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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 77
May 30, 1922–August 21, 1976
BY RICHARD F. THOMPSON
JAMES OLDS WAS ONE of the most important psychologists of the twentieth century. Indeed, many of us feel that his discovery of the "reward" system in the brain is the most important single discovery yet made in the field concerned with brain substrates of behavior. In retrospect, this discovery led to a much-increased understanding of the brain bases and mechanisms of substance abuse and addiction. Jim also was a pioneer in the study of neural substrates of learning and memory and the first to show that neurons in the hippocampus become substantially engaged in basic associative learning.
James Olds was born in Chicago on May 30, 1922, and grew up in Nyack, New York, and Washington, D.C. Jim's father was an economist who had been appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt to be chairman of the Federal Power Commission. Jim held various summer jobs and spent a year as a reporter for the International News Service. After three years of military service with the Persian Gulf Command in Teheran and Cairo, Jim returned to the United States and finished his B.A. at Amherst College in 1947. In 1946 he married Marianne N. Olds, nee Egier, a student at Smith College. They had one daughter, Nicole Jacqueline Olds,