September 13, 2012 – Personal myths, aversive racism, heat and retaliation in baseball, and the power of writing about personal trauma – these are just a few of the research areas of the winners of the 2012 annual awards from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). Each of the recipients has made a unique and significant contribution to understanding the individual and social factors shaping people's personalities, interactions, and behaviors.
The Society's highest awards – the Jack Block, Donald T. Campbell, and Distinguished Scholar awards – go to Dan McAdams of Northwestern University, Daniel Wegner of Harvard University, and James Pennebaker of the University of Texas, respectively.
McAdams is best-known for studying how people construct their own personal narratives from infancy to adulthood – including "personal myths" – that shape who they are and who they become. His work draws not only from various areas within psychology, but also from theology, history, and philosophy. Wegner's work focuses on thought suppression and the idea that people who are asked not to think about something become preoccupied with thinking about that very thing. His work in other areas has included "transactive memory," or how people in groups and relationships remember things cooperatively.
Pennebaker showed that writing about personal trauma and other negative life experiences can positively affect physical health and psychological well-being in the long term. These experiments on self-disclosure and health opened up broader inquiries into the nature of language use in everyday life. His recent book, The Secret Life of Pronouns, makes these findings more widely available to the public and won this year's SPSP Media Book Prize for the Promotion of Social and Personality Science. Pennebaker is the incoming President of SPSP.
The Career Contribution awards, which honors scholars whose research has led the field in new directions, are Samuel Gaertner of the University of Delaware and Phillip Shaver of the University of California, Davis. Gaertner has been a major contributor to social psychology's study of prejudice and how to reduce intergroup bias, discrimination, and conflict. His work on the theory of "aversive racism" revealed how people who endorse egalitarian values and genuinely deny negative feelings about minorities may still indirectly discriminate against them. Shaver of the University of California, Davis, is a leading figure in research relating to romantic love, couple communication, relationship loss, and grieving. Drawing on his initial insight that infants' attachment to caregivers applies throughout their lives, his work helped develop modern attachment theory.
Heat, retaliation, and baseball are at the center of this year's Robert B. Cialdini Award for excellence in a published field study. Richard P. Larrick of Duke University, with co-authors Thomas A. Timmerman, Andrew M. Carton, and Jason Abrevaya, analyzed data from more than 50,000 major league baseball games to see which factors affect the probability of a pitcher hitting a batter. Consistent with past research, they found that pitchers are more likely to hit batters in hot weather. However, they found that this tendency was strongest when one of the pitcher's own teammates has been hit earlier in the game. Thus, heat is responsible for a specific form of aggression – retaliation. The paper, "Temper, temperature, and temptation: Heat-related retaliation in baseball," was published in Psychological Science in April 2011.
Recipients of the Carol and Ed Diener mid-career awards in personality and social psychology are Richard Robins of the University of California, Davis, and Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley, respectively. Robins conducts research on self-esteem, narcissism, and self-conscious emotions, as well as issues at the intersection of personality and developmental psychology, such as longitudinal studies to examine the role of personality in the development of delinquency, school failure, and other adolescent problems. Keltner's work emphasizes the positive side of human nature, including examining laughter, awe, and pride, and includes recent research on the psychological legacy of social class structure.
The 2012 Media Achievement Award goes to Claudia Hammond whose popular books and radio programs vividly illustrate the relevance of personality and social psychology to contemporary issues. Hammond authored two books – the Emotional Rollercoster and Time Warped – and has contributed to Wired, The Guardian, The Times, and Psychologies, and she is the presenter of All in the Mind and Mind Changer on BBC Radio 4, and Health Check on BBC World Service. Winners of the 2012 Media Prize are Benjamin Le, Gary Lewandowski, and Timothy Loving for creating ScienceofRelationships.com, a website that shares the latest scientific research in social and personality psychology about love and relationships.
The remaining SPSP awards for 2012 are as follows:
A ceremony at the 2013 annual SPSP meeting in New Orleans, LA, Jan. 17-19, 2013, will honor all of this year's award recipients. Full citations are available online.
SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, and interact. With more than 7,000 members, the Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world.
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