biographical of Festinger
作者: STANLEY SCHACHTER / 8146次阅读 时间: 2009年11月14日
来源: 心理空间整理 标签: biographical Biographical Festinger FESTINGER
www.psychspace.com心理学空间网FESTINGER
May 8, 1919-February 11, 1989

BY STANLEY SCHACHTER

One of the last times Leon Festinger saw his father was in a nursing  home in Brooklyn. The old man had been part of that great emigration of  East European Jews in the years before the First World War. He left  Russia a radical and an atheist and remained faithful to these views  throughout his life. He was very sick at the time of Leon’s visit,  bedridden and virtually helpless. During the visit, he leaned toward his  son and said, ”You know Leon, I was wrong. All my life I was  wrong——there is life after death.” Puzzled, Festinger asked him what he  meant and, pointing around the room, his father answered, “This-this is  life after death.”

In 1998 Festinger became ill with a cancer that had metastasized to the  liver and the lungs. He dealt with his cancer as a research problem. He  read the literature, spoke with the experts, weighted the possible side  effects if treatment, calculated the odds, and decided, untreated, to  die. And in a few months he was dead. The intervening months were  relatively peaceful and, though toward the end he was wasting away,  painless. He worked, he wrote, he saw his friends, and, when it became  clear that he could no longer go on, he died.

The memorial service at the New School was, as such dour events go in  academia, a remarkable occasion. Virtually al of his old students and  many of his former colleagues and collaborators from all over the  country, and indeed the world, flooded the auditorium. The eulogies were  lavish and well deserved, for Leon Festinger was one of the most  important psychologists of our time.

Festinger was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 8, 1919, to Alex  Festinger. He went to boys’ High School, City College, and, for graduate  study, to the University of Lowa, where he worded with Kurt Lewin, a  Gestalt and Field theorist who had fled the Nazis to arrive in an  America where the psychological establishments, though hardly a  dictatorship, was ruled by and even more dogmatic group, also convinced  that it had the Truth, called Behaviorists.

Lewin and his students probably did more than and other group of  scientists to mold psychology into and enterprise concerned with more  than stimulus-response connections but with dynamic processes involving  perception, motivation, and cognition. They did so quietly and without  doing battle but largely by example-repeatedly demonstrating that it way  possible to work with experimental and theoretical precision on problems  of consuming human interest such as decision on problems of consuming  human interest such as decision making, ambition, tension, level of  aspiration, and the like.

Festinger honed his talents in his first work with Lewin. As an  undergraduate working with Max Hertzman (Hertzman and Festinger, 1940)  he had already demonstrated considerable skill working with Lewinian  ideas. At lowa, though Lewin’s interests had shifted to social  psychology or, as he called it, ”group dynamics,” Festinger,  uninterested then in social psychology, continued to work on older  Lewinian problems. He also turned his considerable mathematical talents  to statistics and developed several of the earliest nonparametric tests  (Festinger, 1946). On completing his degree, he worked for two years as  a research associate at the university of lowa and then, during the war,  for two years as senior statistician for the Committee on Selection and  Training of Aircraft Pilots at the University of Rochester.

In 1945 he rejoined the lewinian group as an assistant professor at the  newly formed Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Massachusetts  Institute of Technology. To round out the way stations of his academic  career. He moved with the Group Dynamics Center to the University of  Michigan in 1948, then to the university of Minnesota in 1951, on to  Stanford in 1955, and, finally, in 1968 to the New School for Social  Research where he was the Else and Hans Staudinger Professor of  Psychology. In New York he met and married Trudy Bradley. By an earlier  marriage he had three children, Catherine, Richard, and Kurt.

It was at MIT that Festinger’s interests turned to social psychology and  he launched a series of studies of social influence and communication  that became a turning point in the field, for they demonstrated that it  was possible to work experimentally and with theoretical rigor, on  nonbanal problems of considerable social and psychological importance.  This word started as almost an accident. Festinger had been directing a  study of housing satisfaction in MIT married-student housing projects  commissioned by the university’s Department of Architecture and City  Planning. The study involved the conjoint use of interviews about  attitudes to MIT housing and of sociometric questionnaires, that is,  measures of the social relationships within the various projects by use  of questions such as “which people here do you see most often socially?”  In addition to the material of interest to the housing people at MIT,  several facts emerged powerfully from the data. First, it turned out  that those groups of students who were sociometrically close tended to  have highly similar attitudes on the various housing questions. Second,  it appeared that those students who had deviant attitudes on the housing  questions tended to be social isolates, that is, they were rarely named  in answer to the sociometric questions.

