Richard E. Petty
Distinguished University Professor
Ohio State University
Richard Petty was born in New York City into a military family and never lived in the same city for more than four years until he took his first academic job in Columbia, Missouri. He received his B.A. (with high distinction) in government (political science) and psychology from the University of Virginia in 1973. He obtained his Ph.D. in social psychology from Ohio State University in 1977 where he was mentored in his first year by Robert Cialdini and subsequently by Timothy Brock, Anthony Greenwald, Thomas Ostrom, and Bibb Latane. He was also greatly influenced by his graduate cohort which included John Cacioppo and Gary Wells. His academic career began at the University of Missouri where he was promoted to Associate Professor in 1981 and was named the Frederick A. Middlebush Professor in 1985. After a sabbatical at Yale in 1986, he returned to Ohio State in 1987 as Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Doctoral Program. In 1995, he was visiting Professor at Princeton University. In 1998, he was named Distinguished University Professor at Ohio State.
Petty’s research focuses broadly on the situational and individual difference factors responsible for changes in beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. Much of his work is aimed at examining persuasion, attitude strength (especially ambivalence and certainty), prejudice, consumer choices, political decisions, and health behaviors. To date, his work has resulted in 8 books and 400 journal articles and chapters. Among his most notable works are those dealing with the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion and the related need for cognition scale (with John Cacioppo), the Flexible Correction Model (with Duane Wegener), and the role of meta-cognitive processes in judgment including development of the Meta-Cognitive Model of attitude structure and Self-validation Theory (with Pablo Briñol). Collectively, this research has been cited over 125,000 times.
Petty was elected fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association for Psychological Science, the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, and the American Psychological Association (with fellow status in the following divisions: 1-General; 3-Experimental/Cognitive Science; 8-Social/Personality; 23-Consumer; and 38-Health. His other honors include receipt of the award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Consumer Psychology from the Society for Consumer Psychology (1999); the Donald T. Campbell Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Social Psychology from SPSP (2000); the Scientific Impact Award from SESP (2009); the Distinguished Service Contribution Award from SPSP (2011); the Distinguished Scientist Award from SESP (2015); the Thomas M. Ostrom Award for career contributions to social cognition from the Person Memory Interest Group (2016); and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Attitudes and Social Influence Group (2018).
His elected service contributions to the field include terms as President of the Midwestern Psychological Association, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and the Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology. His editorial work includes terms as Associate Editor and Editor of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Associate Editor of Emotion, and service on the editorial boards of 14 other journals. He has also served as a consultant and panelist for various federal agencies including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Rich Petty was a major reason that I applied to the social psychology graduate program at Ohio State University. As a senior undergraduate student, and then as a beginning graduate student, I was thunderstruck by the clarity and scope of his theoretical insights and by the rigor and systematic nature of the empirical investigations he undertook to test his ideas. Having the privilege to work with him as a graduate student for 6 years and then as a collaborator for more than 24 years has only served to increase my appreciation of his many remarkable talents as a scientist.
However, what I could not have known at the time I first encountered his work as undergraduate student is that he would prove to be every bit as remarkable a mentor and friend. I do not think I would probably have even completed my Ph.D. without his unfailing support and guidance throughout my graduate career. I was on verge of giving up and he convinced me that I could successfully complete the program and then continue to be productively engaged in the field once I finished my degree. Since completing my degree almost 25 years ago, he has continued to play an important role in helping to nurture my career at each phase. It is no exaggeration to say that he changed my life. Moreover, there is nothing unique about my experience. Countless other students and collaborators have similar stories.
The field of social psychology has greatly benefitted from the talents of Rich Petty the scientist. His students and collaborators have also benefited from his talents as a scientist, but perhaps even more so from his many fine qualities as a person. There is no person I more respect as scientist and admire as a person than Rich Petty.
- Leandre Fabrigar
Rich Petty has been an outstanding mentor, collaborator, and friend since I met him, lo these many years ago. From the first, he astonished me with his generosity of time, advice, and thorough guidance. His curiosity, openness to learning, and sheer joy in the process of science was infectious, and I am beyond grateful to have benefitted from his wisdom about research, being as an academic, and life. Rich is an amazing man, and I feel honored and blessed to have known him.
