number of eminent scholars in his field already at the university.


“There is literally a world-class group in my field which is shaping up at Irvine at the moment, and that makes it extremely attractive for me to come,” he said from his office at NYU, where he has taught psychology for 17 years. NYU, by contrast, has only a few such scholars, he added.

According to James G. Greene, a professor of psychology and education at Stanford University, the term “mathematical psychology” has been in use for about 30 years. However, the discipline actually began in the late 19th Century when some scholars tried to study the relationship between physical events and psychological perceptions of those events in mathematical terms, Greene said.

Falmagne said that one of his main interests is assessing and expanding the knowledge of an individual through the use of computers. While at NYU, he created a computerized system that teaches elementary logic, set theory and beginning probability theory. The system, he said, provides individualized instruction according to students’ needs, knowledge and mastery of the material.

Falmagne joins UCI as a visiting professor on Friday, Bentley-Adler said. He will become a full-time professor on July 1.

He has won several honors for his work, including the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship and Von Humboldt award. His salary will be $77,800, plus support services and equipment, Bentley-Adler said. Born in Belgium, Falmagne was graduated from the University of Brussels with a doctorate in psychological sciences in 1965. He taught at the University of Paris in 1970-1971, and joined the NYU faculty in 1971.

“We’re very, very sorry to lose him,” said Ann M. Burton, dean of NYU’s arts and science administration.