2003-2004 William James Fellow Award

Lee D. Ross

Stanford University

For three decades, Lee Ross’s formidable intelligence, innovative research, and systematic theorizing have helped set the intellectual agenda of social psychology.

As an experimentalist, Ross has identified and explored a variety of provocative phenomena, including “belief perseverance,” the “false consensus effect,” the “hostile media effect,” “reactive devaluation,” and “naïve realism,” that are now standard topics in our textbooks.

Ross’s extensive influence is equally dependent on his theoretical and conceptual work. Early in his career, Ross published an extremely influential paper proposing that people could be understood as “intuitive psychologists,” susceptible to particular biases in interpreting data, making predictions, and updating theories. That paper also introduced the now ubiquitous concept of the “fundamental attribution error,” and the claim that people are prone to be “dispositionists,” who too readily infer general traits and make insufficient allowance for the influence of situational pressures and constraints.

With Richard Nisbett, Lee Ross expanded these ideas into a broader framework that helped forge a bridge between social psychology and the judgment and decision-making tradition in cognitive psychology. Their work also identified social psychology’s three “big lessons” and cumulative contributions as “situationism,” “subjectivism,” and “equilibration.”

Most recently, Ross has explored sources of interpersonal and intergroup misunderstanding and the psychological barriers that prevent disputants from reaching mutually agreeable improvements over the status quo. Faithful to the Lewinian tradition in which he trained, he has sought to apply his laboratory research in real efforts at second-track diplomacy and public peace processes in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.