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Elliot Aronson is a prominent American social psychologist. Born in Revere, Massachusetts, on January 9, 1932, his career has spanned nearly fifty years. He is renowned as a creative methodologist who conducts carefully crafted, highly impactful experiments to explore the causes and consequences of human social behavior. His style of experimentation builds on the legacy of Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) and Leon Festinger (1919–1989). Aronson’s textbook, The Social Animal (9th ed., 2003), is widely used and highly regarded for its pedagogical innovations. He is also known for his work as coeditor of two editions (1969, 1985) of the important Handbook of Social Psychology. He has been a highly successful mentor of doctoral students, including many who have made significant contributions to the field of social psychology during distinguished careers.
Aronson earned a bachelor’s degree in 1954 at Brandeis University, where he was mentored by Abraham Maslow (1908–1970). He then earned a master of arts degree at Wesleyan University in 1956, and completed the PhD program at Stanford University in 1959, where his mentor was Festinger, known for developing the theory of cognitive dissonance. Aronson subsequently held faculty positions at Harvard University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he has been professor emeritus since 1994. Since 2001 he has also been distinguished visiting professor at Stanford University.
Beginning in 1959 and continuing through the mid1960s, Aronson published a number of widely cited experiments that tested derivations from the theory of cognitive dissonance, providing support for dissonancetheory explanations of such phenomena as effort justification (evaluating an outcome more positively after a high degree of effort was required to attain it) and insufficient deterrence (devaluing a forgone pleasure when the threatened aversive consequence was minimal). Aronson proposed a useful modification to the theory of cognitive dissonance by asserting that the dissonant cognitions must be self-relevant, and that dissonance reduction will be directed at preserving one’s self image. In the 1990s he returned to this topic in experiments that show that making salient a discrepancy between the behavior that one advocates for others and one’s own behavior (hypocrisy) induces dissonance that is reduced by adopting behavior more in accord with what one has advocated for others.
Aronson’s contributions include his work on the effects of disconfirmed expectancies, and a substantial body of work on the antecedents of interpersonal attraction, notably the gain-loss hypothesis, predicting that changes in the level of esteem received from another would be a more important determinant of attraction to that person than the overall amount of esteem received. Aronson is also well known in the field of education for his work on the jigsaw classroom. He and his colleagues conducted field experiments demonstrating that creating interdependence within student teams working on a school assignment leads to reduced prejudice against minority students or other out-groups, while maintaining or enhancing academic achievement. This technique is widely used in classrooms at all levels of elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education.
Aronson has received many academic and scientific honors, including the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Teaching Award (1980), its Donald Campbell Award for Distinguished Research in Social Psychology (1980), and its Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (1999). He was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992, and received the Distinguished Scientific Career Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology in 1994. He received a William James Fellow Award for 2006–2007 from the Association for Psychological Science.
- Aronson, Elliot. 2003. The Social Animal. 9th ed. New York: Worth.
- Aronson, Elliot, and Shelley Patnoe. 1997. The Jigsaw Classroom: Building Cooperation in the Classroom. 2nd ed. New York: Longman.
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