I was born in 1955 in the slums of East New York Brooklyn, where I lived until I was 5. My family then had the "privilege" of moving into a Brooklyn public housing project, where we lived till I was 12. This was a step up from our prior place. A year later, shortly after moving to Levittown, Long Island, my mother died after a long battle with cancer, and my father fell apart, leaving us alone for days at a time, neglecting our apartment and his two kids. Forced into self-reliance at age 13, I developed a fierce independence and little respect for authorities. In high school I purposely made life miserable for my teachers, so that one of the great ironies of my life is that I eventually became a professor. One of my graduate advisors did not know how correct he was when he described me as never quite having been socialized.
In 1975, shortly after dropping out of SUNY-Binghamton, I met Lisa Baum, with whom I fell in love, and eventually married and had three children. Lisa patiently worked on convincing me to return to college, and, after years of gentle perseverance, succeeded. In 1979, I enrolled at UMass/Boston, because I: 1) visited Boston for a day once and liked it; and 2) had a brochure indicating that the average age of the undergrads there was 25, so I would not feel out of place. I registered for two psychology courses, figuring to drop one to keep my load light (I planned to major in something lucrative). This was not so simple. Within a month, I had fallen in love with both psychology courses. "Who needs money?" I thought, and became a psychology major.
I was fortunate because:
1. My income was so low prior to this point that I was legally eligible for massive financial aid, without which I would never have attended college, and
2. UMass/Boston had a superb undergraduate psychology program. Michael Milburn, Dennis Byrnes, and Ina Samuels provided support, good advice, and an excellent background in psychology. Milburn guided my honors thesis, and provided me with a firm foundation in empirical research. My first graduate advisor unintentionally paid UMass/Boston high tribute, when she described me as "the first student I have worked with who knew how to write before he got here."
At Michigan, my disregard for the established order quickly manifested. First, I developed a passion for tennis, although the ground was usually snow-covered. Second, despite Michigan's faculty reading like a Who's Who in psychology, I hooked up with a new assistant professor -- Lerita Coleman. We hit it off immediately. My early empirical work with Lerita provided me with my first exposure to data that behaved as poorly as I generally had. One set of lab studies showed that, in contrast to social psychology's heavy emphasis on self-fulfilling prophecies, performance feedback provided by teachers had little influence on students' self-concept. Another set of lab studies showed that, despite prevailing wisdom, White perceivers evaluated African American job applicants more favorably than they evaluated White job applicants. Lerita and I collaborated for years on projects inspired by this early work.
At Michigan, I also benefited from collaborations with Mel Manis and Wayne Osgood, and guidance from Bob Zajonc, Hazel Markus, and James Jackson. They reviewed draft after tedious draft of the papers I struggled to publish. I also fondly remember how hard administrators Mary Cullen and Dottie Walker worked to improve life for graduate students. I also met Jon Krosnick, who became a close friend, collaborator, and an endless resource for constructive criticism and statistical advice. All this support finally bore fruit in 1986, when I published my first paper, a theoretical analysis of self-fulfilling prophecy processes.
In 1985, I approached Jacquelynne Eccles for advice regarding lab studies of expectancies. She replied, "Why not study expectancies in the real world?" and offered me data on hundreds of teachers and thousands of students. Eccles also provided a comparable windfall of other tangible and intangible support. This launched not only my dissertation, but a research program and collaboration with Eccles that is still going strong. This research: 1) breathed new life into an old area (teacher expectations); and 2) changed social psychological assumptions regarding relations between social perception and social reality.
At that time, prevailing views of social perception assumed that expectancy effects were powerful and pervasive. Accuracy was not only ignored, it was construct non grata. However, in 1987, groundbreaking articles by Funder and Kenny reintroduced social psychologists to the empirical study of accuracy. This was fortunate for me, because, as usual, my data behaved poorly: 1) The self-fulfilling and biasing effects of teacher expectations were small; and 2) Teacher expectations predicted student achievement mainly because those expectations were accurate.
