2013 William James Fellow Award
Roy F. Baumeister
Florida State University
Roy F. Baumeister is one of personality and social psychology’s most prolific practitioners, both in his staggering publication output and in the scope of his work. A rare generalist in a field traditionally dominated by specialists, Baumeister has studied a variety of psychological phenomena, looking for answers to large questions about human nature. This grand ambition is evident in the titles of his books, perhaps none more so than that of his 1991 treatise, Meanings of Life.
Baumeister holds an integrative theoretical viewpoint; where others might be tempted to insert an “or” – nature or culture, individual or interpersonal – he prefers “and.” This all-encompassing approach is reflected in his varied methodology: By turns an empiricist and an aggregator, Baumeister has pioneered methods like quantifying autobiographical narratives and coined widely used terms like “ego depletion.” At the same time, he is a master of the literature review, synthesizing research on a vast array of topics ranging from aggression to binge eating.
Moving between areas of study has allowed Baumeister to meet each topic with fresh eyes, and as a result, he has frequently found himself in the position of contrarian. He took on the established thinking of the time with his assertion that many processes that appear to be wholly individual are actually influenced by interpersonal factors, and his stance that raising self-esteem was not a cure-all for individual psychological issues clashed with the prevailing consensus of the self-esteem-obsessed 1980s. However, more recent research has borne out these once-controversial hypotheses, as well as his other notable contributions in self-regulation, the need to belong, sexuality, and free will.
Through his wide-ranging and integrative work, Baumeister has provided insight into our most penetrating questions about human nature, and in doing so he has cemented his legacy as one of social psychology’s most influential figures.