These facts of the housing study were purely correlational. One could  speculate endlessly, but one could say nothing about causal direction or  about mechanism. Worrying through the meaning of these facts led  Festinger and his students to the development of an experimental  laboratory program of research that many consider the birth of  systematic experimental social psychology. There problems were many;  they had to devise means of manipulating such ephemeral social variables  as affection, social cohesion, group structure, deviancy, and the like;  they had to devise controls to rule out alternative explanations; they  had to invent means of unobtrusively measuring the effects of their  manipulations on variables such as influence, exerted and accepted, and  communication, its direction and intensity.

Along with Kurt Back, Harold Kelly, and John Thibaut, I was lucky enough  to work with Festinger at this time, and I think of it as one of the  high points of my scientific life. He was a wildly original and  provocative scientist. It was a time of excitement, intense involvement,  discovery, and fun. Working with Festinger was always fun, he was a  great kibitzer, and he loved puzzles, problems, and games. He had little  tolerance for banality or for tired ideas. We devised laboratory  experiments for studying phenomena that, until then, no one had  conceived of as manipulability or measurable. We discovered things no  one had known before—virtually a sine qua non before Festinger thought  an experiment with doing. Festinger (1950) synthesized all of this work  in his first theoretical paper in social psychology—a seminal paper  concerned with informal social communication and the process, via social  comparison, of establishing the correctness of one’s beliefs.

Festinger’s research career continued at Michigan and Minnesota, where,  in a theoretical paper (Festinger, 1954) that was a tour de force, he  extended his theorizing about beliefs, attitudes, and communication to  the evaluation of abilities. With the support of several ingenious  experiments, he demonstrated that, as with attitudes, and beliefs, the  evaluation of one’s abilities was also a socially determined process.

It was shortly after publication of this body of work in the 1950s that  fortune magazine nominated him as one of America’s ten most promising  young scientists, not psychologists, but scientists-an honor that, given  its source and his political bent at the time, he managed to keep a  well-hidden secret. No matter what his opinion of this most of his  fellow nominees went on to win a Nobel Prize. It was this same work that  led to Festinger’s receiving the Distinguished Scientist award of the  American Psychological Association in 1959 and to his election to the  American Academy of Arts and Sciences in that same year. He became a  member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1972 and of the Society of  Experimental Psychology in 1973, The honors continued throughout his  career. In 1978 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of  Mannheim, in 1980 he was named Einstein Visiting Fellow of the Israel  Academy of Distinguished Senior Scientist Award of the Society of  Experimental Social Psychology.

Festinger turned next to the development of a set of ideas for which he  is perhaps best know in psychology-the theory of cognitive dissonance (Festinger,  1957). In a way the ideas of the dissonance work a further and more  basic development of his thinking about the social determinants of the  evaluation of beliefs and abilities. The key to his earlier ideas was  the hypothesis that, when there were discrepancies of opinion or ability  among the members of a group, pressures arose to reduce such  discrepancies. Dissonance theory was an attempt to determine, at a more  basic, purely cognitive level, the origin of such pressures. In essence,  dissonance theory was startlingly simple. The key hypothesis is that  when incompatibilities exist between two or more ideas or cognitions,  pressures will arise to reduce the discrepancy.

This was hardly a new idea and, in one form or another, had already been  proposed by a number of psychologists now known as “balance” theorists.  What Festinger did with the idea, however, is an illustration of his  almost unique genius. He pushed this idea just about as far as it could  go, examining and testing its implications for a breathtaking variety of  phenomena. These included an experimental examination of the cognitive  consequence of forced compliance; studies in both rats and humans of the  effects of insufficient reward; a field study of the effects of being  wrong on the proselyting efforts of a millennial group; and on and on a  body of work that Edward Jones (1976) described as “the most important  development in social psychology to date.”

