He attended the University of Michigan, where he received his bachelor degree before going on for his Ph.D. in psychology. During World War II, his education was interrupted by service as an ensign in the U.S. Navy and he served in the Pacific Theater during the Battle of Okinawa.
At the University of Michigan, he became interested in the science of linguistics
Following his graduation from Michigan, he became an instructor and then assistant professor at Harvard. In 1957 he left Harvard for a position at M.I.T. where he wrote his monumental Words and Things. He became a full professor of psychology at M.I.T. in 1960.
In 1962, Brown accepted a professorship at Harvard, where he became the John Lindsley Professor in Memory of William James, a position he held until his retirement in 1995.
He then undertook a landmark study of the linguistic development of children, published in A First Language.
He followed this work with an introductory textbook on psychology, written with his colleague Richard Herrnstein.
At this time he concentrated upon studying specific familiar experiences such as that of "flashbulb memories" (for example, What were you doing the moment you heard of JFK's assassination?), and the "tip of the tongue phenomenon."
The success of the initial version of Social Psychology encouraged him to write a completely new textbook on social psychology which he entitled simply Social Psychology: The Second Edition.
- Brown, R (1965)Social Psychology.Collier Mac. ISBN 0029784301
- Bellugi, U. & Brown, R (1972) Acquisition of Language.Univ.Chicago P.
- Brown, R & Herrnstein R J (1977) Psychology. Little, Brown.ISBN 0316112046
- Brown, R A (Jun 1973) A First Language. Harvard Univ Press.ISBN 0674303261
- Brown, R (2003)Social Psychology: The Second Edition.Free Press. ISBN 074325340X