2006-2007 William James Fellow Award

Elliot Aronson

Elliot Aronson’s career has been marked by outstanding and career-long contributions in empirical research, in theory, in research methodology, in practical application, and in education. His elegant and seminal experiments have fundamentally changed the way we look at everyday life.

At the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas, Aronson conducted a brilliant and sustained research program on interpersonal attraction. His experiments repeatedly refuted the pop-psychology principle that, to become liked, one must be agreeable and complimentary to others. These experiments were tours de force, advancing theory via highly counterintuitive findings.

In the late 1960s, Aronson achieved the first of his several successes in applying social psychology to important societal problems. That initial effort was in response to severe difficulties of school desegregation in Austin, Texas. His resulting invention, the jigsaw classroom, applied Gordon Allport’s equal-status-contact recipe for undoing prejudice. Aronson’s subsequent applications in response to pressing societal problems were triggered by energy shortages, water shortages, and the AIDS epidemic.

Aronson’s best-known theoretical contribution, building on the innovations of his mentor, Leon Festinger, centered on the proposition that cognitive-dissonance motivation was aroused most strongly by conflicts with central aspects of one’s self-concept. In the 1990s he extended that influential early-career theorization to generate the application method of induced hypocrisy, showing that it worked to increase college students’ condom use.

All of his theory, method, and application contributions notwithstanding, Elliot Aronson may be known most widely for the penetrating writing of his influential Social Animal text. In that text’s multiple editions one finds a writer whose warm personality shines through as he communicates with great intelligence, directness, and impact.