Department of Psychology
Department of Psychology

Arnold H Buss

Professor EmeritusPh.D., Indiana University

Arnold H Buss



Aggression, temperament, individual differences, and self-consciousness


Arnold Buss received his Ph.D. from Indiana University. He previously taught at the University of Iowa, University of Pittsburgh, and Rutgers University. He currently is emeritus professor at UT.

His research and theory fell within the areas of social behavior and personality. He has published 80 papers in psychology, and is the author of 12 books. His latest books are:

Pathways to Individuality: Evolution and Development of Personality Traits (2011) Read more about this book...

Psychological Dimensions of the Self (2001)

Personality Match and Mismatch in the Family (2008)


Career Overview

Arnold Buss (Professor at UT, 1969-2008)

Pioneer: A person who is among the first to explore or settle a new country or area

A case can be made that Arnold Buss was the first or among the first psychologists to explore 1) a segment of personality, for example, coming up with the novel trait of public self-consciousness, 2) a segment of social behavior, for example, a procedure to study and quantify physical aggression in the laboratory, and 3) the interaction of a particular personality trait (aggressiveness) with a particular social behavior (aggression).

The evidence will be examples from just a few of his research articles and some of his 12 books. Notice the dates, which are relevant to the issue of pioneering.

When Buss worked in a psychiatric hospital, he asked what was meant by saying that a patient was hostile. The answer was physical, verbal, and indirect aggression, anger, negativism, resentment, and suspicion. A questionnaire was developed, complete with norms and reliability (Buss & Durkee, 1957). It was the first questionnaire to differentiate among the varieties of hostile behaviors. For example, it distinguished between a person who fights others (direct aggression) from one who lets air out of a victim’s tires (indirect aggression), and between one who is angry or just suspicious. It was widely used in research, some by Buss himself, until supplanted by an updated version (Buss & Perry, 1992), which has been translated into a dozen languages.

In the late 1950s, now at the University of Pittsburgh, Buss, together with a graduate student, Normal Portnoy, completed a two-part study on social identity (1967). College students were asked to rank how strongly they were committed to each of eight groups and how strongly they felt as members of each of group. Men ranked being American first, followed by both gender and religion, and lower down, expected vocation. Women also ranked being an American first, followed equally by gender and religion, and slightly lower, expected vocation. (The other sources—age group, college, club, and state—were ranked so low that they need not be considered here).

The study was repeated 25 years later, with different results (Buss, 1992). For both sexes religion was a distant third. A comparison of the two studies revealed several major changes **during** the 25-year time interval. Being an American was now a weaker source for both sexes, and religion dropped in importance. The importance of gender remained unchanged for men but rose sharply for women to be ranked first, far above the second choice, being American. What would the results be in these post-9/11 years, when terrorism is on the minds of most Americans?

The second part of the study was an experiment in which pain tolerance was tested twice. Between the first and second tests, the male subjects were told either that Russian men could tolerate more pain than American men or that Canadian men could. Pain toleranceincreased sharply when the comparison group was Russians (our cold war enemy in the 1960s) but hardly at all when the comparison group was Canadian (our friends). Tolerating more pain is just one example of identity translating into commitment, a reminder of their connection. A social identity offers the reward of feeling that you belong at the price, sooner or later, of committing yourself to its cause.

Next, Buss sought an ethical method for quantifying aggression under laboratory conditions. The result was the aggression machine, the teacher/learner paradigm in which the learner (an accomplice) is punished for for his or her mistakes by the teacher (the real subject). The measure of aggression was the intensity of electric shock that subjects thought they were delivering. The two-year pilot work was published in a chapter in Buss’s 1961 book, The Psychology of Aggression. This experimental paradigm thus antedated Milgram’s later, more familiar obedience paradigm (1963). The Buss paradigm was widely used, and versions of the aggression machine are still employed to this day.

That 1961 book also included a clarifying distinction between angry aggression (to hurt or harm the victim) and instrumental aggression (to achieve any reward that might also be the outcome of nonaggressive behavior), a distinction still used today under the headings of reactive-proactive, defensive-offensive, and affective-incentive aggression. The Psychology of Aggression was later named a citation classic.

In 1969 Buss moved to UT as head of the Graduate Personality area.

He mentored graduate students who went on to successful careers, adding luster to the psychology department’s reputation. Some time back the UT Psychology Department decided that each year it would honor a former graduate student for his or her subsequent academic achievements. Ten former students were nominated, four of them mentored by Buss. The faculty chose to honor one of the four, Robert Plomin, in the first year and another of the four, Karen Matthews, in the second year.

Buss also taught large introductory psychology students in Batts Auditorium, so he decided to write a textbook for the course. Published in (1973), two years before E.O. Wilson’s book, Sociobiology, it was the first introductory text to use evolution as the overarching theme, and the first psychology text to feature the evolution of the brain, including why the brain is in the head (it started with roundworms). The book offered an evolutionary framework for learning, from habituation to language learning, and offered four answers to a previously unasked question “What do we mean by complex learning?” These were delayed reinforcement, flexibility (e.g., reversal learning), relationship learning (e.g., oddity problems), and observational learning.

Buss and Robert Plomin wrote one of the first modern books on temperament (1975). Temperaments were defined as broad personality traits that are observed as early as infancy, have an inherited component, and are the basic forerunners of personality development. They reviewed research bearing on this theory, including their own, and for the first time specified the details of how each person affects his or her social environment, chooses environments, sets the tone for social interactions, modifies the impact of the environment, and selectively reinforces the behavior of others.

Buss and graduate students Albert Fenigstein and Michael Scheier, published the self-consciousness questionnaire (1975), which introduced two new personality traits. One was public self-consciousness: being especially aware of how you are coming across to others. The other trait was private self-consciousness: examining your feelings, emotions, and personality traits. It was assumed that people high in private self-consciousness know themselves better than Lows.

A test of this hypothesis ensued (Scheier, Buss and Buss, 1978).

Subjects were administered the aggression questionnaire and the self-consciousness questionnaire, and subjects were split into those high or low in the latter. Several months later they were given the opportunity to aggress with the aggression machine paradigm. For those high in private self-consciousness the correlation between aggressiveness (questionnaire) and aggression (intensity of shock delivered) was .66. For those low in private self-consciousness this correlation was .09. The Highs knew themselves and the Lows did not. To place this experiment in a larger context, the typical correlation between a personality trait and a laboratory measure of trait-related behavior is in the high .30s.

