Campus lecture to honor UW–Madison professor widely considered the founder of exercise psychology

By Laurel White

An upcoming lecture will honor the legacy of a former School of Education faculty member widely acknowledged as the founder of the contemporary field of exercise psychology.

William P. Morgan was a faculty member in the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and was affiliated with UW–Madison for 35 years. His research included groundbreaking insights into the antidepressant effects of exercise.

“I’m a former student of his, and I want to honor his enduring impact,” says kinesiology professor Kelli Koltyn, who will give the 2024 William P. Morgan Lecture on April 19. “He had a wide range of topics he worked on, and was always collaborating with people in exercise physiology and psychiatry. When he was teaching here, there were always visiting professors or he was giving a talk. It was very dynamic.”


Koltyn framed her dissertation around one of Morgan’s areas of inquiry: panic behavior in scuba divers. She also notes his innovative work related to overtraining in athletes, hypnosis and physical performance, and adherence to physical activity programs. Morgan’s widely-used “iceberg profile” established a visual representation of desirable emotional health status for athletes characterized by low clinical levels of tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion and above average measures of vigor.

In addition to being widely recognized as the founder of exercise psychology — an interdisciplinary field focused on how physical activity and exercise create psychological responses in people — Morgan was the founder and first president of the Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology of the American Psychological Association and was a recipient of the prestigious American College of Sports Medicine Citation Award.

Koltyn says Morgan’s legacy and ideas live on in research currently being conducted in her lab at UW–Madison, as well as in the work of Department of Kinesiology colleague Dane Cook. Cook is a kinesiology professor and director of the Exercise Psychology laboratories at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital and Marsh Center for Research in Exercise and Movement within the Department of Kinesiology.

Morgan (front row, second from right) with students and colleagues. Image courtesy Department of Kinesiology

In her lecture, Koltlyn says she will trace Morgan’s impact on her work and ongoing research inquiry in labs across the country. Several of Morgan’s other former students are traveling from across the United States to attend the lecture, she says.

“Morgan had a wide influence on a number of different topics,” Koltyn says, noting Morgan’s research was funded by institutions as varied as the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Olympic Committee, and the U.S. Forest Service. 

“I’ll talk about people who have extended his work,” Koltyn says. 

Koltyn hopes to continue the celebration of Morgan’s work after the lecture by moving the festivities to the Memorial Union Terrace for a “Badger Bash” — a nod to gatherings often facilitated by Morgan after professional conferences.

The 2024 William P. Morgan Lecture, “The Psychobiology of Exercise: The Enduring Impact of Bill Morgan’s Work,” will be offered on Friday, April 19, at noon in room 1520 of the Microbial Sciences Building (1550 Linden Dr., Madison, WI).

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