Prior to the creation of the Psychology Department, psychology courses were being taught by Memorial University College on the Parade Street campus. The professors were not then part of any department but simply functioned within the Faculty of Arts and Science.
The first Psychology course was, fittingly, an Introductory Psychology course taught by Dr. Al Burnett, a psychologist at the Hospital for Mental and Nervous Diseases (now known as the Waterford Hospital). It is not clear when he started, but it was likely in 1957-1958. Later, Psychology courses were taught by Arthur Sullivan.
Psychology courses were first listed separately in the University calendar in 1961 along with Art Sullivan, the first full-time faculty appointment in Psychology, but in 1962, he went to McGill to study for a Ph.D. Dr. David Hart joined the faculty to continue the program with Dr. Charles Boddie, a child Psychiatrist, giving a course in Developmental Psychology. Dr. Sullivan returned in 1964 doubling the faculty. It then became an official Department of Psychology with him as Head. The number of faculty more than doubled again the following year with the addition of Dr. Al Kozma, Dr. Barry MacKay, Dr. Fred Binding.
The department awarded its first degrees in Psychology to Graham Skanes, William Noseworthy and Elizabeth Ruby in 1962. It awarded its first honours degree in Psychology in 1966.
In the late 1960s the undergraduate enrollment of the university was expanding rapidly and it became apparent that many students coming to Memorial from small isolated communities were having difficulties adjusting to life in a city, and to university life in particular. In 1968, to help solve this problem, the university asked Dr. Sullivan to establish what became known as the "Junior Division". The mandate of the Junior Division was to teach all first year courses in a manner that would ease the transition of students from small, in many cases one room schools in isolated rural communities, to what was becoming a large, modern university. To accomplish this, the University hired many new faculty who had a background in both the subject they were teaching as well as extensive teaching experience and training in Education.
The Junior Division faculty taught all first year courses in small classes of no more than 30 students, and each student was offered individual attention and support by the Junior Division faculty. The Junior Division was disbanded in the 1980s and Junior Division faculty who had been teaching Psychology came under the administration of the Department.
The Psychology Department from the start had always taught Psychology as a Science. When the Faculty of Arts and Science split into separate Faculties in the 1970s, the Psychology Department opted to join the Faculty of Science. Since that time it has offered programs leading to both BA and BSc degrees. The Psychology content of both degrees was the same and the faculty of the degree was determined by other courses in the student's programme. In addition, unlike most other Canadian Universities, nearly all of the courses offered to Psychology majors students had a laboratory component. In 1991, the Department became the first university in Canada to offer an undergraduate degree in Behavioral Neuroscience.
In addition to a strong commitment to undergraduate teaching of Psychology as a science, the Psychology Department has offered extensive training at the graduate level. The M.Sc. Programme in Experimental Psychology was started in 1968 and the first Masters degrees were awarded in 1970. The Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology was started in 1974 and the first PhD was awarded in 1978.
In 1991, the department began a M.Sc in Applied Social Psychology which was a cooperative programme. It graduated its first students in 1994. Later it became a Masters of Applied Social Psychology.
The Psychology Department is now undergoing a stage of renewal with many new faculty being appointed in areas such as Social Psychology, Cognition, Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology. The undergraduate programme has recently been revised, but it retains its orientation to teaching Psychology as a Science. The new faculty members have renewed the vigor of the existing graduate programmes and the new doctoral programme in Clinical Psychology continues to grow.