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Stanley Schachter was trained as a social psychologist at Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Michigan, where he received his Ph.D. in 1949. After his early collaborative work on social influence with psychologist Leon Festinger (1919–1989), including the classic field study of cognitive dissonance, When Prophecy Fails (1956), Schachter produced, on the basis of his own intuitions and distinctive research and analytic style, the prize-winning Psychology of Affiliation (1959).
A native New Yorker, Schachter moved in 1961 from the University of Minnesota to Columbia University in New York City, where he spent the remainder of his career, aside from summers (analyzing data) in his beloved Amagansett in New York’s Hamptons. He won the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in 1969 and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983.
Schachter is primarily associated with the idea that internal and external cues combine to determine human experience. This notion was offered initially in his formula for what constitutes a true emotional experience—namely, the joint presence of physiological arousal and a suitable emotional label or explanation (usually provided by the environment) for that arousal. The absence of either arousal or an appropriate emotional construal leads to an incomplete emotional experience. Empirical support for this notion was not as robust as one might prefer, but the Schachter perspective (Schachter and Singer, 1962) had a powerful impact, largely because of Schachter’s creative experimental scenarios and his eloquent and amusing writing style, and also because he and his students extended the formula to the realm of misattribution of emotion, which led to many fascinating and even practical implications.
It is often noted that Schachter’s work on obesity and eating grew directly out of his work on emotion. While it is true that both formulations involve internal and external cues, what is often overlooked is that the formula is quite different in the two realms. Whereas a true emotional experience requires both an internal cue (arousal) and an external cue (label), Schachter switched gears when talking about obesity. For one thing, he no longer targeted subjective experience; instead, his work focused on the act of eating rather than the experience of hunger. Moreover, instead of invoking an interaction of internal and external cues to explain eating, Schachter argued that eating could be produced by either sort of cue, acting in isolation. The obese, it appears, are not responsive to internal cues and eat entirely on the basis of external cues (i.e., environmental food cues), whereas normal-weight individuals are responsive to internal cues (and probably to external cues as well). Schachter’s internal/external distinction as applied to obesity and eating has been challenged, but once again, his
research was so clever and his argumentation so persuasive that he won over a generation of readers.
Schachter went on to study cigarette smoking, where he eventually adopted a radically “internal” perspective, arguing that psychological factors affect smoking only insofar as they affect urinary pH, which in turn influences nicotine reuptake into the bloodstream. He also studied the psychology of money and verbal dysfluencies before retiring in 1992. His legacy is his blend of creativity and the dogged pursuit of data to support his intuitions, which pleased him most when they challenged conventional wisdom.
- Festinger, Leon, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schacter. 1956. When Prophecy Fails. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Grunberg, Neil E., Richard E. Nisbett, Judith Rodin, and Jerome E. Singer, eds. 1987. A Distinctive Approach to Psychological Research: The Influence of Stanley Schachter. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Schachter, Stanley. 1959. The Psychology of Affiliation: Experimental Studies of the Sources of Gregariousness. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Schachter, Stanley, and Jerome E. Singer. 1962. Cognitive, Social, and Physiological Determinants of Emotional State. Psychological Review 69: 379–399.
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