Buss assembled research on self-consciousness, as well as research and theory on embarrassment and public speaking anxiety, to form a book,

Self-Consciousness and Social Anxiety (1980), which was one of the first in psychology on those two topics. He distinguished between the more sensory self in animals and human infants and the more cognitive self in older children and adult humans. He offered a theory of private and public self-consciousness, and how they are linked to embarrassment, shame, and public speaking anxiety. The book also distinguished between two kinds of shyness. Anxious shyness, also called stranger anxiety, is observed in infants late in the first year of life, has an inherited component, and is observed in animals. Self-conscious shyness, which when acute is called embarrassment, is observed late in the preschool period, peaks in adolescence, has no inherited component, and is observed only in humans. As Mark Twain wrote, “Man is the only animal that blushes; or needs to.”

Buss also distinguished between shyness, which occurs when we interact with others, and sociability, which is the motive to be with others. Subsequently, Jonathan Cheek and Buss (1981) showed that the two had a low, negative correlation and that they had different impacts on observed social interaction—a five minute get-acquainted period between two strangers--in a laboratory setting. Combining traits proved to be enlightening: it was the sociable-shy subjects who were the most inhibited.

As the above evidence shows, Arnold Buss was a pioneer, specifically in the areas of aggression, temperament, self-consciousness, and shyness, and in demonstrating the personality traits relevant to social behavior. It is appropriate, then, to mention that Buss’s book, Social Behavior and Personality (1986), was deemed too valuable to remain out of print. Republished in 2015, it contained this note by the publisher: “The fields of social behavior and personality had for the most part been studied separately. Originally published in 1986, this title was one of the first to consider them together. Social behaviors and contexts are analyzed and distinctions are suggested. Social behaviors not previously seen as similar are linked. This is a great opportunity to rediscover the work of Arnold Buss, one of the greats in Social Psychology.”


Pathways to Individuality: Evolution and Development of Personality Traits

Pathways to Individuality: Evolution and Development of Personality Traits


Arnold H. Buss

Pathways to Individuality: Evolution and Development of Personality Traits
August 2011
American Psychological Association, 1st edition


Psychological Dimensions of the Self

Psychological Dimensions of the Self


Arnold H. Buss

Psychological Dimensions of the Self
June 2001
Sage Publications, Inc.


Six Decades of Psychology

I started graduate school in 1947. In that era, there were European refugee psychologists who had come to America in the 1930s. They brought two approaches. One was the Gestalt approach to perception. The other was psychoanalytic theory. In many psychology departments, the clinicians were psychoanalytic. At the University of Michigan there were two kinds of clinicians in the psych department: Freudians and neoFreudians.


I was part of a wave of veterans of World War II. The GI bill helped me finance my PhD at Indiana University. They had a strong program in sensory psychology. Two later graduates were Bill Geisler and Dennis MacFadden, the eyes and ears of this department. One of my first classes was in preschool intelligence testing, which was largely sensory and motor skills. I failed a motor item at the 4-year level, and years of psychoanalytic therapy did not remove that stain (just joking). The second preschooler I was to test started crying. I eventually calmed her down and tested her. The instructor inferred that I was good with difficult children and from then on assigned me to any difficult child. I complained to my classmates, but after the semester was over I realized that I had gained more experience than anyone. Early on a psychology couple, the Hayes, visited the psych department with their young home reared chimpanzee. They were teaching her to speak, but the only word we heard was cup, spoken without the vowel. A graduate student tried to give her some nonverbal items from an IQ test, but she was too hyperactive, perhaps a little more so than some of the preschoolers I had tested. The Hayes’ failure pointed up the fact that chimpanzees lack the vocal tract to produce human speech. We graduate students were a rambunctious lot. One guy wired a manual typewriter so that a particular sequence of keys would produce a pinging sound. We played with it and solved it. Then he turned it off, and it took a lot of trials for some students to extinguish.

We clinical students constructed an alternative, MMPI that we called the Maryland Malpractices and Pandering Inventory. Two of the items were: Prostitutes give shady responses on the Rorschach, and F+ is a strong curse.

Back then there was a cheap student subscription to all the APA journals (not a large number then) so I read them all. It was evident that new psychotherapies were being discussed, so I started a journal club with three other clinical students. It helped compensate for the weakness of the clinical faculty.

The chairman was B.F. Skinner, called Fred because he did not like the name Burrhus. I had a class with him, and he told us that in order to communicate we would all use his vocabulary. I discovered that his vocabulary was his theory. If you talked that way, you were a Skinnerian.

In Spring, 1947 at Indiana U. Skinner had a lab full of pigeons in the attic of the ancient psychology building. My late wife Edith, then my fiancé, visited me, and I took her up there to meet the great man. She asked him why he used pigeons. I do not remember his answer, but one of the reasons, not given, was that pigeons peck at anything, so Skinner could dispense with trial and error learning. In one experiment, whenever a pigeon happened to be in one corner of the cage, a food pellet dropped into the container. This reinforced locating in that corner, which had no instrumental connection to getting a food pellet. He had demonstrated the learning of a superstition. The idea was to study how to control behavior, and in this endeavor he was superb.

Years later when he and Charlie Ferster were working on their book, Schedules of Reinforcement, they had to proof 900 graphs. They set themselves the task of doing 50 a day and then going to the beach. In 18 days they finished, having successfully scheduled and controlled their own behavior. Charlie later came to the medical center where I worked. His job was to control the behavior of autistic children, and he was modestly successful; behaviorism has its uses.

Skinner was of course a radical behaviorist, part of the earlier 20th century revolt against earlier introspectionism. Cognitions were derided as mentalism, a term close to a curse word. 

Meanwhile, in the 1930s, Krechevski (later, Krech) explored the behavior of rats just prior to their solving a discrimination task. As a graduate student, he told his mentor Edward Tolman about his research, and Tolman promptly labeled it hypotheses in rats. This cognitive approach to learning was anathema to all behaviorists, whose reaction might be characterized as Bah Humbug. Tolman later was in the forefront of academics at Berkeley who resisted having to sign a noncommunist pledge during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s.

