Contact: Bob Nelson For immediate release
(212) 854-5573 June 9, 1997
Stanley Schachter, Social Psychologist at Columbia, 75
Stanley Schachter, the noted social psychologist at Columbia University
whose wide-ranging curiosity brought him to studies of addiction and the
emotions, among many other topics, died at home at The Springs, East Hampton,
N.Y., on Saturday (June 7). He was 75.
He had suffered from cancer for more than six years, said his son, Elijah.
Professor Schachter was internationally known for his work in social
l determinants of behavior. His work has had a major impact on current views of
emotion and of disorders such as obesity and nicotine addiction.
"One of the most remarkable things about Stanley was the variety of
different areas in which he made contributions," said Robert Krauss, professor of
psychology at Columbia. "His work ranged from the effects of deviating from a
group consensus, to reasons people seek to affiliate with others, to the emotions, to
the psychological factors underlying such appetitive behaviors as smoking and
obesity, to decision making in the stock market, and most recently, to the sources
of speech errors.
"I don't think there was anybody who had as broad a palette or who allowed
his imagination to range as freely," Professor Krauss said.
Possibly his best known work was on the emotions. In the late 1950s, he
proposed that our emotional experience is a function both of a physiological state
and a cognitive interpretation of that state. That approach has had far-reaching
impact not only in psychology but also the social sciences as well, Professor
He proposed the phenomenon of misattribution, in which people explain
their own feelings and behaviors as the result of some source other than the real
one. In one experiment, he gave participants a pill that stimulated them, but told
them it would make them itch. When the participants were placed in an
emotional situation, they responded with strong emotions because they believed
the situation, not a drug, was the cause of the emotion.
He is also remembered for his studies of affiliation, in which he asked
under what circumstances humans seek out one another. He was inspired by
social comparison theory, proposed by Leon Festinger, his mentor at the
University of Michigan, which holds that people understand their own beliefs,
feelings and experiences by comparing them to those of others. He concluded that
the need for social comparison is an important source of affiliation.
One consequence of the work on affiliation was a powerful set of findings on
the effects of birth order, said Julian Hochberg, Centennial Professor Emeritus of
Psychology at Columbia. The more anxious the subjects, the more they want to be
with other people, a tendency particularly marked for first-born and only
children, a finding that he applied to a great number of behaviors, such as fighter
pilot effectiveness, alcoholism and receptiveness to psychotherapy.
"He was a brilliant experimentalist," Professor Krauss said. "In many
ways, he was the virtuoso of the experiment. His experiments were simple,
involving and incisive."
In a 1968 study of obesity, widely reported in the press, he found that obese
people are prompted to eat by "external" cues unrelated to physical hunger, such
as the immediate presence of food, surroundings, time of day and strong
emotions, for example. And in a 1978 study, he showed that cigarette smokers are
physiologically addicted to nicotine, and that when they switch to lower-nicotine
brands, they smoke more to prevent symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
He worked with Donald Hood, James F. Bender Professor of Psychology at
Columbia, to "bring the individual back into the stock market," showing that
market fluctuations could be traced to the psychology of individual participants.
Greed and fear move the market, not efficiency, as many economists had
proposed, Professors Hood and Schachter said. With tongue in cheek, Professor
Schachter unveiled "bubba psychology," after the Yiddish for "grandmother" at
his 1981 University Lecture at Columbia. Any grandmother, he proposed, could
outpredict an economist because she knows that people are not coldly rational
about investing their money. "Bubba psychology" was the topic of a front-page
story in the Wall Street Journal.
His books were titled: "Social Pressures in Informal Groups" (1950) with
Festinger and others; "Theory and Experiment in Social Communication" (1950)
with Festinger and others; "When Prophecy Fails" (1956) with Festinger and
Henry Riecken; "The Psychology of Affiliation" (1959), "Emotion, Obesity and
Crime" (1971) and "Obese Humans and Rats" (1974), co-authored with a former
student, Judith Rodin, now president of the University of Pennsylvania.
Professor Schachter was born in New York City in 1922 and received the
B.S. and M.A. from Yale University in 1942 and 1944 respectively. From 1944 to
1946, he was a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force working on visual problems in the
Biophysics Division of the Aero-Medical Laboratory at Wright Field. He returned
to his graduate studies at MIT's Research Center for Group Dynamics, and,
when that center moved to the University of Michigan, followed, receiving his
Ph.D. in social psychology in 1949.
He was named assistant professor of psychology at the University of
Minnesota in 1949 and taught there until 1952. After spending two years studying
and conducting research in Amsterdam and Oslo, Professor Schachter returned
to the University of Minnesota as associate professor in 1954. From 1954 to 1958,
while research director of the Organization for Comparative Social Research at
the University of Minnesota, he was also visiting professor at the University of
Amsterdam and at Stanford. He was made full professor in 1959 and joined the
Columbia faculty as professor of psychology in 1961.
Professor Schachter was elected to the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences in 1976 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983, and was the
recipient of Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships. He was named Robert
Johnston Niven Professor of Social Psychology in 1966 and retired in 1992 with an
He was honored with numerous prizes and awards, including the James
McKeen Cattell Award, the American Association for the Advancement of
Science's Social-Psychological Prize, the General Electric Foundation Award
(three times), the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific
Contribution Award, and the Society for Experimental Social Psychology's
Distinguished Scientist Award.
He was a significant teacher and mentor, and the generation of social
psychologists who were his students are now the dominant figures in the field,
Professor Krauss said.
He is survived by his wife, the former Sophia Duckworth, a consultant on
historic preservation. They were married in 1967. Elijah, their only son, was
born in 1969. Professor Schachter's wife and son reside in New York City. There
are no other survivors.
This document is available at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/pr/.