Anthony G. Greenwald

Recipient of the Distinguished Scientist Award, 2006
Society for Experimental Social Psychology
Philadelphia , PA

Introductory Comments

Anthony Galt Greenwald was born in New York City in 1939. He was musically gifted, which led him to attend the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan . His hero was the jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown. In the mid-1950s, when explicit anti-semitism at Yale University still lingered, he managed to be admitted because he played trumpet -- the band director lobbied to get him off the waiting list. He graduated near the top of his class, went on to further study at Harvard, where at 24, he received his Ph.D. with Gordon Allport. There, he served as research assistant to two other recipients of the same award he receives today, Elliott Aronson and Walter Mischel.

Writing for today's occasion, Walter Mischel reminisced: “Since influencing you was obviously impossible, I soon put the effort into trying to at least survive dealing with you – this impossibly obstinate, willful, persistent, stubborn, argumentative character. As Binet would have said, “uneducable, cannot benefit from schooling” … the harder we tried to shape, twist, influence, or otherwise beat some sense into you … the more you spun your endlessly absurd, yes, sometimes ingenious, counter-arguments, mercilessly, day and night. Because you were beyond help … we substituted torturing you for teaching you, as you in turn tortured us brilliantly. And that made life at Harvard in those grim, pompous Social Relations Department days bearable.”

If Greenwald's kamikaze independence was visible early, so was his easy citizenship in multiple types of psychology. His first year of publishing contains two papers that show this: One on the separation of skill and motivation in performance and the other on attitude change.

As a postdoc at ETS in Princeton, NJ, his impressive professional accomplishments were eclipsed by the far more decisive event of his having met and married Jean Alexander, a woman of supreme intelligence, wit, and humanity and for whose presence scores of Greenwald students, this one included, have given mighty thanks, some days even thanks to the almighty.

There are person-place moments that become the stuff of science lore – every now and then, something rare, even magical takes form that defies explanation, that cannot be reproduced. The training program at Ohio State in social psychology, beginning in the late 1960s was such a thing and Greenwald was at its center. With his colleagues, he created at one location in America 's remarkable contribution to the world, the massive land-grant university, a graduate training program that was quite simply a force. Literally from the belly of that football stadium came within a short time the likes of Claude Steele, Kip Williams, Gary Wells, Richard Petty, John Cacioppo, Steve Breckler, Anthony Pratkanis, Sharon Shavitt, Trish Devine – to mention just a few.

Of the centerpieces of that program, who can forget the Greenwald weekly course assignment: A 500-word paper, not a word over, must fit on a single page, zero left margin, at least 1½ inches on the right reserved for handwritten comment and yes, the occasional drawing. The infamous one, a picture of a shovel drawn on the submission of an unsuspecting Mike Leippe. [Leippe confessed to me that when he first saw the shovel he thought Tony was saying “Good job Mike, you dug really deeply into this problem].

Some got the shovel, others were shoved more literally. Kip Williams remembers racquet ball. “I have an indelible scar on my right eyebrow from one of your back swings” he says. “As I lay on the floor, bleeding, you asked if I wanted to continue. I said yes, and you said, “My point; you were in my way.”

Tony will want the younger folk in the audience to know that he didn't always know how to go about establishing a program of research. For the first few years he thought that the way to build a career is to look at what talented people are doing and to improve it; so he took to doing just this – shooting holes into the work of others. The papers got published but it wasn't a winning strategy.

In the mid 1960s Greenwald's shining nugget of the idea of “cognitive response” was born. It is a notion now so fully accepted that it is hard to imagine a time when it wasn't always so; the idea that attitude change may be understood less from analysis of the persuasive message itself than from the mental responses that popped out of the minds of message processors.

It was there, at Ohio State, that Greenwald's tenacity in the face of resistant problems -- resistant even to replication such as the sleeper effect – came to be legendary; nothing less than Tennyson's Ulysses, the model: To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

But the sleeper effect's replication problem being solved was not sufficient. Tony asked the harder question: why did it take so many smart people so damn long to get to the right answer on the sleeper? The Psych Review paper on when theory obstructs research progress and how to avoid it is his homage to science broadly and to the funding public. His recent engagement with the same problem has been to teach us that there is nothing so theoretical as a good method, a notion so ahead of its time that anything remotely resembling its practice by the watchdogs of the field is nowhere in sight.

In the 1980s Tony's work expressed a quality that has come to signal his brand of genius. The fact that a concept is on the outs in scientific psychology, the fact that it is considered too flaky, too soft, too much of a pariah never kept him away from it. His riff on the concept of self and the existence of subliminal perception changed each original so fundamentally that the stigma that barred them from scientific study fell away. With the concept of self he was obviously not alone. But his take on it was unique. Casting the self as information processor, the self as a totalitarian mental system whose systematic flaws likely evolved in the service of preserving self-worth, he made the idea testable by linking it to ordinary cognition. Along with many of you here, he helped give the psychological concept of self a spine so strong it was able to get up and walk right off the self-help bookshelf.