At Indiana U I took a class with Winthrop Niles Kellogg who had earlier raised a chimpanzee Gua with their son Donald. There was a rumor that they sent the wrong offspring to college. Kellogg demonstrated with a graph that on the average there is no adolescent spurt on growth. We know better of course: some children spurt at 12, some at 13, and so on. Averaging the curves conceals the spurt. It taught me to examine individual performance as well as group performance, which was important when I later studied aggression. 

And it taught me to pay close attention to the abscissas and ordinates of graphs, a valuable lesson when I later examined Neal Miller’s approach-avoidance model of conflict. Look at his graphs, which show approach and avoidance gradients intersecting, marking the point of conflict. Looks good but there is no independent scaling of the abscissa, so an experimenter can scale it after the data are collected and the graph would appear to predict the point of conflict. As a result the model is worthless.

I took physiological psychology from R.C. Davis, a pioneer in brain research. He told us to be careful in interpreting experiments in brain ablation. If a brain center’s being destroyed caused a specific psychological deficit, we could not assume that the center was the seat of the behavior. The neural center might be only part of a circuit.

An outside minor was required. I chose to take physiology and neuroanatomy in the medical school, difficult courses that proved to be valuable later. Physiology was helpful when I later wrote about the psychosomatics of anger and aggression (psychosomatics is now called health psychology).

Let me give you an idea of how primitive our knowledge of the brain was in 1949. The neuroanatomy professor said that we knew the reticular formation was important because of where it was located. That year Moruzzi and Magoun showed how essential the reticular formation was for wakefulness.

I took a course with Bill Verplanck on what amounted to philosophy of science. One of our texts was a physics text. Philosophers of science in that era derided psychology because our field was so primitive compared to physics. Psychology has always been a stepchild for philosophers, for we were to last science to spring loose from philosophy. The last time I looked, there was still a Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology.

The clinical faculty was small, still at its prewar levels. The only therapy taught was the nondirective therapy of Carl Rogers: reflect underlying feelings and be kind. The label nondirective was a deliberate contrast to psychoanalysis, which was regarded as directive and therefore authoritarian. I later discovered that Rogers had originally trained for the ministry, which explained why this kind of therapy is so close to pastoral counseling.

As mentors, the clinical faculty was limited to students who were part of the Veterans Administration program. The VA program came about because an enlightened national government needed to care for the veterans wounded in WW II. There were 16 million in the armed services, and about 10% were involved in battle. Some proportion of the latter suffered from what was called battle fatigue. I remember when I served on an army hospital ship how some of the truly disturbed soldiers were kept under lock in key in the bowels of the ship.

The VA program enormously enlarged the field of clinical psychology. Before World War II it was a small field of clinicians whose main job was testing. Afterward it expanded, as clinicians added therapy to their repertoire. At universities there was pressure for PhD clinicians to do research, and at the Boulder Conference (Col.) they came up with the scientist-practitioner model, which is still used here at UT. Then and now, however, most clinicians never do any research after their Ph D.

So there was the Vail Conference (Col.) in 1973, which suggested an alternative degree, Sci D: professional practitioners. It paved the way for professional schools of psychology, which eventually turned out the majority of clinicians. They gradually dominated the APA. The reaction of scholars at universities was to start the Association for Psychological Science in 1968.

All this was part of the enormous expansion of the field of psychology. Many years ago most psychologists attended regional meetings of APA or the annual meeting of APA. Now the annual meeting of the APA is dominated by applied psychologists. Research psychologists mainly go to meetings in their specialized field of study. In this respect, psychology is following the path taken by chemistry, which much earlier split into its specialties.

Getting back to my need for a mentor for my masters thesis. I asked around and was told to check on an assistant professor. It was W.K. Estes, naturally was called Tiger Bill because he was one of the most introverted, shy people around. When I asked him a question, he took plenty of time to answer, but the answers were always clear and on point. The training in thinking and writing was excellent.

When I first met him, he was an unknown assistant professor. By the time I left with my Ph D, he was famous. Some people would say this was coincidental but I don’t. I dismiss the fact that he published two Psych Review papers on mathematical modeling of learning in that period.

When I first approached him, I asked how I might get started doing research. He told me to handle rats to get familiar with them, so I did. One bit me, so that ended my career with rats as subjects: one-trial learning.

I was interested in concept formation, so I obtained a set of Weigl blocks, which varied in shape, height, and color. I ran a bunch of subjects and discovered that the paradigm was no good. I learned a lesson: just discard research that does not work. I started over, constructed my own blocks, and presented them one at a tine. The subjects’ task was to learn which of the dimensions of the blocks was the correct concept. That was my masters thesis. I followed up by experimenting on the topic of rigidity as revealed in reversal shifts (tall to short concepts) and nonreversal shifts (height to shape concepts). Lacking poetry, I was the one who named them nonreversal shifts; there must be a better term.

I took a masters degree so that I could teach while still a graduate student. In my last year I traveled 55 miles every Wednesday to Indianapolis to teach two 2-hour classes in Intro Psych. I was probably not very good but discovered that I truly wanted to be a teacher.

My doctoral research required an analysis of variance of my data, but in the 1940s this technique was not included in statistics texts nor on the year-long course in statistics at Indiana U. There was an article on it in Psych Bulletin, however, and that is how I learned it. I then used a calculator to give me the sum of the numbers and the sum of their squares and then computed the analysis of variance. In light of computer packages for number crunching these days, it seems amazing that we got anything done.

One last memory of my graduate student years at Indiana U: Alfred Kinsey gave a lecture to us psychologists. An entomologist, he had interviewed people all over the state of Indiana about their sexual behavior. His findings were shocking, but we were not about to let him know we were shocked.


My clinical internship was at Worcester State Hospital, in Mass. As part of orientation we interns toured the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology. The main research was on hormones and ovulation in women, which bored us young psychologists. Within a few years, they came out with the first birth control pill: so much for the ignorance of our youth.

I went from the behaviorist psych department at Indiana U to an internship where the training was in the Rorschach and the theory was psychoanalysis. We interns were taken to a meeting of the Boston Psychoanalytic Association, were a speaker complained about jargon, saying,“ I cavil at the use of fancy words.”

