Marilynn Bolt Brewer was born in Chicago in 1942. Although neither of her parents attended college, both encouraged her to pursue her education and she received her Bachelors of Arts in Social Sciences in 1963 from North Park college with honors. She was greatly influenced by a faculty member who encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree. Following that advice, Marilynn applied for and received a National Institute of Mental Health Fellowship and attended Northwestern University where she worked under the mentorship of Donald T. Campbell and received her PhD in Psychology in 1968.
Over the course of her academic career, Dr. Brewer has been a member of the faculty of Psychology at Loyola University of Chicago, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of California, Los Angeles, and Ohio State University, where she held the position of Ohio Eminent Scholar in Social Psychology. She is now Professor Emeritus from OSU.
Over a distinguished research career in social psychology, Dr. Brewer's major interests include social cognition, the perception and cognitive representation of individual persons and person types; intergroup relations, especially the study of ingroup biases and the effects of contact between groups on intergroup acceptance; and social identities and the self-concept, studying how our identities are shaped by our group memberships. Her contributions to social psychological theory include Optimal Distinctiveness Theory of social identity, and Social Identity Complexity theory.
In the arena of professional service, Marilynn Brewer has served as President of the American Psychological Society and has been President of the Western Psychological Association, the Midwestern Psychological Association, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. She has also served as Editor of Personality and Social Psychology Review and Associate Editor of Psychological Review and of Group Processes and Intergroup Relations.
Among honors she has received for her research contributions, Brewer was recipient of the 1996 Lewin Award from Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, the 1993 Donald T. Campbell award for Distinguished Contributions to Social Psychology from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and the 2003 Distinguished Scientist award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. In 2004 she was elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 2007 she received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution award from the American Psychological Association.
- Marilynn Brewer is one of the field’s most outstanding researchers and theoreticians whose contributions heavily influenced scores of other social psychologists, including me. In particular, her 1979 Psychological Bulletin article, In-Group Bias in the Minimal Intergroup Situation: A Cognitive – Motivational Analysis, Marilynn concludes:
“Reconceptualizing the process of intergroup differentiation tends to shift the focus of attention from the negative implications of out-group perceptions to the positive consequences of in-group formation. The critical role of in-group identity in the extension of interpersonal trust has already been alluded to. Another consequence of the reduced social distance between self-and others that accompanies in-group formation is that out-comes to other group members, or to the group as a whole come to be perceived as one’s own… Perhaps the salience of interdependence or common fate can be enhanced among any given set of individuals without reference to other subsets. If so, the focus of research of intergroup bias should be shifted from intergroup to intragroup contexts.” (pp. 322-3)
The idea of shifting the focus of attention from the negative implications of outgroup perceptions to the positive consequences of ingoup formation suggested to me the possibility that intergroup bias could be reduced by capitalizing on these ingroup forces if it would be possible for people to conceive of ingroup and outgroup members – as members of a more inclusive common ingroup identity (e.g., Black and White football players – all playing on the same team) from which the Common Ingroup Identity Model was developed. Hence, Marilynn’s reconceptualization was especially influential on my own work.
Marilynn is not only an outstanding researcher and theoretician, but judging by the questions she asks following a presentation at professional meetings, she is also a gentle and perceptive person. In these situations, I have never seen her go for the jugular, but rather Marilynn’s questions seem to ride along with the speaker’s thesis while presenting interesting extensions of those ideas for the speaker to consider.
Overall, Marilynn Brewer is an outstanding scholar who deserves to appear on the SPSP Heritage Wall of Fame.