Board of
Foundation for
Shelly Chaiken
Shelly Chaiken received her B.S. from the University of Maryland in 1971, where she majored in math and minored in psychology. After working in D.C. for a year, she entered the PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and started working with Alice Eagly. Shelly, already somewhat interested in the topic of social influence, found herself drawn to questions about when and why different persuasion variables might matter. One of her first research projects involved testing whether the effect of comprehensibility on persuasion would depend on the modality of communication (Chaiken & Eagly, 1976). The results provided a first clue that persuasion variables might have more or less impact depending on a message recipient’s ability to carefully scrutinize and think about a message.

Soon, Shelly found herself thinking extensively about when people do (and don’t) think extensively. She noticed that the articles populating her course reading lists on attribution theories and self-perception theory offered strikingly different views of how people think about people—attribution models suggested a careful and deliberative process, whereas self-perception theory proposed a quick-and-easy, if-then model of making judgments (“if I’m yelling, then I must be angry”). Shelly remembered years before, when Kennedy and Nixon had been running for president, and she had listened to her parents carefully consider the intricacies of the various political issues at stake. Meanwhile, she—with a young child’s preference for the simple—found it easy to conclude that Kennedy was the man to vote for…after all, he looked better. In graduate school, she read about a study that strongly echoed her childhood experience, suggesting that people who heard the first Kennedy-Nixon debate on the radio believed that Nixon had won, whereas those who watched it on TV were sure that Kennedy had prevailed. Shelly reflected on her own thinking habits: Sometimes she liked thinking carefully, sure, but sometimes her mind still jumped to conclusions. If humans in general were often “lazy organisms” who prefer to conserve cognitive resources when possible (McGuire, 1969), then might a simple if-then sort of decision process suffice for most of us, much of the time?

Shelly’s dissertation research began to test this distinction between careful and simple thinking in the context of persuasion. Building on a manipulation that caught her eye in an up-and-coming researcher’s recently published dissertation on self-perception (Taylor, 1975), Shelly manipulated whether a decision had high or low consequences for a participant, in order to test whether consequentiality would moderate the persuasive impact of source cues (such as likeability) and message content (the strength of argumentation). She reasoned that whereas source cues (the most frequently studied noncontent variable in persuasion research at the time) can be processed quite easily and efficiently by a lazy organism unmotivated by future consequences, the strength of the arguments contained in a message should take more effort, and should only be processed by participants motivated by future consequences to think carefully about the persuasive appeal. The data in her dissertation studies supported this idea (Chaiken, 1980, JPSP; cited over 3800 times).

Building on these initial findings, Shelly began to develop the heuristic-systematic model of persuasion. After receiving her PhD in social psychology in 1978, Shelly began her first job at the University of Toronto, moving next to Vanderbilt University and then landing at NYU in 1985. She was the President of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology from 1989-1990, and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavior Sciences in Palo Alto, CA from 1997-1998. During this time, the heuristic-systematic model gradually expanded, as Shelly connected it first to functional theories of attitudes (drawing on her intellectual lineage from Alice Eagly to Herb Kelman) and then to new ideas in social cognition about availability and accessibility that bounced along the corridors of New York University in conversations with John Bargh and Tory Higgins.

The heuristic-systematic model played a key role in radically reorienting both the study of persuasion and the field of social psychology more broadly. Dual process theories began to proliferate and connect across different topic areas; Shelly played an important role in pushing the field to integrate the common themes underlying these theories in a handbook that she edited with Yaacov Trope at NYU (Chaiken & Trope, 1999). In 2009, she received the Scientific Impact Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology for her highly influential work.

The remarkable explanatory power of the heuristic-systematic model stems from its focus on the basic processes underlying persuasion, as well as its theoretical precision and broad but still carefully delimited scope. The theory therefore provided a natural bridge from persuasion to many other conceptually similar areas. Moreover, its focus on basic mechanisms allows the heuristic-systematic model to predict how a wide range of variables will influence attitudes and judgments in various situations, and it has become a particularly powerful tool for understanding and influencing information processing in ways that can help promote positive social change across a strikingly diverse set of applied domains. The model’s impact on both theory and applied interventions continues to reverberate both within social psychology and beyond.


Shelly's contributions to the field of social psychology are enormous and indisputable. Her work in the areas of attitudes and persuasion, and social cognition more broadly, has influenced, and continues to shape, research not only within our own discipline, but also in a truly broad and diverse range of other fields (e.g., marketing, organizational behavior, etc.). But I'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Shelly in a more personal way, as there are so few of these kinds of opportunities. Mainly, I want to express my deep gratitude to Shelly. Thank you for your sage mentoring and advice, particularly in the early years. Thank you for your brilliant mind, your ability to communicate your ideas, and your willingness to listen to your students' ideas, along with your insistence on students expressing them. Thank you for making me a better writer. Thank you for having faith in me and giving me opportunities to grow. Thank you for the prodding, encouraging, cheerleading, enthusiasm, and high standards. Thank you for making lab meetings not just productive, but also outright fun! And, of course, thank you for wearing orange shoes with funky patterned socks. So many of us would not be where we are today were it not for your wisdom and guidance. Thanks, Shelly!