- Monique Fleming
I believe I am Rich's only counseling psychology Ph.D. In 1978 I took Rich's graduate class in attitudes and persuasion, where he inspired me to conduct attitude change research and to work at the interface of social and clinical/counseling psychology. Rich agreed to serve as my thesis and dissertation supervisor. To their credit, the faculty of the counseling psychology program were supportive. Of the many things I learned from Rich, probably the most influential was his career advice (note the irony of the social psychologist, not the counseling psychologist, providing career advice). It turned out to be right on the money. I was considering taking an extra year to get a Ph.D. in social, in addition to counseling. Rich pointed out that with a Ph.D. in counseling psych I could do psychotherapy and conduct any research I wanted, so I didn't need to spend the extra year also getting the social psych Ph.D.. He pointed out that I had already taken most of the coursework in social and that I could use that year being a faculty member and conducting research. That's exactly what I did and have no regrets!
Rich was a terrific mentor in 100 different ways. My favorite Rich Petty story, one I tell my own students regularly, happened in 1982. I stomped into Rich's office, complaining about the “B” Donald Kausler gave me in an advanced seminar in learning, my only “B” in grad school. I've told the story so many times, that I am unsure now what he actually said, but it was along the lines of "Well that was stupid," to which I replied something like "Stupid! I ran an original study for his class and just submitted the manuscript! He said to earn an A he would have to be confident I could teach the class, which is crazy. What do you mean stupid?" Rich responded, "No, it's not stupid that you got the B. It's stupid that that's the only B you got. The time you spent getting those A's could have been spent writing grant proposals, running studies, writing manuscripts." He was absolutely right. Thanks, Rich.
- Martin Heesacker
I was lucky enough to be mentored by Rich at Ohio State, and can’t imagine a better experience than the one he gave me. Rich is brilliant—one of the all-time greats in social psychology—and also enormously kind, caring, and generous. I recall a time when we were both traveling to a conference in Europe, but from different cities. We agreed to meet on the way in the connecting airport (in the US) and then take the long flight together from there. As luck would have it, my first flight was delayed and when I arrived in the connecting city the second flight had already boarded. I sprinted through the airport and got to the gate just before they closed the doors. When I got there, the only people in the gate area were a couple of flight attendants… and Rich. He’d waited for me, watching the entire plane board before him, so he’d be there when I arrived. This captures my experiences with Rich as a mentor. He was always one step ahead (or more!), and waited patiently while I tried to catch up. I learned so much from Rich, and can’t thank him enough for his guidance, support, and friendship over the years.
- Zakary Tormala
I couldn’t have dreamed up a role model as excellent as Rich for my graduate school education. He is an intellectual giant whose scientific impact transcends conventional boundaries across disciplines. I have stopped counting the number of times that a scholar from a different discipline (e.g., communication, computing science) would ask me if I have heard of his work.
As many people know, Rich is a person of few words. But, the words he chooses often express what the central arguments or issues are, whether it is to understand reviewers’ feedback, interpret data, or even allocate resources and desserts. For example, I mentioned to him once that an OSU graduate student had talked about how much they loved Rich as a department chair because Rich had approved her advisor’s request for additional lab space. Rich’s response: “They were productive so their request got approved.” And once I observed him interact with his nine-year twins, who had been having fun pretending to be ghosts. Later on, when they wanted to eat ice-cream, he said: “Ghosts don’t eat ice-cream.”
Rich has taught me the importance of listening, being thorough, and being honest, when conducting research. For me, he also sets the bar for generosity –– he always sees the best in people, especially younger scholars and graduate students. He also stands out for his humility –– he is never one to bring up his own accomplishments and would shun the topic even if someone else brings it up. I am very grateful that I was and continue to be influenced by his thinking.
- Ya Hui Michelle See
I admire Rich so much. He is the greatest inspiration to me, and to those around him. I celebrate his brightness and elegance, both as a scholar and a person. Rich is a gift, a dream come true, a wonderful mastermind, and such a role model. I feel deeply indebted to Rich as his clarity, transformative guidance, and influential support has enlightened me in so many ways. I want to express my sincerest gratitude for his generous dedication to the field and to all of us. His curiosity, creativity, and strong vitality are contagious. His insights are capable of elevating any idea to the highest level. His integrity is as extraordinary as his genius talent. I love how all these exceptional virtues are carried with such unusual modesty and grace. Such elegance is beautiful and moving. Thanks a lot, Rich. I feel extremely privileged, honored, and thrilled to be part of your life.
- Pablo Briñol
Rich was the perfect mentor for me. He taught me how to find theoretically interesting questions and helped me develop the tools by which to examine them. But of greatest importance, he gave me a love of science and exploration. He was also a great support in my personal life. His office was always open no matter what the reason. I fondly recall my first quarter at OSU. I was his teaching assistant for a class that met Wednesdays from 2-5. After class, we would meet in his office and talk for hours. We would touch upon how the class went and teaching in general, and then move on to current and possible research projects. Those ten weeks had the greatest impact on my understanding of what it means to be an academic than any other. I cannot adequately express my gratitude.
