Robert Bolesław Zajonc
(Nov. 23, 1923 – December 3, 2008) was a Polish-born American social
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. By this definition, scientific refers to the empirical method of investigation. The terms thoughts, feelings, and behaviors include all...
Psychologist is a professional or academic title used by individuals who are either:* Clinical professionals who work with patients in a variety of therapeutic contexts .* Scientists conducting psychological research or teaching psychology in a college...
who is known for his decades of work on a wide range of social and cognitive processes.
Mere Exposure Effect
One important contribution was the demonstration of the mere exposure effect, the phenomenon that repeated exposure to a stimulus brings about an attitude change in relation to the stimulus. His official faculty description notes that he focused on processes involved in social behavior, with an emphasis on the relationship between affect, or emotion, and cognition. Zajonc was also well known for demonstrating how social facilitation (how the presence of others increases or decreases performance) works in humans and other animals, notably in cockroach
Cockroaches are insects of the order Blattaria or Blattodea, of which about 30 species out of 4,500 total are associated with human habitations...
es, which indicated that social facilitation is not entirely the result of higher cognitive processes.
Zajonc, along with Greg Markus, developed the Confluence Model (1977), which provided a mathematical model of the effect of birth order and family size on IQ scores. This theory suggests that children are born into intellectual environments that affect intelligence—first born children are born into adults-only families, all others are born into mixed adult/child families. As families increase in size, the overall IQ of the family drops; children from larger families do have slightly lower IQs. The last child in the family is denied the opportunity to tutor younger children, and there is a slight "extra" decrement for being the youngest child in a family. These effects are theoretically important, but the size of the effects is fairly small (amounting to a range of about 3 IQ points)
Empathy and Facial Features
Robert Zajonc and a group of his colleagues did a study to try and figure out how couples who have been together for 25 years (i.e. married couples) begin to develop similar facial features. The study involved 110 participants (55 couples) whose photographs were taken in their first year of marriage. The participants were also asked what they thought the chances were of looking like their spouses 25 years later. The majority of the description of changes that the participants anticipated was mostly facial. Twenty-five years later when the new photos were taken, the results could not be explained by simply comparing the images, but by the fact that each couple believed that their facial features actually changed and looked similar to their spouses.
Zajonc and his colleagues were able to come up with numerous explanations for how such a phenomenon could happen. Three explanations were ruled out as possibilities. High fat diet making each spouse face chubby was ruled out because not all the participants were chubby. Since all the couples came from the same part the US Midwest they were able to rule out environment as a factor. The thought of people picking a spouse that will most likely grow old to look similar to each other wasn’t ruled out completely, but predisposition wasn’t the best reason. The explanation the scientists agreed on was empathy. Most married couples who have been together for 25 years or longer can identity with the other persons feelings. A lot of human emotions and feelings are expressed through the face, and when two people make similar facial expressions for 25 years it could result in similar wrinkle patterns. There isn't enough evidence to prove this theory to be completely true, but it is definitely a possibility.
Preferences Need No Inferences
In 1980, a speculative and widely-argued paper entitled "Feeling and Thinking: Preferences Need No Inferences," invited in honor of his receipt of the 1979 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists in the United States. It is the world's largest association of psychologists with around 154,000 members including scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. The APA...
, made the argument that affective and cognitive systems are largely independent, and that affect is more powerful and comes first. This paper precipitated a great deal of interest in affect in psychology, and was one of a number of influences that brought the study of emotion and affective processes back into the forefront of American and European psychology.
Zajonc was married to American social psychologist Hazel Rose Markus
Hazel Markus is a prominent social psychologist. In 1975, she received her PhD from the University of Michigan, and later became one of the university’s faculty members. During her time at the University of Michigan, she was a research scientist at the Institute for Social Research...
, known for her contributions to cultural psychology.
- Audience effect
The audience effect is the impact that a passive audience has on a subject performing a task. It was first formally noted in various psychology studies in the early 20th century...
("in subjects ranging from cockroaches to humans")
- Facial feedback hypothesis
The facial feedback hypothesis states that facial movement can influence emotional experience. For example, an individual who is forced to smile during a social event will actually come to find the event more of an enjoyable experience.-Background:...
Selected bibliography of Zajonc's work
This is a partial bibliography of Zajonc's works in English.
- 1968. Attitudinal effects of mere exposure, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
- 1975. Birth Order and Intellectual Development, with G. Markus, Psychological Review, 82, 74-88.
- 1980. Feeling and thinking: Preferences need no inferences, American Psychologist. 35 (2), 151-175.
- 1984. On the primacy of affect. American Psychologist. 39 (2) 117-123.
- 1966. Social facilitation of dominant and subordinate responses. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2(2) 1966, 160-168.