Serena Chen

Shelly Chaiken and I met each other in the early 1980s when we were on the faculty together at the University of Toronto. She was my very close friend and colleague from Day 1 and we shared a trek through academic life in Canada and then New York. As a professional, no one is more serious, scholarly and perceptive about her research, from her groundbreaking work on the theory of heuristic and systematic information processing to her determined and influential analysis of the structural consistency of attitudes and its implications. At the same time, no one is funnier in talking about her work or introducing someone to give a talk. Shelly is also a wonderful mentor, spending hours with students to guide them both professionally and personally. She is one of the best friends I ever had and I feel blessed for every moment I have gotten to spend with her, be it jogging through the streets of Brooklyn or sharing notes on the students we were mentoring.

Diane Ruble

Shelly was the best colleague ever. I don't know how we both got so much work done at NYU when we were goofing off and having fun most of the time. Whether it was finding ways to send weird messages in the very early days of email, or our golf tournaments in the hallways, so frequent that students had to check for flying golf balls before venturing out of their offices, to the aroma of the monthly shipments of Peet's coffee beans wafting out of our mailbox area... I always looked forward to getting to the 7th floor each day and hanging around till late in the evening. But we worked hard too and had each other's backs for many tough years as well. I miss her and I miss those incredible years together. (Washington Senators) hats off to you, Shelly Chaiken.

John Bargh

I was thrilled to be able to join the faculty at NYU in the late ’80s in no small measure because Shelly was there and I’d get to have her as an immediate colleague. Over the ensuing two decades, I had the pleasure of seeing my friend in action as a supportive, incisive voice with both colleagues and doctoral students, not to mention as a nearly encyclopedic font of scholarship and enrichment, and a whip smart wit that brought levity, color, and at times hilarity to daily life in the social psychology program. It is no exaggeration to say that Shelly was the heart and soul of NYU’s stellar social psychology program in those years, proving once and for all that the pursuit of science – with its demand for conceptual clarity and sophistication, methodological rigor and excellence – can still be great fun. Great minds often thrive as children at play. That is what we got to do for so long while Shelly was here. And so it goes. It was our loss that she chose to relocate and we miss her still.

Susan Andersen

I have been fortunate to have had many mentors in various domains in life. As a student of Shelly in a PhD seminar at NYU in 1991-92, I was mentored on attitude theory based on the classic The Psychology of Attitudes (Eagly and Chaiken) and fell in love with persuasion. I also learnt passion, thoroughness, and thoughtfulness in conducting research. I have clear memory of many words and phrases Shelly used in class and have a particularly vivid recollection of the guest speaker she invited (Bill McGuire) whose talk illuminated for me the process of hypotheses development in psychology. It’s been 25 years since but hardly a week goes by when I am not reminded of the theoretical, empirical, and spiritual lessons I learnt during that semester from Shelly. I have used these lessons directly or indirectly in all my research – past and present. I still refer to her book co-authored with Eagly frequently and it will not be an overstatement to say that my experiences with Shelly’s work and pedagogy underlie everything I do as an academic. Shelly has helped me feel the most empowering and cleansing of all emotions – gratitude. Abundant gratitude.

Shailendra Jain

A long time ago, Shelly Chaiken was the graduate student who hardly ever seemed like a graduate student because she is so smart and discerning. As a collaborator in later years, she demonstrated her brilliance over and over. That’s why our work on The Psychology of Attitudes is a high point of my academic career. With intellectual rigor, she critiqued what I wrote and inspired deeper analyses. As a writer, she could sustain a complex thought in a longer sequence than anyone I else I have worked with. Thus, I sometimes had to break up her long, elegantly reasoned sentences to tailor them for our (probably) less talented readers. Shelly’s experiments also reflected her superior abilities by very carefully probing issues of process with innovative designs and measures. This empirical work spelled out the implications of her excellent theoretical contributions to dual process theorizing. All in all, Shelly’s body of work in social psychology deserves the impressive citations and widespread admiration that it has garnered.

Alice Eagly

From publishing my first paper with Shelly in JESP to Editor-in-Chief there ... Everything you taught me about meticulousness, rigor, writing, theory development, and experimentation has really paid off, Shelly!

Roger Giner-Sorolla

Thank you Shelly for all your mentoring and friendship over the years. You showed me the way to an inspired level of intellectual rigor and conceptual analysis that has sculpted the rest of my career—an intellectual approach that I continue to pass on to my own graduate students. Your thinking was ahead of its time but now has served to shape not only the field of attitudes, but also many other theoretical and applied fields of cognition, judgment and decision making. Thank you for giving so much of yourself to your students and the field of psychology.

