2017 - Will Gervais, Joseph Henrich, Rita McNamara, Ara Norenzayan, Azim Shariff, and Edward Slingerland
The 2017 Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize is awarded to Will Gervais, Joseph Henrich, Rita McNamara, Ara Norenzayan, Azim Shariff, Edward Slingerland, and Aiyana Willard for their 2016 article entitled "The Cultural Evolution of Prosocial Religions" published by Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
Will Gervais is an evolutionary and cultural psychologist whose research focuses on the cognitive, evolutionary, and cultural causes and consequences of both religious belief and disbelief. Will is also a strong advocate for reform in research methods to produce more robust results and a more transparent, effective science.
Joseph Henrich is a Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. He previously held the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Cognition and Coevolution at UBC and has been a tenured faculty member in Psychology, Economics and Anthropology. His latest book is The Secret of Our Success: How culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smart.
Rita Anne McNamara is a Lecturer in Cross-Cultural psychology at Victoria University of Wellington. Her work focuses on how culture shapes social cognition, with a particular focus on mind perception, religion, cooperation, and morality. She works with communities of Indigenous iTaukei Fijians and conducts lab-based studies in university settings.
Ara Norenzayan is professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1999. He is the author of Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict.
Azim Shariff is an associate professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California Irvine. There he directs the Culture and Morality Lab, which applies the insights of moral psychology to a range of topics from religion to economic attitudes to human-technology interactions.
Edward Slingerland is Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. His research specialties and teaching interests include Warring States (5th-3rd c. B.C.E.) Chinese thought, religious studies, cognitive linguistics, ethics, and the relationship between the humanities and the natural sciences.
Aiyana Willard is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford. She conducts research on the religious, spiritual but not religious, and non-religious in North America, Europe, and Fiji and is currently exploring the prevalence, causes, and consequences of witchcraft and karma beliefs around the world.
2016 - Gráinne M. Fitzsimons, Eli J. Finkel, and Michelle vanDellen
The 2016 Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize is awarded to Gráinne M. Fitzsimons, Eli J. Finkel, and Michelle R. vanDellen for their 2015 Psychological Review article entitled “Transactive Goal Dynamics”. Psychologists have long studied motivation and goal pursuit, typically focusing on the ways that people self-regulate in order to satisfy personal desires. Yet, this approach overlooks the fact that self-regulation occurs within relational contexts, and therefore incorporates social processes. Fitzsimons, Finkel, and vanDellen capture this important yet understudied aspect of goal pursuit in an intellectually compelling and innovative theory of Transactive Goal Dynamics. Drawing on a range of relational dynamics, they set out social factors which not only facilitate but also inhibit goal outcomes. Their model has implications for a range of highly important factors such as health outcomes, how goals may interact across entire networks, and how goal pursuit may be understood within teams and groups. By building a theoretical framework that draws directly on existing research while also boldly defining new directions, Fitzsimons et al. are deserving winners of the 2016 SPSP Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize.
2015 - Michael Inzlicht, Brandon Schmeichel & C. Neil Macrae
The 2015 Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize is awarded to Michael Inzlicht, Brandon Schmeichel, and Neil Macrae for their 2014 Trends in Cognitive Sciences article entitled “Why self-control seems (but may not be) limited.” To truly understand human behavior, one must first understand the processes through which people guide themselves toward desirable ends, and away from undesirable ones. This process of self-regulation is a linchpin that ties together a vast range of motivated social actions from altruism to the suppression of stereotypes. Inzlicht, Schmeichel, and Macrae (2014) provide an incisive step toward understanding the basic mechanisms underlying self-control and, in so doing, substantially advance the literature on self-regulation. They propose that apparent failures of self-control reflect the motivated switching of task priorities as people strive to strike an optimal balance between pursuing “have-to” goals and preferring cognitive leisure in the pursuit of “want-to” goals. This perspective is consistent with both functional evolutionary considerations, as well as with proximate observations of self-control as the product of dynamically shifting motivational priorities. Their work offers a multi-level process model that changes the way researchers think about the very nature of self-regulation. For substantially advancing the literature on self-regulation and self-control, Inzlicht, Schmeichel, and Macrae are highly deserving of the 2015 SPSP Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize.