Worcester State Hospital was a stone pile built in 1879, and this was 1950. There were no therapeutic drugs for inpatients, who were warehoused in back wards for decades. Two therapies that were tried on a minority of patients were inducing convulsions and prefrontal lobotomy. In retrospect these treatments were barbaric, but in those times such treatments were the only options available.

I learned how to test and interview incoming patients and wrote fanciful reports based on the Rorschach about their “underlying dynamics.” I also learned from an old fashioned, non-psychoanalytic psychiatrist how to interview disturbed patients. In one interview he elicited this from a paranoid patient: “I am a product of what has been done to me.”

We had interesting guest lectures. One I remember was by Donald Hebb, a pioneer neuroscientist. Two years earlier he had come out with the idea of cell assemblies in the brain.


My first job was at the State University of Iowa (Iowa City) in 1951. I continued to work on concepts/discrimination learning research, and subsequently studied an original paradigm of stimulus generalization. In the 1950s, in a series of studies I studied the information value of right and wrong, and found that wrong was more informative. In another series of experiments I came upon what I called the matching principle: without any learning, subjects matched the intensity of their response to objects or events denoted by words. These various studies were published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (there was only one then) and finally in the Psych Review. All that research and theory is gathering dust, and I am not sure that if I had it to do all over again, whether I would. The lesson here is that you rarely know whether your research is going to be of any importance, so you just do it.

The head of the psych department at Iowa was Kenneth Spence (heads are more powerful than chairmen, and he was especially powerful). He represented the other main behaviorist approach to learning: drive theory. The idea was that all drive is aversive, and our behavior is motivated by a need to reduce drive. When I later thought about why, I came up with the idea that it was because of the way they studied learning. Needing to motivate their rats, they did it by making them hungry or thirsty, and they rewarded learning with food or water. Or they shocked the rats and rewarded learning by escape from the shock. Then the experimenters generalized, assuming that all drive is aversive. The way they motivated their subjects seemed to determine the nature of their theory. Perhaps if they used sexual motivation, the theory might have been different. Or perhaps they would have rationalized their way out of the fact that sexual arousal, which is drive inducing, is a strong motivator of behavior.

Spence’s mentor was Clark Hull at Yale, who called his drive theory of learning hypothetico-deductive. Modeled on theory in physics, it consisted of axioms and deductions from these axioms that could be tested empirically. What happened, though, when the empirical results came out different from what the theory predicted, was that they just changed the axioms. Like many theorists of that era, they were trying to emulate more advanced sciences without having an empirical basis for doing so.

The prevailing philosophy of science at Iowa was logical positivism. At Iowa one of the pioneers of this approach was Gus Bergman, an original member of the Vienna Circle. I asked an older colleague if there was any alternative philosophy of science to logical positivism, and he told me that if I were not so ignorant, I would not ask such a question. At Iowa then they were so sure of themselves that they were rude when questioned. History turned against logical positivism, which is now ignored by philosophers of science.

At the end of the academic year, now 1952, I was offered the job of chairman of the psychology department at a new research and training psychiatric hospital in Indianapolis. I was also offered a job as a research psychologist at Scott Air Force Base in IIlinois. Spence said take the research job. I did not. When I told my colleagues I was taking the clinical job, all agreed that I would never be able to return to academia. They threw me out in the snow and said, “Never darken our (academic) doorway again.”


0.By now there were drugs available to treat seriously disturbed patients. I still have the memory of a truck full of drugs being unloaded at the back of the hospital. When treatment was unsuccessful, patients might be transferred to traditional state hospitals.

The new drugs were the result of applied research on patients but also research on neural transmitters. The success of these drugs was the beginning of the end of the psychoanalytic approach to mental illness. Today the staffs of psychiatric hospitals and of psychiatric wards of medical hospitals are biologically oriented.

One impact of the new drug treatments was that people started to rethink the presence of these state hospitals. Most were underfunded and gradually were seen as the snake pits they were. People concerned about patient’s rights demanded that the hospitals be closed. State governments were happy to comply, an action that would cut down their budgets. So community mental health was born. Patients would be sent to halfway houses and eventually back into the community, which would have federally funded programs for them. There were also federal funds for graduate community psychology programs. Ours was headed by Ira Iscoe, who became president of that division of the APA. 

States were happy to empty out state psychiatric hospitals but never supplied enough money for community programs. After some initial success, the programs eventually were done in by lack of funding and inaction by communities. Most graduate community psychology graduate programs shut down, including ours. The result of all this is that currently some proportion of homeless people are those who need at least part time institutional care.

Meanwhile, in my clinical job I tried to keep abreast of what was going on in academic psychology and came across Paul Meehl’s book, Clinical and Statistical Prediction. He said that using statistics would give us more accurate diagnoses than a clinical intuition. Many years later, social psychologists showed us why. People start with a hypothesis or are offered one, and they stick with it by trying to squeeze negative findings into it. This tendency is not limited to clinicians.

I arrived as the hospital was opening, and there were abundant funds for the hospital library. I bought every psychology book I could think of and obtained subscriptions to every psychology and psychiatry journal I could think of, together with back issues for the previous 10 years. For a while, our library compared well with the psychology sections of university libraries. I also set up a program of research that involved the other psychology staff I hired. We had an exciting intellectual atmosphere.

Early on, I set up an internship program. The emphasis was on teaching interns, not merely as using them as staff psychologists, which helped us to obtain APA approval. One of our interns was Jerry Wiggins, who later developed a circumplex model of personality and was well known enough to be offered a job at UT as a professor; he declined.

In the 1950s the APA set up a program for a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology. Analogous to medical boards for specialists, it required several years of postdoctoral practice, a written exam, and an oral exam. I took my orals at Washington U medical school. Part of the exam was to test and diagnose a client. I asked for an inpatient and was given an outpatient who was currently in psychotherapy. I gave him the Rorschach and interviewed him. Then, I asked if he had any questions. He asked me if psychotherapy worked. My dilemma was to answer truthfully without impinging on the relationship with his therapist. I told him that in his case it worked mainly to prevent or slow down relapses.

I received my diplomate in 1956. Since the split between clinicians in private practice and those in academia, the diplomate has waned in importance in academia. It is rare for an academic clinician to have one. Passing the written exams and the two-day oral exams, however, turned out to be excellent preparation for my later writing an abnormal text.

