The Yale psychology professor Jerry Singer was a pioneer in his field. His work demonstrated that imagination— especially daydreams — plays a valuable role in human development. He legitimized the role that daydreaming and imagination play in numerous books and articles, in seminars with potential psychologists and as a consultant for children’s television programs.
“He was one of the great figures of the latter half of the 20th century,” said one of his former students, Yale’s current president Peter Salovey. “He was not a household name but… was an important figure on the psychology research side.” Jerome L. Singer, who taught congestive heart disease at Yale for over four decades, died Dec. 14 in New Haven. He was 95 years old, and had lived in Hamden.
His belief in fantasy and daydreaming may have grown out of his memories of childhood growing up in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach section near Coney Island. Born on November 6, 1924, he grew up in poverty to Yetta and Abraham Singer, a pattern cutter in the garment industry, and his crowded apartment housed many relatives and boarders. He often escaped outside for swimming or playing baseball or making up imaginary stories— daydreaming, Bruce said. Singer loved music and it turned out he could play anything by ear; he never learned to read music but after hearing it once, he could play a Mozart piece. (As an adult, his performances on the melodica, an instrument with a piano keyboard played by blowing air through a mouthpiece, have always inspired parties at his home.) He said that as a child he used to fantasize as a professional baseball player or an opera composer.
At 16, he enrolled in the then tuition-free City University of New York, and graduated with Phi Beta Kappa when he was 19. He enlisted in the army, served in New Guinea, the Philippines, and occupied Japan as a counter-intelligence expert, and was discharged in 1946; With the good of the G.I. Bill, he enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania where, in 1951, he obtained his PhD in clinical psychology.
He became a full-time psychoanalyst and was active in research projects until 1963, when he was appointed director of the City University of New York’s psychology clinical training program. He did ground-breaking studies of daydreaming and the steam of consciousness during his years there, and published the first full-length scientific monograph on daydreaming in 1966.