At the University of Washington , his home for the past twenty years, Tony has spent time on the unconscious in a variety of ways. Sub-limi-nable perception as the President of the United States might say was in the realm of the pop: pop beliefs about pop corn and soda pop. Enter Tony Greenwald and the concession stand topples. No popcorn priming, no coca-cola priming, but here's the right answer: subliminal perception, in a limited sense, is for real. He showed it over and over again and wrote a hard paper summarizing data from 2000 subjects in JEP. I remember asking my colleague Bob Crowder, the cognitive psychologist, what he was planning to do over the course of his sabbatical year and he said: I'm going to spend it reading Tony Greenwald's subliminal perception paper.

But who could argue with the elegance and power of the regression-intercept technique? Who could argue when the precision of the method is such that you can take bets about whether you'll see the effect with 6 subjects or with 7. And this, for a phenomenon considered alongside ESP for many decades!

Contributions of this magnitude don't just pop out. They take sweat. There is no person I know with a more heightened work ethic, there is no person I know who spends as many hours on the task of honing his craft day in and day out. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. Everyday and vacation day.

The sweat Tony expects is mainly his own, but those who work with him aren't off the hook. Rich Abrams, his collaborator on the subliminal perception work wrote to me: “As I got close to finishing my dissertation, I decided I deserved a break and planned a weekend away. Saturday morning, crack of dawn, my wife and I were almost out the door when the phone rang. It was Tony. He wanted to catch me before I left, he said, to suggest that I “use some of my time off to think about ways other than masking that might reduce visibility of the primes.” (Those very words: I recorded them in my diary.)”

Much will be said, as it no doubt already has, about the other work that has preoccupied Tony Greenwald these past few years. This is the work on implicit social cognition, on the IAT in particular. It struck a chord in those who recognized its value to advance a research agenda; but also for those who recognized that it would never let them look at themselves the same way again.

Bob Zajonc, one of Tony's heroes, wrote in his tribute: “I wish to celebrate it more than the other important Greenwald contributions, because the IAT is a gateway to our understanding of consciousness, the problem that when solved and understood, will open a new era of psychology.”

* * * * * *

So, my friend, you see why I've been hanging around you these many years. From the moment I knocked on your door hesitantly, 26 years ago, my arm still aching from the bag that held all my worldly possessions from halfway around the globe, I have regularly considered the many things you have come to mean to me. Teacher and mentor. Critic, collaborator and co-conspirator. Supporter and promoter. Friend. The closest thing to family in this country, increasingly the closest thing to family, period – you and Jean.

You invested in me even though I was different. You taught me to write. You gave me flight. You showed by example that I should live the lesson Krishna teaches Arjuna in the Gita. That the work one does, the fruit it bears is the reward, not anything that may come by way of its recognition.

You are passionate, even fanatical, about making whatever comes your way work better. The theory, the method, the analysis, the final communication. Luckily for me, also the doorknob, the toaster-oven, anything that squeaks, innumerable toilets in my house. You fix everything!

I was there when you opened that famous fortune cookie message. It read innocuously, “There is nothing which cannot be improved.” Not good enough for you! Your hand went to your pen as if you were in a séance with Strunk and White, and you edited it. There is nothing, cross out which , insert that cannot be improved. There is nothing that cannot be improved.

Laurie Rudman who postdoc'd with you says you are the exception to this rule and I'm tempted to agree – if we accept the blocks with which you are built, there is pretty darned little to improve.

You always told it straight. Never unkindly, just bluntly. Never personal, always about the work, the idea, the data, the communication. No frills. No bows. No tinsel. Recently when Trish, you and I were having drinks at a conference and it was late in the day she asked you about the two of us: Tony, when we were in graduate school, did you ever think we would amount to anything? Your answer: No fucking way! Not the slightest glimmer of retrospective bias in recall.

Antony Pratkanis will remember well the dripping red paper he received back from you with comments on a paper he may have thought was ready to go. What I remember is that he stormed into my office saying “Doesn't the man realize that someday I'm going to be asked to write his obituary!” The answer is yes, you know, but you don't care. The question for you is: Was the paper improved?

You, dear person, have been my Ornette Coleman experience. Just as when you first heard Ornette in Lennox MA at jazz summer school and you thought he was playing it all wrong when in fact what you were hearing were the first sounds of free jazz and you didn't know it.

Your improvisations, likewise, sounded odd to me. Even discordant. You are an acquired taste, Tony Greenwald. But then, as with any acquired taste, single malt scotch or grasping the idea of human irrationality, the pleasures of the developed taste are incalculable. These days, of course, our eyes light up at the same ideas. Our eyes roll at the same hackneyed ways of thinking. We can finish each others sentences.

About your hero, the trumpeter Clifford Brown, who died tragically in his mid 20s, it is said that "Clifford Brown could play with a speed and precision that challenged, and at time eclipsed even the virtuosity of his own idols ... But even more than that, Clifford became known for a brain-boggling capacity to improvise long, complex and stunningly well-constructed solos." [Neil Tesser]. It is said that Brownie played each set as though it would be his last.

You, Tony Greenwald, dazzle with your speed and precision. You improvise long, complex and stunningly well-constructed solos. You, my friend, play each set as if it is your last.

What a gift was given to me to simply be there.

At a big 10 school you said, the term professor has muted meaning, there being no greater glory than being called “coach”. If I had your favorite drink in my hand, a martini made with the cheapest gin, very dry, two olives, I would raise it to say, Here's to you coach. Mine and psychology's.

Congratulations!