Thursday, December 04, 2008

Passing of Bob Zajonc

I have just received the following message from Shinobu Kitayama:

Hi friends,

I have to bring you very sad news. Bob Zajonc -- Hazel Markus's husband and a renowned psychologist -- passed away early in the morning yesterday... Bob was a great psychologist and a very generous and wonderful person. He is being missed by everybody.

Simply put, Bob Zajonc was a mainstay of Michigan social psychology for nearly half a century. After receiving his Ph.D. at UM in 1955, he stayed there for nearly another 40 years as a professor.

There are several ways to measure a scholar's productivity and impact on his or her academic field, such as awards or articles in major journals such as Psychological Review, of which Bob had plenty. I have my own way of conveying Bob's impact.

For readers who are not statistical experts, a meta-analysis is an exercise where one rounds up as many studies as he or she can find on the same basic research question (often 100 or more studies) and then computes the average magnitude of the phenomenon. There are at least two published meta-analyses on lines of research that Bob either initiated or advanced, thus showing his role in inspiring others to study particular questions:

Bond, C. F., & Titus, L. J. (1983). Social facilitation: A meta-analysis of 241 studies. Psychological Bulletin, 94, 265-292.

Bornstein, R. F. (1989). Exposure and affect: Overview and meta-analysis of research, 1968-1987. Psychological Bulletin, 106, 265-289.

A biographical sketch from the Foundation for the Advancement of Behavioral and Brain Sciences is available here (from which I borrowed the photo). Also, on February 13, 2004, I wrote a profile of Bob (click here for February 2004 archive, then scroll down).

In my view, Bob's productivity as a scholar was equalled only by his kindness and generosity to people in the Michigan social psychology program. Several times, Bob and Hazel opened their home to the department for receptions. Even though I never worked on any research projects with him, Bob was always very encouraging when he would hear of a project of mine that he found interesting.

UPDATE: The New York Times has published this obituary on Bob.