Professor Townsend is a specialist in cognitive/mathematical psychology. His research interests include the development of general mathematical approaches to human information processing, cognitive psychology including visual pattern recognition, memory scanning, decision theory, human factors, and face cognition.
Townsend received his B.A. degree from Fresno State College and his Ph.D. degree from Stanford University.
He is editor emeritus of the Journal of Mathematical Psychology and a past member, Executive Board, Society for Mathematical Psychology. He is also past president of the Society for Mathematical Psychology. He received a Visiting Associate Professor Award from the Mathematical Psychology Labs, Rockefeller University, 1972-73; Senior Scientist Fellowship, Braunschweig University, West Germany, awarded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, 1976-77; Visiting Scholar Award, University of California at Irvine, 1981-82; Visiting Professorship Award, Stanford University, 1986; James McKeen Cattell Sabbatical Award, 1992-93; the German American Collaborative Research Award from the American Council of Learned Societies, 1992-93; Distinguished Alumnus in Science Award at School of Natural Sciences, California State University at Fresno, 1995; and Senior Scientist Fellowship at Hanse Wissenschaftskolleg in Germany, January 2000 - January 2001. He was awarded Distinguished Professor in 2008.
Townsend received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of his distinguished contributions to Indiana University.