2015 William James Fellow Award
Timothy D. Wilson
University of Virginia
Timothy D. Wilson is psychology’s pre-eminent student of self-knowledge and of the limitations and biases of such knowledge. Asking deep questions and pursuing them with innovative methods that combine elegance and rigor, he has explored people’s ability to understand their past actions and feelings and to predict their future ones. His 1977 Psychological Review article co-authored with Richard Nisbett, “Telling More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes,” is one of the most heavily cited papers in the history of that journal. His later collaboration with Daniel Gilbert investigated adaptation to trauma, highlighted the pervasive effect of unwanted and unconscious influences on judgments and behavior, identified contexts in which implicit attitudes may prove to be better predictors of future evaluations than explicit ones, and clarified when and why articulating reasons for present feelings and evaluations may lower the accuracy of predictions about future ones.Because decisions about allocations of time, energy, and other resources depend on such predictions about the future, this work is playing an increasingly important role in behavioral economics.
Wilson’s contributions to the application of social psychology have also been notable. He was a pioneer in documenting the role that modest social psychological interventions could play in enhancing the educational adjustment and academic outcomes of at-risk students and in showing more generally that brief, theory-based interventions can produce significant and sustained changes in behavior. Equally important, he has shown how and why some much-publicized interventions can produce lasting harm.
Finally, Wilson’s two critically acclaimed books, Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious and Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, set a standard for lucid, engaging, and accurate accounts of the insights and contributions of the science of psychology.
See Wilson’s award address presented at the 2015 APS Annual Convention in New York, NY, USA.