2015 - Brock Bastian, Jolanda Jetten, Matthew Hornsey & Siri Leknes
The 2015 Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize is awarded to Brock Bastian, Jolanda Jetten, Matthew Hornsey, and Siri Leknes for their 2014 Personality and Social Psychology Review article entitled “The Positive Consequences of Pain: A Biopsychosocial Approach.” There are thousands and thousands of articles on pain, and almost all of them agree upon a common point: Pain is bad. The badness of pain is so apparent that it may seem unwise to think whether it could be otherwise. But the questioning of “obvious” facts is exactly what characterizes important research and intellectual bravery. Bastian, Jetten, Hornsey and Leknes (2014) exemplify theoretical innovation by asking whether—and how—pain can be beneficial. They outline multiple potential benefits of pain, including heightening pleasure, increasing self-control, demonstrating virtue, reducing rumination, increasing social connection and arousing empathy. By synthesizing research across psychology, anthropology, medicine, public health and philosophy, the authors show an impressive breath of scholarship and provide many exciting new directions for future research. By providing a novel perspective on a universal human experience, Bastian et al. are highly deserving winners of the 2015 SPSP Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize.
2014 - Joseph Cesario & Betram Gawronski
The 2014 Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize Nomination Panel is awarded to Bertram Gawronski and Joseph Cesario for their 2013 Personality and Social Psychology Review article entitled “Of mice and men: What animal research can tell us about context effects on automatic responses in humans.” Since the publication of several seminal papers in the early 1980s, the topic of automaticity of evaluation and behavior has been a central, sometimes controversial, topic of research in Social Psychology. Some of the controversy has surrounded the problem of rigidity versus flexibility of such responses. While initially assumed to be rigid, more recent research suggests that automatic responses are context-sensitive such that the same stimulus may elicit different responses depending on the environment in which it is encountered. The problem is accounting for context effects. In an incisive article that is sure to be conducive of much future research, Gawronski and Cesario demonstrate that principles of animal research can adapted to provide a systematic account of the processes underlying context effects in humans. In particular, the authors argue for the utility of the constructs of occasion setting and renewal effects as possible models for such effects. Occasion setting involves the modulation of a response elicited by a particular stimulus in the presence of another stimulus. Renewal effects are recurrences of an old response after the learning of a new response to the same stimulus. Parallels described in detail by the authors result in precise predictions about automatic evaluation and behavior that will surely affect research in Social Psychology. And the paper serves as a model for using mechanistic accounts of animal behavior to advance our understanding of human behavior. For these reasons, Bertram Gawronski and Joseph Cesario are also highly deserving winners of the 2014 SPSP Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize.
2014 - Fiery Andrews Cushman
The 2014 Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize Nomination Panel is awarded to Fiery Cushman for his 2013 Personality and Social Psychology Review article entitled “Action, outcome, and value: A dual-system framework for morality.” While there is widespread consensus in the field of moral psychology that a dual-system framework has been useful for understanding moral judgment, there is far less agreement about the nature of these two systems. Cushman breaks with traditional distinctions between emotion and cognition or automaticity and control and provides an elegant and parsimonious way forward by drawing from work on decision-making and learning. His distinction between action and outcome based value representations represents a novel and refreshing take on the issue. Applying insights from computational approaches to reinforcement learning, it becomes clear how distinguishing between model based and model-free reinforcement learning can help to understand the underpinnings of moral judgement. By applying reinforcement learning models to the moral domain, Cushman shows in a compelling and elegant way how drawing from other disciplines may advance our understanding of social psychological phenomena. Given the potential to generate novel ways of thinking about the different processes that guide moral judgement, the work holds the promise to guide future research that will help to advance the field of moral psychology. For these reasons, Fiery Cushman is a highly deserving winner of the 2014 SPSP Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize.
