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VOL. 23, NO. 2September 12, 1997

Stanley Schachter, Psychologist, 75


By Bob Nelson

Stanley Schachter, the noted social psychologist at Columbia whose wide-ranging curiosity brought him to studies of addiction and the emotions, among many other topics, died at home at East Hampton, N.Y., on June 7. He was 75.

  "I don't think there was anybody who had as broad a palette or who allowed his imagination to range as freely," said Robert Krauss, professor of psychology at Columbia.

  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.

  Schachter was internationally known for his work in social psychology, especially his research into the interaction of social and physiological determinants of behavior. His work has had a major impact on current views of emotion and of disorders such as obesity and nicotine addiction.

  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, Hood and Schachter said. With tongue in cheek, 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.

  Schachter was born in New York City in 1922 and received the B.S. and M.A. from Yale in 1942 and 1944 respectively. He received the Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan in 1949 and joined the Columbia faculty as professor of psychology in 1961. He was named Robert Johnston Niven Professor of Social Psychology in 1966 and retired in 1992 with an emeritus designation.

  He is survived by his wife, the former Sophia Duckworth. Elijah, their only son, was born in 1969.