- Joseph Priester
Rich adopted me as a graduate student and taught me how to think. Back then, I felt that every time I got to talk to Rich, I became just a little better at thinking. Many years on, I continue to feel that way. He has this effect on everyone he comes into contact with, evidenced in part by the long line of successful graduate students he has mentored. When I was in graduate school, his lab, Group for Attitudes and Persuasion, was an intellectual’s dream, filled with bright students pursuing exciting ideas and debating and questioning one another with collegial ferocity. Despite all of his accomplishments and achievements, Rich is one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. Rich is typically the smartest person in the room, but acts with such disarming humility and gentleness that you would hardly know it.
- Christian Wheeler
Rich has been a tremendous mentor to many students over the course of his career. For me, one of the biggest reasons for this is that he treats his students like colleagues from the very beginning. Even though as a first-year student I often felt like I didn’t have much to contribute, through his actions Rich conveyed that I did. He listened carefully, asked questions, and engaged in discussions with me rather than being dismissive of my ideas or directive in his advising style. I soon had the efficacy and freedom to become a more independent scholar, but also knew that Rich would be there to discuss the project with and that these conversations would inevitably make the project better. The fact that many of his former students still want to work with him decades after graduating is a testament to the strength of the working relationship that Rich developed with us during our training.
- Kenneth DeMarree
Congratulations to a terrific scholar, mentor, and friend. For me, one of the most memorable (and personally insightful) comments from Rich was many years ago when he was having a bit of difficulty when searching for some research materials and papers in his files. In a self-reflective moment, he said, and I quote: “I never thought there would be this much stuff!” As your friends and colleagues know, all “that stuff” has had and continues to have a major influence on theory, method, and practice in many areas of psychology and beyond. The need for more storage space (and the nature of the disciplines) continue to grow as you and those directly and indirectly influenced by you continue to build on the very strong foundations and timeless insights provided by your theoretical and empirical work. All the best!
- Curtis Haugtvedt
Thank you, Rich, for everything. Thank you for taking me in as an advisee when I was in my rudderless post-Masters state. Thank you for teaching me both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of social psychology. Thank you for the endless guidance during the dissertation process, during the job-search process, and beyond. I now find myself in a career that brings me satisfaction, happiness, and a profound sense of achievement. I cannot imagine being here without your incredible support. Thank you, Rich.
- George Bizer
- Gifford Weary
My goal was to become an aggression researcher. Originally, I was intent on going to the University of Wisconsin to work with Len Berkowitz, but he encouraged me to work with his former student Russ Geen at the University of Missouri instead, who was a more active researcher. It was there that I met Rich Petty in 1985. I took two classes from him (Research Methods & Attitudes), and learned so much. Rich graciously agreed to be on my master’s thesis committee, and he helped me use a thought-listing procedure to show that exposure to violent movies can prime aggressive thoughts. Missouri lost a great faculty member when he left to join Ohio State, but I never lost a great mentor. Over the years, he has given me excellent advice about many topics (e.g., job offers, editorships, research projects, TED talks). I am delighted to now be at Ohio State, where I can see Rich on a regular basis, and even have lunches with him at the Faculty Club. Even 35 years later, I still learn much from Rich. My life and career are better because our paths crossed. He has helped me far more than he will ever know.
- Brad Bushman
Little did I know when I was assigned Rich Petty as an advisor how much that would influence the rest of my life (always for the better). Little did I know how much his previous work and his theoretical ideas would come to permeate all the ways I think about and evaluate research. Little did I know how much fun it would be to develop collaborations on new ideas, to design and conduct research, and to publish articles and chapters together – every time I exchange manuscripts with Rich, I always know he will have a question I never considered, or he will have one small comment that entirely changes the way the entire paper unfolds. It’s like Christmas morning without all the bows and wrapping paper (okay, Christmas doesn’t generally require as much follow-up work, but the point is that Rich’s involvement always enhances both the quality of the work and the enjoyment involved in bringing the work to fruition!). Little did I know that our kids (my oldest, his twins) would be born within weeks of one another or that I would have the one opportunity in my life to have one up on Rich – when he asked me what it was like to be in the delivery room when my son was born. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity to become his department colleague – in the program responsible for the career I have the joy to call my own. I have no illusions that any of that would have been likely without having Rich Petty in my life, and I am thankful every day that he was there when I arrived in Columbus and that he has been there every step of the way since.
- Duane Wegener