2013 - Kurt Gray, Liane Young & Adam Waytz
The 2013 SPSP Theoretical Innovation Prize is awarded to Kurt Gray, Liane Young and Adam Waytz for their 2012 Psychological Inquiry article entitled "Mind Perception is the Essence of Morality.” Pablo Picasso famously attempted to capture the simple essence of a bull with a mere dozen drawn lines. In their provocative and innovative article, Gray, Young, and Waytz suggest that, like Picasso’s bull, the psychology of moral judgment, too, has a simple essence. This essence, they propose, is mind perception, specifically the perception of two minds that, together, constitute a moral dyad—an intentional agent paired with a suffering patient. They argue that this cognitive template of the moral dyad underlies a wide range of apparently distinct moralities and moral judgments, thereby lending an integrative, simplifying parsimony to otherwise conceptually scattered phenomena. In support of their position, they note that two of the central dimensions of mind perception (seeing actors as having agency and experiences) correspond to two moral types (agents and patients); they suggest that all moral transgressions are understood as agency plus suffering; they generate and test novel hypotheses that people cognitively infer complete moral dyads of intentional agents and suffering patients, and typecast others as moral agents or moral patients; they provide their own empirical evidence and draw on sound evidence reported by others to build their arguments; and they posit a range of additional, interesting hypotheses.
Beyond challenging existing theories of moral judgment, this paper also stimulates the reader to contemplate critical questions relevant to all of scientific inquiry: What is the value of theoretical parsimony? When is there too much and when is there not enough parsimony? If Picasso’s essence of bull is too often perceived as not the dangerous and savage gladiator of the fighting ring but rather as the overfed and pampered antelope of the petting zoo, has the artist simplified too much in the spirit of parsimony? If the proposed essence of moral judgment turns out to struggle at times to conceptually capture the rich diversity of moral judgment across domains, ideologies, or cultures, has the theoretician simplified too much in the spirit of parsimony? And by what criteria do we decide?
By virtue, then, of its attempted reach, engaging writing, marshaling of evidence, and willingness to provoke, Gray, Young, and Waytz’s article is likely to stimulate exciting new lines of inquiry in social and personality psychology and encourage broader conversations about what defines useful theory. For these reasons, Gray, Young, and Waytz are highly deserving winners of the 2013 SPSP Theoretical Innovation Prize.
2012 - Tessa West & David Kenny
The 2012 SPSP Theoretical Innovation Prize has been awarded to Tessa V. West and David A. Kenny for their innovative 2011 Psychological Review article entitled "The Truth and Bias Model of Judgment.” (Vol. 118, pp. 357–378).Despite broad interest in the processes of accuracy and bias in psychology, there is no single framework to define and measure them. Rather, theoretical models have been developed to address accuracy and bias within particular domains. As a result, the meaning of accuracy and bias, and the methodological approaches used to examine them, vary considerably. In their innovative article, West and Kenny propose the truth and bias (T & B) model, a single, integrative framework for the study of accuracy and bias across domains within psychology. The T & B model specifies that judgments are pulled by two forces, truth and bias. Countering the intuition that accuracy and bias are negatively related, they highlight the insights that truth and bias may be positively, negatively, or not at all related, and that psychological mechanisms may operate on truth and bias independently: Some mechanisms can lead perceivers to be both accurate and biased, others can lead to more accuracy and less bias, and yet others to more bias and less accuracy. Importantly, West and Kenny articulate how the parameters of their model can be translated into empirical methods that researchers can employ to develop and refine hypotheses of accuracy and bias as they operate across a range of domains. West and Kenny illustrate the broad applicability of their model by demonstrating how it sheds light on theoretical issues in the domain of close dyadic relationships. By virtue of its scope and conceptual sophistication, West and Kenny’s article has the potential to stimulate exciting new lines of inquiry in social and personality psychology, as well as in neighboring disciplines in the social and behavioral sciences. For these reasons, West and Kenny are highly deserving winners of the 2012 SPSP Theoretical Innovation Prize.
