Lawrence (“Larry”) Wrightsman, Jr., was born in Houston, Texas. At Southern Methodist University, he majored in psychology, and his minor in journalism led him to the editorship of the college newspaper, the SMU Campus, and to work as a reporter for the Houston Post. He left journalism to study social psychology, educational psychology, and mass communications at the University of Minnesota, earning a Ph.D. in 1959 with Stanley Schachter as his advisor.
Larry went to work at George Peabody College for Teachers (now a part of Vanderbilt University) in Nashville, visited at the University of Hawaii (where he spent time with an also-visiting Gordon Allport). In 1976, Larry moved to the University of Kansas as Chair, retiring as Professor of Psychology (but still contributing to the program!) in 2008.
Larry Wrightsman’s research in social psychology, psychology and law, and education has been recognized many times. He received the Distinguished Service to SPSSI Award in 1998, the same year he received the Distinguished Contribution Award of the American Psychology-Law Society. The University of Kansas recognized him with the Ned N. Fleming Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1999.
Larry’s service to the field of social psychology and psychology and law is legendary. He was President of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology in 1978-1979, the President of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) in 1976-1977; he chaired the Public Interest Coalition of APA, was a member of Executive Committee of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, he served on innumerable editorial boards, gave keynote addresses, and did much of the unglamorous work building the infrastructure of social psychology and law and psychology.
By the numbers, Larry’s contribution is extraordinary. He is justly proud of having published nearly 50 books, including both edited and authored books. At the time of this writing in 2013, he has completed a new book on the psychology of the Supreme Court, and is preparing yet another on the psychology of Chief Justices.
Larry is known by many generations of undergraduates for his outstanding textbooks in social psychology. Social Psychology in the Seventies (1972) was a publishing breakthrough book. Not only was it popular—a genuine bestseller—but it also established social psychology as a “relevant” discipline, interweaving basic research in social psychology with pressing social issues. This combination of basic research and the discussion of social problems became the model of social psychology textbooks for decades to come.
The textbooks, articles, and addresses that Larry wrote helped create the field of psychology and law as we know it. His books on the subject are known to cohort after cohorts of forensic psychology, including Psychology and the Legal System, which has gone through so many editions and is so popular that it now appears as Wrightsman's Psychology and the Legal System with new authors, and The American Jury on Trial (with Saul Kassin), among many others. He initiated the Courtwatch column which has long appeared in the APA Monitor.
Larry is also known for the company he keeps. A selection of his collaborators, co-editors, and co-authors includes Jack Brigham, Stuart Cook, Frank Dane, Kay Deaux, Richard Gorsuch, Jeff Greenberg, Herbert Kelman, Saul Kassin, Tom Pyszczynski, John Robinson, Phil Shaver, Harry Triandis, and Gary Wells. His collaborators and colleagues on the book Commemorating Brown: The social psychology of racism and discrimination (2008), Glenn Adams, Monica Biernat, Nyla Branscombe, and Chris Crandall are particularly proud of the association with Larry.
Despite his many years in Minnesota, Tennessee, and Kansas, Larry still retains the lessons of River Oaks in Houston, where he was raised the child of a schoolteacher, and grew up to emulate his fellow Texan Larry McMurtry’s respect for used books, and to honor the contributions of his fellow Texan writers Molly Ivins and Bill Moyers.
- Lawrence S. Wrightsman, Jr. was my MA and PHD advisor, intellectual parent, teaching supervisor, and friend. Upon meeting him, I knew I had found a scholarly home, and like any well cared for student, I left home with confidence, but returned as needed. His mentorship was never ending. He was always supportive of my ideas, research, and accomplishments. I owe him more than I could ever repay. He was always excited when he encountered interesting information or ideas. His constant scholarly endeavors and involvement in SPSSI, SPSP, and APLS are evidence of his enduring commitment to the study of personality and social psychology.
- Cynthia W. Esqueda
- I will always be grateful to Larry Wrightsman for bringing me into his wonderful social psychology textbook world. First as a chapter author in the 1977 second edition, and then as a co-author with Larry through the third, fourth, fifth and sixth editions of Social Psychology (in the 70s, 80s, and 90s), I learned from a master what a good textbook can be. He was generous to me, astute in his advice, and committed to the students and to the profession. Thank you, Larry.
-Kay Deaux, Professor, CUNY Graduate Center
- Lawrence S. Wrightsman is a teacher, friend, mentor, and intellectual leader for many psychologists. Over the course of five decades, his strong personal presence and his prolific writings have helped mightily to build and inspire the new interdiscplinary study of psychology and the law. In this field, Larry is the Giant of our generation."
Saul Kassin, Professor, Williams College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Larry Wrightsman is a pioneer--one of the best, the most productive, and the most influential thinkers in psychology and law it has been our privilege to enjoy. His contributions are immeasurable.
-Kirk Heilbrun, Professor, Drexel University
- Larry has had a profound influence on the field of social psychology and law. It was the first edition of his classic textbook that first piqued my interest in the topic and I know that countless others were similarly influenced by his engaging text. His contributions to our understanding of jury selection, false confessions, and judicial decision making will continue to shape the field for years to come. More important, to me anyway, is the meaningful impact he had on me personally, writing to me when he knew that I was ill and offering comfort by sharing his own success facing similar challenges. I will always be grateful for the ways in which he lifted me up--both professionally and personally.
Margaret Bull Kovera, Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Larry has been a stimulating colleague for decades. His door has always been open for the discussion of psychology and social issues; it's been such a pleasure to drop in and learn about the Supreme Court from Antonin Scalia to Salmon P. Chase. The mixture of knowledge, good humor, and patience has made him a senior mentor for me for almost half of my career.
-Chris Crandall, Professor, University of Kansas
- Larry has been my colleague for over 20 years, during which time he has been my aspirational model of integrity, hard work, and incredible writing skill (the man has never experienced writer’s block!). Larry is a wonderful scholar, and a wonderful person, highly deserving of his place on this Wall of Fame. Congratulations Larry, and thanks!
-Monica Biernat, Professor, University of Kansas
- I could not have asked for a better mentor. It has been a great comfort to me to know that, beginning in graduate school and extending now into my 20th year post-Ph.D., Larry’s door has always been open to me. He has been what a mentor should be: gently critical and encouraging, while modeling the standard of excellence in teaching in writing. I am so proud to be able to tell others that Larry Wrightsman is my mentor.
-Amy Posey, Associate Professor, Benedictine College
- Larry was a great mentor and advisor to me as an undergrad and as a doctoral student. He is often in my thoughts.
-Kevin Boully, Litigation Consultant, Persuasion Strategies
- As an advisor, Larry instilled in me the importance of performing sound, quality, and ethical research (including the fact that misleading participants in order to understand a construct should be a last resort), and how our writing and presentation style could be as important as the message. He is an excellent example of the adage that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
-Vanessa Edkins, Assistant Professor, Florida Institute of Technology
- Larry was instrumental to my education and my career.
-Karen Lisko, Senior Litigation Constultant, Persuasion Strategies
- Larry has been a true mentor to me. I have never met anyone who loved to write as much as he does. He delights in finding out everything he can about some meaningful subject, and then presenting it in a clear, engaging way that is stimulating to undergraduates, grad students, and professionals alike. A rare talent.
-Jack Brigham, Professor Emeritus, Florida State University