Most Underappreciated: 50 Prominent Social Psychologists Describe Their Most Unloved Work

Most Underappreciated: 50 Prominent Social Psychologists Describe Their Most Unloved Work

Most Underappreciated: 50 Prominent Social Psychologists Describe Their Most Unloved Work

Most Underappreciated: 50 Prominent Social Psychologists Describe Their Most Unloved Work


Fifty of today's most prominent social psychologists describe their scholarship, focusing on the human and personal side of the "life of the mind." Each author spotlights his or her least appreciated work, and discusses theory, methods, findings, or application. The contributors also use this opportunity to provide the context behind their work. Some authors describe their mentors, the influential figures who led them to certain areas of research. Others offer advice to young researchers who are just entering the field and who can learn from their predecessors' mistakes and miscalculations. These contributors address issues like how to prepare for, and make the most of, a professorship in a liberal arts college context, and how to frame a research question, title an article, handle a controversy, pursue a passion, devise a method, think about a meta-analysis, and write persuasively. Still others discuss what makes their research important to them and to the field, describing the impact of their work on their own future research agendas. In fifty engaging and succinct essays, these eminent psychologists pull back the curtain on their professional lives. Their stories are personal and touch on relationships, passion for ideas, and the emotional highs and lows of academic life. This book is a truly unique glimpse behind scenes of social psychology and the people who have advanced the field.


Okay, so there are actually 55 essays, not 50, and 56 authors in all, as one essay is co-authored. Mea culpa, I suppose. I invited only a handful of others, early on, but those scholars either thought all their work was overappreciated, or they were just too busy to contribute something at the time. With 55 final invitations, I felt sure that a few people would have writer’s block, get carpal tunnel syndrome, rethink their commitment, or miss a deadline. No one did.

The reason for this record-setting perfect attendance, I think, is that the idea for this book hit a chord with virtually everyone who stopped, even briefly, to think about the idea. This book is unique. Each essay is brief and to the point, and each essay serves a purpose—not merely for the reader, but for the author, as well.

For the author: This is a collection of reflections written by some of the most eminent social psychologists of this era. Each author was asked to describe some work she or he has published that just didn’t hit the mark, didn’t get the kind of attention it “should have,” was misunderstood or misconstrued—what I described to them as their “most underappreciated” work. For some, it would be a matter of timing, publishing something before its time; for others a problem in the framing of the hypothesis or of the findings; for still others the publication outlet, the audience, and so forth. For some time, I have been asking visitors to Ohio State University informally, “What is your most underappreciated work?” and nearly without exception, people perk up and have a story to tell. As I asked this question, each conversation led to a dramatic change in my conversation partner’s face, moving from a blank sort of “start,” to a faint smile of recognition, a look into the middle distance, followed by a response that took a latency of only, perhaps, 10 seconds in all. Every such conversation (at least with senior scholars) led to a story, an illustration, a recounting of a project or idea—and a great story. As oft en as not, the story concerned a “monkey” that people had “on their backs.” And so, this book offered the chance to right the ship of scholarship, to explain again more clearly, to correct a misapprehension, a misunderstanding, a mis-citation, and so forth. In short, writing a brief essay, for some, was an opportunity of a lifetime. The chance to get a monkey offone’s back doesn’t present itself every day.

My conversations with visitors oft en reminded me of the “Zeigarnik effect,” which was first reported in the doctoral research of Bluma Zeigarnik (1927) . . .

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