Peter Darke

My dissertation begins with the acknowledgments that open with "I would not have anything in my academic life without my mentor Shelly Chaiken who gave me both the space I needed and the attention and focus I needed in perfect doses and with impeccable timing. She gave me an opportunity to shift directions in my graduate career. As an academic, she is frighteningly inspirational. As a person she is beyond cool, and a dear friend." In the years after I left NYU she inspired me even more with her incredible and influential body of work that stands with the greatest in social psychology of the last 40 years. To this day, whenever we get together, I walk away struck by her brilliance, elegant thinking, and absolute greatness as a scholar and thinker. And my wife Cindy, a neuroscientist, has the same reaction. But it must also be noted that Cindy and I both see Shelly's generosity and friendship and warmth as equal to her unsurpassed gifts as a scientist. So many important moments for me post PhD have Shelly close by -- a semester at Berkeley living in her home there while she was back at NYU, later allowing me to live in her NYC apartment (where I got engaged to my wife) while Shelly was on sabbatical for a year, dancing at my wedding, being the first person to visit my wife and I after our first son was born, the first academic colleague to come visit and speak after I moved to Lehigh, and gifting me all her books and journals and so much of her beautiful furniture when she downsized out of NYC and NYU. My office is a veritable "Shelly Chaiken Library", and so she is constantly on my mind as I go about my business, trying to live up to the example of excellence with good humor and respect/love that she set.

Gordon Moskowitz

Thank you Shelly for the opportunity to be your friend and research collaborator, and thank you for the opportunity to see social psychology through your eyes.

Yaacov Trope

Shelly -- you can run but you can't hide. You not only shaped the way we think about the psychology of attitudes, but your way of being and thinking shaped numerous students and colleagues, including me, ever since we crossed paths that year in Toronto. Tough to get ahold of you these days but I know you are lurking and going about your Life in ways that (I hope) keep you happy and satisfied. Know that a whole lot of us love you and have always admired you. May this honor remind you of all that you mean to all of us, professionally and personally. Lots of love,

Gene Borgida

In the early 1990s I had the good fortune to work with Shelly Chaiken as a visiting postdoc at NYU. It is a time I will always fondly remember. Shelly was a great mentor, who generously shared her immense knowledge and scholarship. She was always encouraging, open-minded, full of energy, enthusiasm, and intellectual curiosity. Our lab meetings were always inspiring and a lot of fun because of Shelly's wonderful sense of humor.

Congratulations Shelly, and thanks for the influence you have had on my life and work!

Gerd Bohner

Shelly Chaiken, my colleague in NYU’s social psychology doctoral program for many years… so smart, so funny, so charming, so raucous, so irreverent, so caring. I can raise my own oxytocin level simply by recalling times with Shelly (Cardoso, Orlando, Brown, & Ellenbogen, 2014). I met her at a Nags Head Conference on Social Cognition (1984?), where she strode back and forth at the front of the room, swinging her broken golf club pointer around and describing study after study that she had done that didn’t work out. At the end of the conference, Dave Hamilton gave her the Award for the Talk Most Damaging to Your Career. Then there was her introduction of Wendy Wood when Wendy came to NYU to give a social colloquium. At first, it had everyone aghast and then cracking up, as Shelly described their contrasting personalities and her rivalry with Wendy when they were both grad students under Alice Eagly at U Mass.

Shelly was the heart and soul of NYU’s social program, when we first learned to be mutually supportive and critical at the same time, to put the students’ welfare first, and to share resources according to need. She and John Bargh gave students a formative immersion into the field in their year-long co-taught methods seminar. She instructed us all in the weekly brown bag sessions with her gentle but incisive questions, for students and faculty alike. She taught me to clearly separate operational from conceptual variables, to respect ‘old’ publications and scholarship, and much much more. She was the social glue of the program, whom I counted on (in my years as coordinator) to know what was going on when someone was in trouble or we hit choppy waters. And who can forget the parties in her apartment, and the weed on the balcony? She’s in my head when I think about relations between impression formation and attitudes, which she pointed out to me years ago. Her books sit on my shelf. And her legacy lives on in social psych at NYU.

Jim Uleman, not yet emeritus at NYU

I have this desk lamp that Shelly gave me once, sitting on a table in my house. I turn it on, and yellow light spills across the room…shaping what I see, shaping where and how I look. As a mentor—and as a researcher, teacher, collaborator, and friend—Shelly is a lamp. In graduate school, she taught me how to see like a scientist. She taught me how to write for an academic audience, scrawling questions in pencil across the printed pages of my drafts. She taught me that you submit a paper for review to learn from the feedback, not to get published. She taught me to love and value the history of a literature. She taught me that there’s nothing wrong with indulging my profound love of footnotes, since she loved them as well, but that I should probably try to trim down my (sometimes excessive) parentheticals. She taught me that the point of science is the science—not a long list of publications, not a high citation count, not awards or visibility…though she of course has all those things, too. And she taught me, and continues to teach me, to ask interesting questions, to think critically and creatively about research, and also to sit in the sun sometimes with a dog or two and be wholly yourself. So to Shelly—thank you for illuminating, luminously.

Alison Ledgerwood

Further Donations are always welcome, whether to honor Shelly Chaiken or another psychologist. Be sure to leave a note regarding which mentor you would like to donate for and any testimonial you might like to give.