History and Scientific Contributions

The Institute of Behavioral Research (IBR) was established in 1962 by Dr. Saul B. Sells to conduct research on personality structure, personnel selection, social interactions, and organizational functioning. This pioneering work used first-generation computers to assess personality theories through large-scale factor analyses, develop performance- based selection criterion for airline pilots, and formulate personal distance needs for humans during long-duration space missions for NASA. In 1968, the IBR was invited to develop and conduct the first federally-funded national evaluation of the newly formed community-based system for treating heroin addiction in the U.S. This work helped define methodological standards for addiction treatment process and follow-up outcome studies in natural field settings, leading to the IBR’s participation in all three major national treatment effectiveness studies funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH). Conceptual frameworks emerging from this research for evaluating treatment dynamics, outcomes, and change—both at the individual client and organizational functioning levels— have yielded assessment and intervention resources as well as implementation strategies now being used internationally.

After joining the TCU Department of Psychology in 1958, Dr. Sells began to formulate plans for establishing a center for applied behavioral research. His paper on “interactive psychology” [American Psychologist, 1963, 18(11), pp. 696-702] foretold his commitments to merging interests in personality profiles, selection techniques that could predict performance outcomes, and organizational functioning with real-world applications.

Dr. Sells implored fellow scientists “to consider more seriously the dimensional nature of the behavior repertoire and the measurement characteristics of his apparatus, as well as the dimensions of the environments in which ‘the behavior occurs’ within multivariate analytic process models” (p. 698).

Dr. Sells received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1936 and was trained under Robert S. Woodworth and Edward L. Thorndike. He recruited Robert I. Watson and Phillip H. Dubois to serve as members of his first IBR Advisory Council. Dr. Sells served as the director of the IBR until his retirement from this role 20 years later. Dr. D. Dwayne Simpson, a student of Dr. Sells and a member of the IBR faculty since 1970, became director in 1982 and, subsequently, moved the IBR to Texas A&M University.

In 1989 the IBR was re-affiliated with TCU, continuing the long-standing tradition of providing training opportunities for graduate students in health services research.
The IBR’s mission and role within TCU has remained essentially unchanged since its founding. The IBR received the designation of “Center of Excellence” in 1996 for providing valuable training opportunities in graduate and postgraduate education and contributing to the professional success of many former students and staff members in both academic and applied research leadership positions.

In April 2009, Patrick M. Flynn became director. As a professor of psychology, he strengthened the collaborative relationship with TCU’s psychology department. The 50th anniversary of the IBR included several prominent scientists and policy-makers,
especially from the program evaluation and addiction treatment fields.

Guests and attendees of the celebration reflected on their many experiences with both Dr. Sells and Dr. Simpson and the rich heritage they left behind. Robert DuPont and Karst Besteman, the first director and deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), recalled the pioneering role and impact that Dr. Saul B. Sells and his associates had in conducting the first large-scale national evaluation of community-based substance use treatment in the United States. Barry Brown (University of North Carolina at Wilmington), Carl Leukefeld (University of Kentucky), and George De Leon (New York University, School of Medicine) noted how these contributions moved treatment research beyond large-scale effectiveness evaluations into the identification of key issues in therapeutic process and field implementation.