Dr. Daniel Gilbert, and a journey to psychology

Before returning to your regularly scheduled  post, replete with audio clips from the very engaging and quotable Dr. Daniel Gilbert, I have a quick aside about this Journey2Psychology project. One thing that Dr. Gilbert was curious about (and that I’d like to share with you) are the motivations of this project. Like  a lot of things there are a lot of reasons, and as a good psychologist I recognize that I am not really aware  of all of them. There are a few things that seem prominent, nonetheless. A desire to better understand where great advancements in Psychology have come from. An interest in the people who developed the field and their motivations. A chance to use the stories of great Psychologists to make the field more accessible and welcoming to students newly entering the area.

I owe many thanks to my colleague Dr. Janet  Ahn for sharing her research relating to this final point, and on the nature of success!!

Let me ask a quick question: why was Albert Einstein so incredible in his accomplishments? Why was Marie Curie? Or why was my featured psychologist of the day, Dan Gilbert?  In science, these folks are all household names. They are recognized as geniuses in their own time. They are respected and made contributions to science that are undeniably important.

If you spend some time thinking about their successes, and I do, there are probably a lot of things that were important to them. Having the right mentors (DG had Ned Jones,  an amazing social psychologists who produced incredible scientists!) and colleagues (DG has many, but has worked very closely with Dr. Tim Wilson for more than 20 years!), working in the right environment at the right time,  putting in thousands of devoted hours of thought, experimentation, and dissemination of their findings, and, of course, their genetic gifts to be pretty smart cookies. And certainly they needed those smarts to see a path into some mysterious scientific questions, to understand the data they found, and to effectively communicate all of those critical narratives from that data to other people.

Now  here’s the thing, when children are taught to think of great scientists largely as great geniuses, and moreover, to think that great science only comes from truly exceptional and powerful minds, it may be daunting for those kids (see Lin-Seigler et al., 2016 in the Journal of Educational Psychology and their article Even Einstein Struggled for much more on this issue).

Consequently, part of my aims in providing the context and backgrounds of influential Psychologists is to clarify the real efforts they put into their success. Certainly they are awesome folks who have done amazing work, but they didn’t start out that way. They  had to overcome real and daunting challenges on the journey’s they took into academia. They overcame intellectual challenges finding their place in the field, and in determining the paradigms that would be  interesting and accessible to them. And they overcame social/cultural issues from including poverty, various forms of bigotry, and in balancing overwhelming responsibilities between work/school/family.

With that in mind, I’ll ask you to think about Dr. Gilbert and his stumbling and somewhat ragged (magical?) path to becoming a social psychologist. As he describes, he really liked and almost became something totally different in  Psychology.  In a very real way, being a social psychologist had  to do with  the fact that he was a father at a young age and had to find a way to balance his parenting with work responsibilities prior to ever going back to school for a bachelor’s degree, much less entering grad school.

Here is Dr. Gilbert discussing how he ended up at Princeton University and in a graduate program to become a social psychologist:

Sure, Princeton is fantastic, but if he met different people when visiting their campus, if there hadn’t been a nice park  near the student apartments, who knows?

Speaking of challenges, here’s an audio clip that I know many of you will relate to:  balancing work,  family, school, and life  responsibilities. Dr. Gilbert candidly describes how he made it through his education while being a parent, his spouse going to school and working, and his hours working to support himself. It wasn’t easy, how did he manage to get through it?

As I hope is clear,  Dr. Gilbert is full of laughter and humor in his descriptions, undoubtedly another helpful trait to make it through sleepless nights and long days.

There are MANY more stories I look forward to sharing  with you, but I want to move to one other wonderful thing that you’ll find if you read Dr. Gilbert’s articles. He and his colleagues write science, provide rigor, and are also are incredibly accessible for a reader.  You can be someone genuinely interested in Psychology with almost no background, and be engaged by the articles written by Dr. Gilbert and his collaborators.  We spent some time discussing writing and how his writing developed.  Here’s one part of his description, in which he addresses his approach to writing:

In many ways, Dr. Gilbert is a scientist on a journey. He spent part of his youth on a physical journey across the country, away from family and the confines of institutional education, and to constructing a path for himself. Eventually that journey brought him to social psychology, and through new ideas that challenged what we think we know about ourselves and our world. From correspondence bias (fundamental attribution error) to affective forecasting to an almost one-scientist campaign to bring social science to the real, general public, his journey has continued in a merry winding way. There’s much more to tell in his journey, and I look forward to sharing this with you in the culminating book from my own Journey2Psychology!

(*Pictured are some of the items that adorn the window-ledge of Dr. Gilbert’s office. Apparently, he’s picked up quite a few mugs in his journey through Psychology!)

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