It was marvelous work; however, Festinger moved on. Boredom was  anathema, and the moment things got dull or he found that he was  repeating himself, doing some trivial variation of a spent idea, he  changed his interests. Starting in the visual system and perception, He  worked during this period on a variety of problems related to eye  movements, efference, and the conscious experience of perception as well  as on neurophysiological coding for the perception of color. I confess  that my expertise is such that I dare not fake an attempt to evaluate  this research nor, in fact, am I able even to present a coherent  synopsis of his work in these areas. I do note, however, that this work  drew much attention, stirred much controversy, and attracted a talented  group of students.

Finally, about 1978-79, some eleven years after he came to the New  School, Festinger closed his laboratory and abandoned experimental  psychology altogether. His explanation, in his own words, was (Festinger,  1983):

Four years ago I closed my laboratory which, over time, had been devoted  t studying ever narrowing aspects of how the human eye moves. It is  natural for me to talk as if the laboratory was at fault, but a  laboratory is only a collection of rooms and equipment. It was I who  conceived of and worked on narrower and narrower technical problems.

That is not a proper occupation for an aging man who resents that  adjective. Young people become enthusiastic easily: any new finding is  an exciting thing. Older people have too much perspective on the past  and perhaps, too little patience with the future. Very few small  discoveries turn out to be important over the years; things that would  have sent me jumping and shouting in my youth now left me calm and  judgmental and my lack of enthusiasm kept reminding me of that despised  adjective, aging.

Having a critical perspective on the recent past (was) debilitating in  other ways also. I have been actively engaged in research in the field  of psychology for more than 40 years…Forty years in my own life seems  like a long time to me and while some things have been learned about  human beings and human behavior during this time, progress has not been  rapid enough; nor has the new knowledge been impressive enough. And even  worse, from the broader point of view we do not seem to have been  working on many of the important problems.

And so, despite his marked success as an experimentalist, Festinger  moved on. His first foray outside the laboratory involved an examination  of what one might learn about the “nature of man” from archeological  data. He visited a number of archeological digs with French and Israeli  specialists and began a systematic examination of what one could deduce  and infer about man and the structure of primitive society from  archeological evidence. He published his speculations in 1983 in a book  called The Human Legacy. It is an intriguing volume in which a  first-rate mind trained in on discipline applies itself to the data and  problems of another discipline and raises questions that, to my mind,  provide one of the few nonbanal examples in the social sciences of the  potential of cross-disciplinary work. For example, he notes that in some  digs there is huge variability in the quality of workmanship of  artifacts such as arrowheads, while in other digs such artifacts are of  similar high quality. This leads him into fascinating speculation about  the development of the division of labor in primitive society.  Similarly, other artifacts lead to speculation about the development of  religious technology and of the role of play an of games in mankind’s  history. In its own way it is a marvelous book whose reception in  Festinger’s own professional circles bemused him no end for he was often  asked by his fellow psychologists, “But what does this have to do with  psychology?”

From what might be called psycho-social-archeology, Festinger moved on  to a deep interest in the history of religion. He worked closely with a  number of medieval and Byzantine church scholars, and eventually his  interest focused on the differences between the Eastern and the Western  or Roman church and the role such differences might have played in the  differential development and acceptance of material technology in these  two parts of the Roman Empire. Festinger died before he could publish  this material, but he made the same profound impression on the medieval  historians as he had mad earlier on the medieval historians as he had  made earlier on the psychologists with whom he worked. Indeed, a recent  book called Papacy, Councils and Canon Law in the 11th-12th Centuries is  dedicated by its author Robert Somerville (1990) to the memory of Leon  Festinger—surely the only time on in the lacteal history that a  specialist in canon law dedicated a book to an unrelated social  psychologist.

It was an astonishing intellectual career. Whatever area he touched, he  enriched. He discovered things no one knew before; he made connections  no one had made before, and he did it all with an éclat and elegance  that compel one to think of his work in aesthetic as well as scientific  terms. Indeed, Zajonc (1990) has compared Festinger to Picasso, and  Zukier (1989) has compared him to Van Gogh. The psychological world is a  different place because he lived.www.psychspace.com心理学空间网

Leon Festinger 1919-1989Leon Festinger 1919-1989

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