I wanted to learn how to do factor analysis, so I had a colleague teach me matrix algebra. I built up a correlation matrix and did a factor analysis. That and the earlier analysis of variance gave me a hands-on feel for data and how it is handled statistically. That was a primitive way to get a feel for data and their meaning, but I recommend something along those lines to any neophyte researcher.

At that time there was a controversy about the use of one-tailed tests when checking for statistical significance. I concluded that the conditions under which they might apply to psychological research occur .001 of the time. I have always computed p values but did not stop there, preferring to replicate either partially or completely. Not only is it good science, but it is insurance against the embarrassment of others failing to duplicate your findings.

While I was still working at the psychiatric hospital, a psychologist from a nearby institution taught me the MMPI. He was a U of Minnesota Ph D and explained the meaning of the profiles, for example, a 4/9 profile suggested psychopathy. He also came up with a psychoanalytic approach to the MMPI, which was a lot of fun but could not be taken seriously.

One of my hires was Marvin Zuckerman, who later was the originator of research and theory on sensation seeking. Marv helped make the psychology department a stimulating place. We occasionally visited Indiana U to attend a colloquium. At one, Bill Estes talked about his mathematical model of probability matching and the data supporting it. Using what I was taught in graduate school, I asked if his data curves, which fit groups, also fit individual subjects (remember, no average growth spurt). He said he was working on it, and six months later abandoned the model.

One year I asked this question: When we say a patient is hostile, what do we mean? I made a list: physical, aggression, verbal aggression, temper outbursts, nasty gossiping, hatred, and suspiciousness. I constructed a questionnaire, the 1992 revision of which is still popular today. 

That started my interest in aggression, and in 1956 I decided to write a book on aggression. At that time few psychologists even published journal articles, let alone books. The cold war was heating up. The secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, was practicing what he called brinksmanship with the Soviet Union, and some people were building bomb shelters. I had to smile at the irony of a psychologist sitting down to write a book on aggression during the height of the cold war with Russia, when people were digging bomb shelters, and the book might not be published because two countries with hydrogen bombs had used them. The best known explanation of human aggression was the frustration-aggression hypothesis, published in 1939: frustration inevitably leads to aggression. Neal Miller responded to immediate criticism by amending it to read: frustration sometimes leads to aggression (that’s a hypothesis?). I realized that what Miller was referring to was angry aggression: wanting to hurt someone. Instrumental aggression is different in that it does not necessarily involve anger, and its goal is to achieve any reward. A mugger is engaged in instrumental aggression. A husband beating his wife is engaged in angry aggression. This distinction, obvious in retrospect, was drawn by me in 1961, but it is now part of our understanding of aggression, though sometimes with other names given to angry aggression (hostile or reactive aggression). 

In 1956, Lee Cronbach, a researcher in tests and measurements, published an article called The Two Disciplines of Scientific Psychology. One discipline was individual differences: how people differ in ability and personality, the research typically using correlations. The other discipline was experimental psychology, which sought laws for everyone and ignored differences among subjects as noise. He nailed a difference that those of us who did both personality research and experimental research were aware of but had never verbalized.

Meanwhile, I realized that my intellectual interests were stronger than my social service drive, and I yearned for academia. In 1956 I was offered a job at the University of Kentucky as an assistant professor. I was put off by all the cigarette factories in Lexington, the weakness of the department, and the fact that my academic credentials (publications) were better than some of the tenured faculty there.


A year later I accepted a job as an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Remember the faculty at Iowa? I darkened academia’s doorway again. That was the year the Russians put up Sputnik, the first object to orbit the earth. The immediate reaction in this country was that our educational system was faulty. There followed strong federal support for universities, which expanded their faculty. The federal budget for research multiplied, and doctoral programs were given money to support students. 

A few years later I applied for a grant to study aggression in the laboratory, using a paradigm I called the aggression machine. The idea arose when I was working on a chapter in my book, called Measuring Aggression in the Laboratory. I construed aggression as a subclass of punishment, and from there it was a short step to have a subject teaching a concept to another subject (experimental accomplice) and using electric shock to punish mistakes. While I was doing the pilot work, a young social psychologist, Tim Brock, came to Pittsburgh from Yale. He wondered why I had not published my work. The reason was that I had to get all the flaws out of the paradigm because once it was published, it could not be changed. For example, it proved necessary to give the real subjects a sample of electric shock and have them rate it for pain. This procedure allowed us to take account of their pain sensitivity, removing it as a potential confound in determining the intensity of shock they would deliver.

Pilot work never makes it to the published, finished product. A reader of journals never discovers all the preliminary work and blind alleys that went into the end result. The paradigm or versions of it are still used to study aggression.

I presented some of my preliminary results at a colloquium at Columbia U. The social psychologist Stan Schachter refused to believe that subjects would deliver painful shocks to others, their only motive being to do what the experimenter asked: teach a concept and use shock to punish mistakes. His benign view of human nature would be sorely tested by later events.

I published the aggression paradigm in my book on aggression in 1961. A few months later Stan Milgram called to tell me that he was working on a similar paradigm, also using shock but studying not aggression but obedience. When he was submitting his first article a year later, he called to ask when I first got the idea for the aggression machine because he wanted to acknowledge my priority. I told him that who devised the paradigm first was of no importance and to just go ahead and publish his important work. That article appeared in 1963.

In retrospect we can see why his work became so famous. Some years earlier, Adolf Eichman, the man in charge of the program of extermination of Jews, Gypsies, and others in Germany in WW II, was captured in Argentina by Israeli secret agents and taken back to Israel. In his trial his defense was that he was just following orders. We Americans said, “What can you expect of Germans? They will follow orders even if it means harming others.” Hannah Arendt subsequently wrote a biography of Eichman, showing that he was originally a minor functionary. She coined the term the banality of evil, and again we asked “What can you expect of Germans?” Then in 1963 Stan Milgram demonstrated that Americans also follow orders from authority (an experimenter) and deliver what they believe are painful and harmful shocks to others. The study was picked up by all the media and is properly taught in all intro psych courses.

Larry Stein, a friend, was studying single cell recording and conditioning in the local Pittsburgh VA hospital. James Olds visited him and I got to meet Jim. He was by then famous for his original work on reward areas in the brain. Larry was trying to condition a single neuron in a rat, so Jim monitored a trial one day while I watched. No conditioning that day, but it was established later. Neuropsychology was coming into its own.

