1991 William James Fellow Award

Martin E.P. Seligman

University of Pennsylvania

Martin E.P. Seligman’s scientific career is characterized by discoveries and theories that have spanned learning, clinical, social, developmental, and biological psychology. Seligman’s work shows creativity, intellectual depth, and penetrating clarity. Over the course of his career, Seligman consistently has proposed explicit, articulate, testable theories that have had great impact in psychology. He brings important phenomena out of shadowy darkness into the bright light of scientific scrutiny.

His concept of preparedness emphasized that powerful phylogenetic factors constrain what organisms can and cannot learn. His discovery and explanation of the laboratory phenomenon of learned helplessness provided the point of departure for a vast amount of scientifically rigorous and clinically compelling work on human depression. Over the past 20 years, Seligman has made powerful conceptual and empirical contributions to the understanding of this distressing disorder. More recently, he has demonstrated the importance of optimism in achievement, sports, politics, and the functioning of the immune system. In addition to his research contributions, Seligman is an inspiration teacher to both undergraduate and graduate students.