Kelley, Harold 1921-2003
Harold Harding Kelley’s field of study, social psychology, has been defined variously as the study of attitudes, of groups, or of the ways mental representations shape social behavior and person perception. Hal Kelley contributed to all of these aspects of his field.
Kelley was among the young scholars, including Morton Deutsch (born 1920), Stanley Schachter (1922–1997), and John Thibaut (1917–1986), drawn to the Research Center for Group Dynamics established by Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Kelley’s (1950) dissertation research at MIT asked: Do people “key” on particular social information? He found that when a person was described by a list of adjectives, others’ attitudes toward that person were especially affected by whether the word warm or cold appeared in the list. Kelley’s interest in person perception was evident again approximately fifteen years later when he coined the term attribution theory.
Kelley’s true forte was not empirical research, however; it was theorizing. In his academic appointment at Yale University in the early 1950s, Kelley collaborated with a leading attitude researcher, Carl Hovland (1912–1961), and Irving Janis (1918–1990) to review and synthesize theory and research concerning communication and persuasion.
But it was with John Thibaut, while at the University of Minnesota and later the University of California at Los Angeles, that Kelley developed a prominent theory concerning interpersonal influence in groups. The theory focused on interdependence in the simplest social group—the dyad (two-person “group”). Interdependence implies that the dyad members can benefit or harm one another, and the theory identified bases of mutual influence stemming from patterns of interdependence. Reflexive control constitutes the extent to which dyad members control their own outcomes independent of the other’s actions; fate control is the extent to which individuals control the other’s outcomes irrespective of the other’s actions; and behavior control concerns the extent to which both members of the dyad gain or lose based on the configuration of their actions. For example, when mutual cooperative action is particularly beneficial, or competition is harmful, there is an incentive for each to coordinate with the other’s actions, yielding mutual behavior control.
Although the best-known precursors to this theory, by George Homans (1910–1989) and Peter Blau (1918–2002), are labeled exchange theories, Kelley rejected this label in favor of interdependence theory, because exchange of rewards is just one solution to some of the problems posed by particular interdependence structures. For example, people can reevaluate outcomes or develop sequences of actions (described by transition lists ) that are more complex than simple exchange.
Kelley probably is best known for work on attribution theory. He proposed that laypeople can be systematic processors of social information, implicitly arraying information in what came to be known as Kelley’s cube. This ANOVA model distinguished three types of information that people can use to analyze the causes of others’ (or their own) behavior. For example, when a person uniquely (i.e., low on the consensus dimension of the information cube) and consistently chooses to play backgammon but not, say, chess or checkers (yielding distinctiveness of game-playing behavior), the behavior is attributable to something internal to the person (e.g., a strong preference), and not external (e.g., social convention). Later, Kelley described alternate attribution processes involving cognitive schemas. Hundreds of subsequent studies of attribution, conducted over the next decade, were reviewed by Kelley and John Michela (1980).
In the 1980s and 1990s Kelley helped to build a community of researchers of close relationships (e.g., marriages). One outgrowth, An Atlas of Interpersonal Situations (2003), may be seen as a step in the direction of Kelley’s vision that social psychology should develop very general principles—paralleling chemistry’s periodic table, for example—and steer clear of demonstrations of counterintuitive social phenomena that often dominate the field but are neither cumulative nor rich.
Harold Kelley received numerous awards for his contributions, from social psychology societies and from the broader scientific community, as when he was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
SEE ALSO Blau, Peter M.; Communication; Cooperation; Intergroup Relations; Persuasion; Schachter, Stanley; Social Psychology
Kelley, Harold H. 1950. The Warm-Cold Variable in First Impressions of Persons. Journal of Personality 18: 431–439.
Kelley, Harold H., and John L. Michela. 1980. Attribution Theory and Research. Annual Review of Psychology 31: 457–501.
Kelley, Harold H., John G. Holmes, Norbert L. Kerr, et al. 2003. An Atlas of Interpersonal Situations. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Raven, Bertram, Albert Pepitone, and John G. Holmes. 2003. Harold H. Kelley, 1921–2003. American Psychologist 58: 806–807.
John L. Michela