Larry also knew a young psychologist, a new PhD from Yale who had been studying learning in rats. So I met Gordon Bower who was on his way to Stanford, stopping off at Pittsburgh. He had started out to be a baseball pitcher, and his fastball scorched my hands. At Stanford, Gordon started the work on memory that last year earned him the national medal of science. He taught here several semesters recently and is still the same down to earth guy.

In 1961, I decided to write a text on abnormal psychology. In the 1960s psychology was still strongly environmentally oriented, and I went along with that view. But as I surveyed the research literature on the psychoses, I discovered the importance of heredity and became aware of the biological approach to mental illness. Starting then, I became increasingly aware of the importance of heredity. I also discovered that Europeans emphasized heredity more than we. The American bias of excessive emphasis on the environment still exists in the social sciences, though in weakened form,. Psychologists, thankfully, are now much more aware of the role of heredity in behavior.

One of the chapters in the book was on cognitive deficit in schizophrenia. I showed a draft of it to Pete Lang, a recent hire, and together we reviewed the vast literature on topic. While the manuscript was being reviewed, the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology split into two journals. One was the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The other was the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, and our review paper was its initial article.

About that time a psychiatrist from South Africa, Joseph Wolpe, lectured on counter-conditioning as a therapy. Pete Lang then did the first laboratory study of behavior modification. His subjects were snake phobics who became tense when in the same room as a snake. He successfully conditioned a relaxation response, and they could approach the snake, some even touching it. Other psychologists started using it and then developed related therapies, all based on prior research on learning. Later, cognitions snuck in and became part of behavior mod.

Meanwhile, psychoanalysts responded that treating symptoms would not work. If the underlying unconscious conflict was not resolved but a symptom was cured, it would be replaced by another symptom. I call this the bumps-on-head theory: if you push in a bump, another one would pop up on the head. It was of course wrongheaded (pun intended). As behavior modification researchers have shown, treating a symptom successfully does not cause another symptom to replace it.

In the early 1960s the still-small APA was expanding so rapidly that by extrapolation in 2008 the population would be half psychologists and half, non-. So much for extrapolation: watch out for a small denominator.

In 1963 I supervised a masters thesis on social identity, published in 1967. We obtained rankings for seven social identities, and being an American was the highest ranked identity (it was during the cold war). We then did a before-and-after experiment on pain tolerance. College men were tested for pain tolerance (hand in ice water) and then told that 1) Russian men exceeded American men in pain tolerance, or 2) told nothing (control), and then were tested again. The control group dipped slightly from before to after, but in the experimental group, the subjects were willing to tolerate a lot more pain.

I mention this study for two reasons. First, it demonstrated a behavioral consequence (pain tolerance) of social identity. Second, the rankings for social identity offered a snapshot of the times. After being an American, the next three ranks were gender (being a man or a woman), religion, and (sought) vocation. I repeated the study in 1992. That snapshot revealed that American and religion dropped in importance, and gender was ranked the highest. In this post 9/11 era a snapshot would surely be different. Furthermore, as I write this, social identity is of crucial importance in the presidential campaigns of Clinton, Obama, and McCain. Beyond that, I wonder why social identity is not being examined by students looking for an interesting topic.


In 1965 I moved to Rutgers University. As part of my tendency to question assumptions, I wondered whether everyone became tense when scared. I gave out checklist to a sample from the women’s college of Rutgers. One quarter of them reported no tension when they were scared. Instead, they were quivery and worried. So I had an honors student try behavior modification on three snake phobics, who reported no tension when scared. He counter-conditioned a tension response and one subject improved. Small potatoes, but it suggests that clinicians might pay more attention to individual differences in their clients. Beware of assuming universals.

One year I was part of an APA committee that was to evaluate the psych department at Lehigh University, primarily an engineering school. The only faculty member who stood out was Ted Millon, who seemed sharper and more knowledgeable than his colleagues. I asked him, “What in the world are you doing in this place?” He said he was looking for other opportunities. This is the Ted Millon who helped develop Axis 2 of the psychiatric classification system and who also has his own theory of personality.

Our APA committee met with the Lehigh Vice President to offer him our recommendations, which would involve lots of money. I asked him if there would be money for these recommended faculty slots. The older members of the committee (I was the youngest by many years) imperceptibly shook their heads, for this was a question we were not to ask. Naïve me. I thought it would be a waste of our time if there would be no money. It was a waste of time, for there was no money and the psych department languished (Ted Millon left shortly thereafter). It was my earliest experience with the willingness of people to sit on committees that accomplished nothing. 

At Rutgers some of the psychologists were interested in evolution. Biologists were rethinking Darwin’s theory into the modern synthesis, and popular books on evolution were selling. Anthropologists were discovering fossils of hominids. This was the background that allowed me to think seriously about how evolution applied to human behavior. I was teaching a year long course in Intro Psych and decided to write a book about it. I used evolution as the overarching theme and three sub-themes: how we are like other animals, trends in the line that led to our species—a longer childhood, for example--and third, our unique adaptations. It was the first introductory book to describe the evolution of the nervous system and to this day the only one that mentions why the brain is in the head.

I read the books of Ernst Mayr and George Gaylord Simpson, and discovered the mammalian heritage of human behavior. They pointed out that narrow and specific adaptations typically led to extinction because over eons the environment inevitably changes. In the long run, broader, more flexible adaptations led to better survival of species. We of course have many specific modules but cannot ignore our broader adaptations, for example, anger, fear, and classical and instrumental conditioning.

The book was published in 1973. Two years later I was delighted at the publication of Edward Wilson’s massive book, Sociobiology. His book and others set the stage for what is now called evolutionary psychology. For the history of that movement, I defer to David Buss, who was at Harvard when Tooby and Cosmides first came up with their evolutionary psychology theory. David of course is one of the premier evolutionary psychologists.

