Joel Cooper, Professor of Psychology at Princeton University, received his bachelor’s degree from the City College of New York in 1965. A class taught by Barbara Dohrenwend inspired a love of social psychology, which took him to Duke University, where he worked with Edward E. Jones. He received his doctoral degree from Duke in 1969 and was immediately hired by Princeton University. Joel’s scholarship and interests led him to be appointed as a Lady Davis Fellow at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and a Senior Fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii, as well a visiting professor at University College London, and Auckland University. Apart from these visiting appointments, Joel spent his entire academic career at Princeton, where he chaired the Psychology Department from 1985-1992.
In addition to hundreds of journal articles, Joel has co-authored or co-edited nine books, including the The Science of Attitudes (2016) with Shane Blackman and Kyle Keller, and the Sage Handbook of Social Psychology (2003) with Michael Hogg. A new co-edited book with Joe Avery, Bias in the Law: A Definitive Look at Racial Prejudice in the U.S. Criminal Justice System, is due out next year.
Joel has made career-long contributions to our understanding of the processes and consequences of cognitive dissonance, a concept foundational to psychology. His theoretical and empirical work clarified the conditions under which cognitive dissonance is aroused, the mechanisms underlying the experience of dissonance, and the processes by which dissonance can result in attitude change. He linked his theoretical perspective regarding dissonance as a state of arousal that occurs when a person accepts personal responsibility for having produced an unwanted consequence to important questions concerning foreseeability, self-affirmation, and the standards by which we judge ourselves and our actions. More recently, in forging a link with the literature on social identity, he demonstrated that dissonance can be experienced vicariously, simply as a consequence of observing the counterattitudinal behavior of a person with whom one shares a valued identity.
- Joel - it’s not an exaggeration to say that meeting you changed my life. I can’t remember now why you visited the University of Auckland, but I know you must have waged quite a battle in the Princeton Psychology admissions committee to admit a Kiwi with no GREs, no training in experimental social psychology, and no idea what “Ivy League” was. As a graduate student I soon learned that championing underdogs was in your DNA and I was lucky to benefit from it. You were the perfect mentor for me, generous with your ideas and kind with mine, gifted at designing psychologically engaging strong tests of socially relevant hypotheses, a clear and compelling writer. Thank you for letting out the line but never letting me get myself (too) tangled in it. I am so fortunate to have had your unwavering support.
- Diane Mackie
- I will never forget giving my first talk as a graduate student at Princeton, showing a slide that clearly showed just a main effect, but referring to it as a “significant interaction” because I was under the impression that this was the phrase to use when a study worked. After 3 or 4 faculty and students questioned me, and I cluelessly held my ground, Joel raised his hand and I called on him. He proceeded to talk for about 5 minutes and then said, “You should probably move on to your next slide” – giving me not only time to gather my wits, but an excuse to (finally) stop showing the offending slide. These are the small actions that stick with you, because they show you were lucky enough to have a great mentor.
- Mike Norton
- Joel Cooper and I met each other in the early 1970s when we were on the faculty together at Princeton. He was my very close friend and colleague from Day 1. He offered exceptional guidance about how to manage the difficulties of being an assistant professor, especially as a woman in a very male-oriented institution. He even stood up for me when I charged Princeton with sex discrimination because they denied me tenure, an act that led to him being told he would never be Chair of the department (though a few years later he was). As a professional, he is a leader in the field and former editor for many years of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. No one is more serious, scholarly and perceptive about his research, as illustrated in his groundbreaking and influential work on cognitive dissonance theory and the exploration of the conditions needed to produce attitude change. Joel is also a wonderful mentor, spending hours with students and colleagues to guide them both professionally and personally. I feel blessed for every moment I have gotten to spend with him, be it sharing notes on students or our current grandchildren.
- Diane Ruble
- I first met Joel back in 1974, when I began graduate school at Princeton. Ever since, he has been a wonderful model, an incredibly supportive mentor, and a treasured friend, ever so gracious in offering his sage advice about one professional matter after another. In hindsight, Joel showed remarkable patience with a graduate student who was far too obstinate. I am enormously grateful for that patience, and the considerable time and energy Joel devoted to my development. His sincere concern for his students and his eagerness to provide them with opportunities and settings in which they could grow as scientists has been apparent for decades. I myself learned so much, simply by observing, interacting, and collaborating with Joel. Maybe, the best compliment I can pay Joel is that I have considered him a model in this regard and have tried to adopt the same approach with my own students. In fact, many a time, I have initiated my provision of some advice or constructive feedback to a student with the remark: “ya know what Joel Cooper used to tell me?”
- Russ Fazio