Turning 76 years old in a week, and still loving what I do, I find myself inspired by two recent emails. One, from social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew, age 87, responded to my welcoming his latest work by attaching 14 of his recent publications. The second, from C. Nathan DeWall, pointed me to an interesting new article coauthored by developmental psychologist Walter Mischel, age 88 (who, sadly, died just hours before this essay was posted).
That got me thinking about other long-lived people who have found their enduring calling in psychological science. My late friend Charles Brewer, the longtime editor of Teaching of Psychology (who once told me he took 2 days a year off: Christmas and Easter), taught at Furman University until he was nearly 82, occupied his office until age 83, and was still authoring into his 80s.
But Charles’s longevity was exceeded by that of:
- F. Skinner, whom I heard address the American Psychological Association convention in 1990 at age 86, just 8 days before he died of leukemia.
- Carroll Izard, who coauthored three articles in 2017, the year of his death, at age 93.
- Jerome Bruner, who, the year before he died in 2016 at age 100, authored an essay on “The Uneasy Relation of Culture and Mind.”
And in earlier times, my historian-of-psychology friend Ludy Benjamin tells me, Wilhelm Wundt taught until 85 and supervised his last doctoral student at 87, and Robert Woodworth lectured at Columbia University until 89 and published his last work at 90.*
So, I then wondered, who of today’s living psychological scientists, in addition to Pettigrew and Mischel, are still publishing at age 85 and beyond? Daniel Kahneman and Paul Ekman almost qualify, but at 84 are youngsters compared to those below. Here’s my preliminary short list — other nominees welcome! — with their most recent PsycINFO publication. (Given the era in which members of their age received PhDs, most are — no surprise — men.)
Philip Zimbardo: Age 85
(born March 23, 1933)
Unger, A., Lyu, H., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2018). How compulsive buying is influenced by time perspective — cross-cultural evidence from Germany, Ukraine, and China. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16, 525–544.
Gordon Bower: Age 85
(born December 30, 1932)
Bower, G. H. (2016). Emotionally colored cognition. In R. J. Sternberg, S. T. Fiske, & D. J. Foss (Eds.), Scientists making a difference: One hundred eminent behavioral and brain scientists talk about their most important contributions (pp. 123–127). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
James McGaugh: Age 86
(born December 17, 1931)
McGaugh, J. L. (2018). Emotional arousal regulation of memory consolidation. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 19, 55–60.
Lila Gleitman: Age 88
(born December 10, 1931)
Gleitman, L. R., & Trueswell, J. C. (2018). Easy words: Reference resolution in a malevolent referent world. Topics in Cognitive Science.
Roger Shepard: Age 89
(born January 30, 1929)
Shepard, R. N. (2016). Just turn it over in your mind. In R. J. Sternberg, S. T. Fiske, & D. J. Foss (Eds.), Scientists making a difference: One hundred eminent behavioral and brain scientists talk about their most important contributions (pp. 99–103). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Jerome Kagan: Age 89
(born February 25, 1929)
Kagan, J. (2018). Three unresolved issues in human morality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 346–358.
Albert Bandura: Age 92
(born December 4, 1925)
Bandura, A. (2016). Moral disengagement: How people do harm and live with themselves. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Aaron Beck: Age 97
(born July 18, 1921)
Kochanski, K. M., Lee-Tauler, S. Y., Brown, G. K., Beck, A., Perera, K. U., Novak, L., … Ghahramanlou-Holloway, M. (2018). Single versus multiple suicide attempts: A prospective examination of psychiatric factors and wish to die/wish to live index among military and civilian psychiatrically admitted patients. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 206, 657–661.
And a drum roll for:
Brenda Milner: Age 100
(born July 15, 1918)
Milner, B., & Klein, D. (2016). Loss of recent memory after bilateral hippocampal lesions: Memory and memories — looking back and looking forward. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 87, 230.
At age 100, she still, I’m told, comes in a couple times a week to the Montreal Neurological Institute, which recently celebrated her centennial (with thanks to Melvin Goodale for the photo at right).
Life is a gift that ends unpredictably. Having already exceeded my at-birth life expectancy, I am grateful for the life I have had. But as one who still loves learning and writing (and can think of nothing else I’d rather do), why not emulate these esteemed colleagues while I continue to be blessed with health, energy, and this enduring sense of calling?
*The “major early women psychologists” — Mary Calkins, Margaret Washburn, Christine Ladd-Franklin, Helen Woolley, Leta Hollingworth — all died before age 85, reported Benjamin, who added that some other psychological scientists have stayed too long in the profession without knowing “when to hang up their spikes” and make way for fresh faces in the classroom and laboratory.
This article is a adapted from his personal blog. For Myers’ other weekly essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.