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Obituary – David Anthony Routh

27 September 2012

It is with great sadness that we report the death of David Routh earlier this week.

27th February 1940 - 24th September 2012 

It is with great sadness that we report the death of David Routh earlier this week. 

David Routh, Senior Lecturer in Experimental Psychology, was a member of the School of Experimental Psychology (formerly, the Department of Psychology) from 1st October 1971 until his retirement at the end of July 2005. Since then, he had honorary status and was a frequent visitor to the School, continuing to pursue his research interests, and attending seminars and similar events.

David graduated from Newcastle University and began his research looking at the causes of forgetting in short-term memory, but as his career progressed he extended his interests to study the general principles that underpin human memory and reasoning. Most recently, his work focused on aspects of economic behaviour including the psychology of gift-giving. Throughout his career, his work was characterised by a desire to understand data in all of its richness. So, while others would typically limit their analysis of memory to individuals’ ability to recall information correctly, David would extend his approach to examine the errors that people made, knowing that these are at least as informative. He used a wide variety of experimental methods to maximise the information he obtained from his participants, and sophisticated statistical techniques to determine the underlying structure in any dataset. If there was one thing that he taught his fellow psychologists here in Bristol, it was the lesson of looking at data ‘in the round’ in order to understand properly the numbers that we collect in our experiments.

David coupled these strengths with a passion for psychology that went well beyond his own particular areas of interest, and which was fuelled by an encyclopaedic knowledge of the discipline. Speakers would often quake when David raised his hand to ask a question at the end of their research presentation, but they knew that his comments would be constructive and insightful, and would invariably point them in the direction of previously unknown but highly relevant literature. In the same way, David was always ready to mentor other colleagues, and was unfailingly generous with his time and expertise.

In sum, David was a friend to many and a valued colleague to all. He will be greatly missed.

Written by Jan Noyes and Chris Jarrold

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