2011 - Mark J. Landau, Brian P. Meier & Lucas A. Keefer
The 2011 SPSP Theoretical Innovation Prize is awarded to Mark J. Landau, Brian P. Meier and Lucas A. Keefer for their innovative 2010 Psychological Bulletin article entitled "A Metaphor-Enriched Social Cognition.” Psychologists strive to make sense of how people make sense. Dominant approaches to this task have adopted the straightforward view that people interpret and evaluate new experiences by drawing on personal knowledge they have acquired through past experiences. Of course, human cognition resides in individual minds, but Landau, Meier and Keefer identify and articulate an emerging new trend in social and personality psychology, one that considers how people come to understand the social world through the conceptual metaphors that surround them. Despite the long tradition and growing interest in metaphor-based cognition, no group has yet provided the formal integration of relevant research that has been needed for the field to "move forward” (metaphorically speaking). Landau and colleagues provide this through their review of the many ways that conceptual metaphors have been shown to shape human understandings. Their analysis examines metaphoric influences on such diverse concepts as divinity, morality, and power and considers the ways metaphors might influence reactions to social policies pertaining to such varied topics as seatbelt use and illegal immigration. By articulating ways in which metaphor has, itself, acted as a metaphor that has guided psychological research, these investigators have provided the field with new understanding of how culture and history can shape the way we think and react to the worlds in which we live.
- Epley, N., Waytz, A., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2007). On seeing human: A three-factor theory of anthropomorphism. Psychological Review, 114, 864-886.
- Honorable Mention: Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., DeWall, N., & Zhang, L. (2007). How emotion shapes behavior: Feedback, anticipation, and reflection, rather than direct causation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 167-203.
- Dijksterhuis, A. & Nordgren, L. F. (2006) A theory of unconscious thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 95-109.
- Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Collins, N. L. (2006). Optimizing assurance: The risk regulation system in relationships. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 641-666.
- Conrey, F. R., Sherman, J. W., Gawronski, B., Hugenberg, K., & Groom, C. (2005). Separating multiple processes in implicit social cognition: The Quad Model of implicit task performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 469-487.
- Honorable Mention: Hart, J., Shaver, P., & Goldenberg, J. L. (2005). Attachment, self-esteem, worldviews, and terror management: Evidence for a tripartite security system. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 999-1013.
- Honorable Mention: MacDonald, G., & Leary, M. R. (2005). Why does social exclusion hurt? The relationship between social and physical pain. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 202-223.
- Smith, E. R., & Semin, G. (2004). Socially situated cognition: Cognition in its social context. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 36, 53-117.
- Honorable Mention: Dickerson, S. S., & Kemeny, M. E. (2004). Acute stressors and cortisol responses: A theoretical integration and synthesis of laboratory research. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 355-391.
- Simonton, D. K. (2003). Scientific creativity as constrained stochastic behavior: The integration of product, person, and process perspectives. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 475-494.
- Honorable Mention: Jost, J. T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A. W., & Sulloway, F. J. (2003). Political conservatism as motivated cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 339-375.
- Jost, J. T., & Hunyady, O. (2002). The psychology of system justification and the palliative function of ideology. European Review of Social Psychology, 13, 111-153.
- Niedenthal, P. M., Barsalou, L. W., Winkielman, P., Krauth-Gruber, S., & Ric, F. (unpublished). Embodiment in attitudes, social perception, and emotion.
- Strack, F., & Deutsch, R. (2004). Reflective and impulsive determinants of social behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8, 220-247.
- Blanton, H., & Christie, C. (2003). Deviance regulation: A theory of action and identity. Review of General Psychology, 7, 115-149.
- Fleeson, W. (2001). Toward a structure- and process-integrated view of personality: Traits as density distributions of states. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 1011-1027.
- Kwan, V. S. Y., John, O. P., Kenny, D. A., Bond, M. H., & Robins, R. W. (2004). Reconceptualizing individual differences in self-enhancement bias: An interpersonal approach. Psychological Review, 111, 94-110.