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Betty Bernadelli


When Mrs Betty Margaret Bernardelli was appointed to take charge of the psychology laboratory at Otago University in 1948, this represented progress – up until this time women had mostly been expected to resign when they married.1 Bernardelli had an MA from Cambridge as well as qualifications from Oxford. She was a physiological psychologist – interested in practical methods –  and had previously set up testing for the British Navy as a Naval Officer.

In Dunedin Bernardelli set out to discover whether intelligence was declining in New Zealand, as had been recorded in England. She tested hundreds of Dunedin school children and concluded that intelligence had in fact declined 1.43 points in a generation.2

In 1962 Bernardelli was invited to join the psychology department at Auckland University. Here she taught a wide range of courses and in 1976 took over the behavioral science programme.3


1. Ali, “Scientific Women,” University of Otago 1869-2019 (blog), March 27, 2016, https://otago150years.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/scientific-women/.

2. Betty M. Giles-Bernardelli, “The Decline of Intelligence in New Zealand,” Population Studies 4, no. 2 (1950): 200–208.

3. Peter Anthony Jackson, “The Mind of a Nation: A Philosophical and Historical Critique of Psychology in New Zealand: A Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology at Massey University,” 1998.

This profile is part of the series 150 Women in 150 Words that celebrates women’s contributions to expanding knowledge in New Zealand, running as part of our 150th Anniversary.