2019 William James Fellow

Daniel T. Gilbert
Harvard University

Daniel T. Gilbert is a scientist’s popular scientist. He has discovered how people think about their future happiness, and he has translated these insights into not only a large body of influential research but also a New York Times bestseller (Stumbling on Happiness), a television series (This Emotional Life), and advertisements encouraging people to save for retirement (Prudential). Beautifully written and scientifically rigorous, his work with Timothy Wilson investigates “affective forecasting” through elegant laboratory and field experiments, the results of which provide remarkable insights into our often mistaken beliefs about what will make us happy in the future — and remarkable insights into the ill-informed decisions we sometimes make as a result.

Gilbert’s early work illuminated the problem of “correspondence bias,” the tendency to attribute other people’s behavior to underlying dispositions rather than to situations; and showed that people “unbelieve” their initial automatic inferences only when they have the cognitive capacity to do so.

Drawing on intellectual traditions from philosophy to neuroscience, his research has influenced a generation of investigators, and his teaching has inspired legions of undergraduates to embrace behavioral science. His work is not only scientifically sound but also a pleasure to read — informative, thought-provoking, and life-changing — and likewise heavily cited. Gilbert single-handedly has moved whole topics to the forefront of scientific attention and popular imagination. Psychological scientists can’t believe their luck that Gilbert stumbled into the field.