I wrote the introductory psych book in part because I hoped it would be an intellectual watershed. It was. I spent six years reading about evolution, the nervous system, and cognitive dissonance. Piaget had been translated into English, and the Strange Situation was being studied. Eleanor Gibson had shown there is an innate tendency for infants to avoid a visual cliff. Harry Harlow had shown the effect of social isolation in Rhesus monkeys, but I also read his earlier work on learning sets and learning to learn. He was born Harry Israel and changed his name to avoid being labeled as a Jew (he was not). In the 1930s when he first started out, there was anti-Semitism nationally, including academia. There were quotas for Jews in medical and dental schools. When the quotas were eliminated after WW II, the administrators’ worst fears were realized: Jews flooded these schools. Also, before WW II, women were strongly discouraged from seeking positions in academia.

Back to the intro psych book, I caught up with recent developments in psychology and established a knowledge base to understand areas outside my own. I became aware of older work of considerable importance. When I was reading how Jean Piaget quizzed his daughters on their explanations of their answers to his questions it stirred a memory of graduate school. The masters degree required a language, and I chose to be tested by Alfred Binet’s letters in French to his daughter Marguerite. The letters revealed that he used the same technique of asking children for explanations. Piaget was his student and learned the technique from Binet. I had chafed at the language requirement, but in this instance it paid off. Incidentally, Indiana U required two languages for the Ph D (my second one was Russian, long since forgotten).

In 1968 I negotiated for a faculty research grant, a year off for the 1969-70 academic year. Hans Eysenck agreed to take me on, and I was set to go to London. But the UT offer came along. If I had accepted the research leave at Rutgers, I would have had to return to Rutgers. So I decided on UT


I took over the personality program from Donn Byrne, who had left for Purdue. The personality program included several people who left shortly afterward. The others who stayed were Joe Horn and the late Dave Cohen. We recruited some excellent students during the 1970s, and they are listed in the first appendix. In the 1980s, however, the quality of recruits diminished, and we closed down the program at the end of the decade. I joined the clinical area, eventually leading it for two years after Lee Willerman stepped down and before Mike Telch took over.

Recall the two disciplines of psychology: individual differences and experimentation. In the early 1970s I finally combined them in one study, carried out by my son David, then an undergraduate. We selected students who differed in the trait of physical aggression and used them as subjects in the aggression machine. There was a meaningful correlation between the trait and aggressive behavior in the laboratory.

It caused me to reflect about cognitive dissonance. It assumes that everyone wants to be rational in not having thoughts or feelings that contradict one another. But is cognitive dissonance aversive to everyone? During President Ronald Reagan’s attempt to return for a second time in the White House, potential voters were asked how they felt about five political issues. Those who agreed on all five issues were told that Reagan opposed them on all five issues. Some of them replied that they would vote for him anyway. Where was the dissonance? The point is that researchers on dissonance would do well to screen subjects for whether they are intolerant of being inconsistent, perhaps a majority among college students. They are the ones who would show cognitive dissonance in research. The others would merely weaken the results of the entire sample. Cognitive dissonance is not a universal phenomenon.

Let me use another example. Shy people are uptight only with unfamiliar people. They are not shy with family members or close friends. Said another way, there is an interaction between person and situation. We need to study both situations and traits; we need to discover which kinds of people respond to experimental manipulations. And we need to ask which behaviors are emitted. For example, one person scared of airplanes never gets on one (John Madden). Another person flies regularly by has strong physiological reactions and dread while flying. Both are phobics.

In 1969 most social psychologists denied the importance of personality traits. Eliot Aronson, then on our faculty, was an example. My explanation is the one I mentioned earlier: the way they studied behavior. Social psychologists were ingenious in the way they manipulated behavior. They demonstrated the power of the situation and concluded that it was all-powerful. This left no room for personality to have an impact. I remember thinking that if they were correct, it would make no sense having job talks and interviews with job candidates because we would have no idea of how they would function after they were hired. I wondered if before they married, they took into account the personality of their potential mates. Did they really think personality was unimportant in their own children? Did they look around at a faculty meeting and discern no differences in personality? Well, give them credit. They have come to their senses, as might be seen in the research of several of our current faculty.

I continued my research on aggression. In one experiment subjects were convinced that they had harmed the other “subject” (experimental accomplice) and then shock another “subject.” In most combinations of aggressor and victim, the intensity of shock decreased. However, when the aggressor was a male and the subject was also a male, the shock intensity remained the same. I examined protocols of individual subjects and found three patterns: decrease, no change, an increased intensity of shock (the latter, evidently sadists). Again, it paid to go beyond group statistics to individual performance.

In 1969 there were two major American approaches to temperament (I later learned of European, especially Russian, approaches). One approach was by two psychiatrists, Thomas and Chess, who reviewed the cases of 23 children and came up with nine dimensions of temperament. As you might expect, these did not cohere into meaningful factors.

The other approach was by a comparative psychologist, Solomon Diamond, who reviewed personality traits in rats, dogs, and humans. He came up with four temperaments. I modified his approach and came up with four temperaments of my own: emotionality, activity, sociability, and impulsiveness. They cohered as factors. The assumption was that they had an inherited component, first appeared during infancy, and were the foundation for later personality traits

After hearing me lecture on temperament, Robert Plomin became interested. He, Lee Willerman, and I did a twin study on the four temperaments, asking parents to rate their children. We found significant heritability for the four temperaments. Plomin extended the research in his doctoral dissertation, and in 1975 we published a book on temperament. Recall that psychology was still strongly environmental in its orientation in that era. So the book languished for almost five years. Then it was noticed as part of a ground swell of research on temperament, which continues to this day.

This was part of a larger movement in psychology to understand the role of heredity as a determiner of our behavior. It includes the genetics of individual differences, the role we play in influencing the very environment that influences us, and of course evolutionary psychology.

Remember the Hayes chimpanzees Vicky, who could not vocalize? That fact led Trixie and Al Garner to teach Washoe American Sign Language. I visited them in Reno in the early 1970s and was pleased to see the controls in place when they tested their chimpanzees for sign language. They taught me a couple of signs, and I interacted briefly with their current chimpanzee—a highlight of my career. 

The Gardners opened the field of language in primates, but their work is overlooked in Intro Psych texts these days in favor of more recent work with chimpanzees on computer-generated signs. I see this as part of a tendency to use the most recent research in books and articles, to the neglect of the pioneering work of earlier psychologists. One good test of the importance of a psychologist’s work is to examine what the area was like before he or she came along.