Concerned about my data's odd behavior, I searched the social scientific literature for research comparing accuracy to self-fulfilling prophecy. I found a vast data base of naturalistic, experimental, and meta-analytic studies that provided little basis for claiming expectancy effects were powerful and pervasive, and that educational psychologists had for years been documenting that teacher expectations are largely accurate. This chasm between social psychological theory and data inspired the reflection construction model, which identified possible structural relations between social reality and social perception.
Applying this model to existing studies of expectancies and social perception often yielded surprising conclusions:
In 1987, I entered my current position at Rutgers. Rather than ostracizing me for my unusual views regarding accuracy, error, and bias, my new colleagues aided, guided, and supported me (for which I am deeply grateful). At every stage of my career at Rutgers, I have benefited from especially warm relationships with Richard Ashmore and Richard Contrada, both of whom I have collaborated with. I have also benefited from advice received from and collaborations with Jack Aiello and Mel Gary, and my work has been enriched through discussions with Howard Leventhal, Ann O'Leary, and David Wilder.
Having demonstrated that self-fulfilling prophecies are generally small, I embarked on a quest (with Eccles and two superb graduate students, Stephanie Madon and Alison Smith) to identify conditions under which they might large. But the data again refused to conform to the social science canon: 1) Despite widespread beliefs that self-fulfilling prophecies oppress people from stigmatized social groups, they were more likely to raise than to lower students' achievement; and 2) rather than accumulating over time, the self-fulfilling effects of teacher expectations dissipated with time (the data are becoming incorrigible!).
This quest has, however, shown that self-fulfilling prophecies are considerably stronger among students who are African American, or from lower SES backgrounds, or who have histories of low achievement. Why might students from stigmatized groups be subjected to greater self-fulfilling prophecies? Prevailing social science wisdom points to inaccurate social stereotypes. Therefore, I (with Eccles and Madon) performed several empirical studies seeking evidence of teacher bias against such groups. But again the data was uncooperative -- teacher perceptions of group differences usually corresponded well with actual pre-existing group differences. This inspired a general challenge to social scientific beliefs regarding stereotypes. In Stereotype Accuracy, I (and collaborators Yueh-Ting Lee and Clark R. McCauley) argued that perspectives emphasizing inaccuracy in stereotypes are themselves unjustified, exaggerated, and not based on empirical evidence.
However, claiming that stereotypes are not necessarily inaccurate does not mean that all stereotypes are necessarily accurate. Unfortunately, I have had experience with unjustified negative stereotypes. I live in an ethnically diverse community with excellent public schools, but those schools have an unjustified negative reputation. That reputation is often presented as grounds for defeating school budgets (in New Jersey, communities vote on school budgets each year -- if defeated, the budget is cut). Those opposing school spending dominated my township's politics (five consecutive budgets had been defeated). In 1995, I cofounded a grassroots group to support the schools. Because the schools had become overcrowded, a referendum to construct a new school (which the opposition claimed was not needed) was also on the 1996 ballot. My authority challenging self joined my social psychological self in developing tactics for winning this election (such as repeatedly publicly hammering the opposition with achievement and enrollment data that exposed the inaccuracy of their views). In 1996, after five consecutive defeats, the school budget (and referendum) passed.
I have often disregarded conventional wisdom in my personal life, too. For example, we have had children just as I was starting my dissertation (Rachel, 1986), first job (Kayla, 1988), and coming up for tenure (Josh, 1993).
My accomplishments are
the support I have received from advisors and colleagues, and
from Lisa and her family. Few of those accomplishments started
to challenge received wisdom. However, regardless of whether
wisdom involves schools in my community, or theoretical claims
I can't deny feeling an adolescent admiration for data that
I am still an avid tennis player and only slightly less avid biker (in the bicycle, not motorcycle, sense), and occasional hiker. My daughter Kayla, who has disabilities, also has my love for tennis. 1-2x/year, we go to Wildwood/Cape May and play a ton of tennis at my favorite tennis club on Earth, the Cape May Tennis Club. This year, 2016, for the first time, she played tennis in the NJ Special Olympics. She won gold in singles and silver in doubles. I was her regular doubles partner for years, but as of this writing, she has this new, tennis-playing boyfriend. My wife, who also is a good player, and I will be gunning for them...
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