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BCS Professor Emeritus Stephan Chorover dies at 82

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Stephan Chorover
Stephan Chorover
Photo: Josh Kastorf

Professor Emeritus Stephan Chorover, a founding member of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, passed away on Friday, Feb. 20, at age 82. His more than 50 years at MIT were marked by a passion for social justice, innovation in educational practices, and a love of philosophical inquiry.

Chorover graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1950. He received his Bachelor of Science from City College of New York in 1955 and a PhD in neuropsychology from New York University in 1959. Trained as a physiological psychologist, his early research focused on learning and memory in animals, and interactions between the central nervous system, human behavior, and socioenvironmental contexts. While at MIT, he became increasingly interested in human systems in composite biological, psychological, and social terms.

He was a strong advocate against the misuse of psychology and neuroscience as means of sociopolitical control, which he explored in his book, "From Genesis to Genocide: The Meaning of Human Nature and the Power of Behavior Control." Chorover became an oft-cited opponent of the use of psychosurgery, especially as a treatment of violent prisoners and indigent populations. His interest in the social context of behavior control motivated his research focus on social psychology during later years.

Chorover's commitment to students began during the early days of his MIT career, where he was instrumental in creating the department's first academic programs. Over the years he taught and mentored thousands of undergraduate and graduate students. A proponent of collaborative learning in higher education, he built that perspective into his teaching at MIT, focusing on how human societies interrelate with environmental systems. Chorover sought to enhance his students’ understanding of the human and ecological implications of their scientific research. He retired in 1998 but continued teaching 9.70 (Social Psychology) and 9.68 (Affect: Aspects of Feelings) to MIT undergraduate students for an additional 15 years.

He served on several MIT committees tasked with improving the Institute's curriculum and student life, and in 1996 co-authored a study of the first-year experience at MIT with his 9.70 students. He also served for several years on the editorial board of the MIT faculty newsletter, and was a member of the Second Committee on Women Faculty in the School of Science.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 62 years, Bea, and three children: Nora (and partner Steve Cooley), Jon (and wife Gina Gargano), and Katya (and husband John Grandt); as well as four grandchildren, Talia, Nathan, Sarah, and Annaluna. 

A memorial will be held in the MIT Chapel on March 14 from 12:30-2:30 p.m.

Press Mentions

Boston Globe

Professor Emeritus Stephan Chorover, a founding faculty member of MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, died on Feb. 20, reports Bryan Marquard for The Boston Globe. “In his writings and in the classroom, Dr. Chorover encouraged scientists and students to look closely at the wider social context of current and historical attempts to control behavior,” Marquard writes. 

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