Meanwhile, in the early 1970s Bob Wicklund, a social psychologist at UT, was doing research on self-focus. Two of my graduate students, Al Fenigstein and Mike Scheier, told me about the research. I wondered whether self-focus would affect aggression, so we ran the experiment; it did. That led to our development of a questionnaire on self-consciousness. A factor analysis revealed two factors. One was a tendency toward introspection (private SC) and the other, awareness of oneself as a social object (public SC). 

Another graduate student, Lynn Miller, was interested in body focus, and we published a body consciousness questionnaire. It also had two factors, this time private and public body consciousness. My interest then broadened to shyness and to the three self-conscious emotions: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. The result was a 1980 book, Self-Consciousness and Social Anxiety. 

In the 1980s we were sometimes able to bring in well-known psychologists for an entire week. A memorable visitor was Jack Block from Berkeley. He had proposed two overarching personality tendencies: ego resilience and ego control. I asked him how this idea originated. He said that he and his wife Jeanne had as graduate students in the late 1940s combined Lewin and Freud to come up with these supertraits. So I asked “Anything different since then?” He replied that they never saw any reason to change. He is better known for his longitudinal research on personality, using Q-sorts. Jack and I represent an older generation of clinicians who became personality psychologists. These days, clinicians do clinical research and leave personality research to others: part of the trend to specialize.

Phil Zimbardo, an old friend, came by to show a video of his prison study. He had asked psychiatrists and psychologists if college men would buy into the study, and they all said No. As you know, however, the experiment worked all too well. Guards became too punitive, and prisoners started getting ill. Even Phil got caught up in it, and when a rumor started of a jailbreak, he acted like a warden, not as an experimenter. He later caught hell for an unethical experiment when no one knew before the experiment that it would have any impact.

In the 1990s I served for two years on the dean’s promotion committee. It was hard work but at least it was a committee with impact. I learned a lot about scholarship in other areas of Liberal Arts. I went to bat for a man in Middle Eastern Studies who had unearthed fascinating relics. Some on the committee protested that he had published mainly in magazines, not journals, but when I examined his photos, I could see that he had made genuine discoveries. I asked the others how often we come across true discoveries, and that got the guy tenure. Incidentally, I recommend the deans’ promotion committee as an intellectually broadening experience.

Teaching. I mentored a number of graduate students during the 1970s and 1980s. It has been a considerable source of satisfaction to watch them develop their own careers over the decades, some of them to considerable prominence (they are listed in the first appendix). A few years ago the psychology department nominated 10 former students who had excelled in their careers. Four of them were mine; I felt like a proud father.

For several years I taught a course on teaching, which was required of graduate students who wanted to teach while here. On every topic we discussed the pros and cons of decisions. For example, with respect to exams: how many you would give, which kinds of exam, and whether there would be a final. I taught them about the different kinds of multiple-choice items and how to construct them. The major assignment was to come up with a syllabus for an undergraduate course (the smaller part of the assignment). The major part of the assignment was the rationale for everything: the text, why other texts were not chosen, the exams, the topics, their sequence, and even why some topics might be omitted (do all courses need a section on history?). Each syllabus (not the rationale) was handed out to all the students. The course was for credit, so there was no push for a grade. The students not only got to think about how to teach but observed how different their fellow students were in their decisions. 

The minor assignment was to observe two lectures by our faculty. I would recommend this to our faculty. They would not only see how good we are as teachers but might pick up helpful hints.

I taught undergraduate courses, personality and evolutionary psychology, but especially in Intro Psych. Batts Auditorium held 500 students, and I taught there from 1969 until we moved to our new building. Add up those students, together with Intro Psych classes during the last few years, the other undergraduate classes, and summer school Intro Psych for many years, and the total is roughly 20,000. As you might gather, being a teacher is an important part of my identity.


Starting in 1980, over the next 15 years I wrote several more books, but this narrative is long enough, so I shall mention just one more (all my books are listed in the second appendix). In the 1990s I started teaching a course on the self. I reviewed the massive research by social psychologists on self-esteem, some by Bill Swann and his students. Other modern research on the self had become more rigorous, as the older humanistic tradition yielded to the efforts of more scientifically oriented psychologists. In line with my tendency to write a book for a course I teach, I wrote a textbook on the self.


The focus here is on my own graduate students, but I must note role of other faculty members: “It takes a village…” Most of these former students are professors. In order of their starting dates at UT, they are:

  • Guthrie Ford, Emeritus, Trinity University
  • Allan Fenigstein, Chairman, Department of Psychology, Kenyon College, Ohio
  • Charles Carver, Department of Psychology, University of Miami
  • Robert Plomin, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London
  • Michael Scheier, Head, Department of Psychology, Carnegie-Mellon University
  • Karen Matthews, Director of the Cardiovascular Research and Training Program, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh Medical School
  • Karla Allen, Newton, MA
  • Lynn Miller, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California
  • Jonathan Cheek, Department of Psychology, Wellesley College
  • Stephen Briggs, President, Berry College, Georgia



Here are my books:

  • The Psychology of Aggression, 1961
  • Psychopathology, 1966
  • Theories of Schizophrenia (Editor), 1968
  • Psychology—Man In Perspective, 1973
  • A Temperament Theory of Personality Development (with Robert Plomin), 1975
  • Self-Consciousness and Social Anxiety, 1980
  • Temperament—Early Developing Personality Traits (with Robert Plomin), 1984
  • Social Behavior and Personality, 1986
  • Personality: Evolutionary Heritage and Human Distinctiveness, 1988
  • Personality: Temperament, Social Behavior, and the Self, 1995
  • Psychological Dimensions of the Self, 2001


May 2008

Oral History Videos

Speaking of Arnold Buss:

Robert Plomin, American psychologist best known for his work in twin studies and behavior genetics.
name | college | hospitality | variety | career | genetics | arnie | more genetic | ut

Michael Scheier, Professor and Department Head of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University
name | personality | arnie | noregrets | career | memories | gradschool | competition

Charles S. Carver, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at University of Miami 
why texas | interest | advice | gradschool | friends | career | reward | discovery | impact | name

Karen A. Matthews, Professor of Psychiatry, Epidemiology, and Psychology at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
memories | journey | student life | college | health | mindset | peers | hookem


  •   Map
  • Department of Psychology

    The University of Texas at Austin
    SEA 4.208
    108 E. Dean Keeton Stop A8000
    Austin, TX 78712-1043