Harold H. Kelley
Board of
Foundation for
Harold H. Kelley
Harold Harding Kelley (1921-2003), professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA and a distinguished pioneer and contributor to social psychology, died on January 29, 2003 of cancer at his home in Malibu, California. Harold Kelley was born in Boise, Idaho on February 16, 1921. At the age of ten, he moved with his family to California, where his father established a vineyard in Delano. It was there that he met and married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy, his dear companion for 61 years. There are three Kelley children, Ann, Sten, and Megan, and five grandchildren.

Kelley received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in psychology in 1942-43 from the University of California, Berkeley. He then performed his military service in the U.S. Air Force Aviation Psychology Program, assisting in the construction and validation of selection tests and analyzing air crew behavior.

With the war over, Kelley continued his graduate work in the new Research Center for Group Dynamics at MIT, then headed by Kurt Lewin, receiving his doctorate in group psychology, and continuing with the Center when it moved to Michigan. In 1950, Kelley accepted an assistant professorship at Yale University and became part of the Communications and Attitude Change program, out of which he developed a landmark publication, Communication and Persuasion (1953), coauthored with Carl Hovland and Irving Janis. There followed an appointment as professor at the University of Minnesota, with an affiliation with the Laboratory for Research in Social Relations.

Harold Kelley's long-term relationship with John Thibaut, from 1953 until Thibaut's demise in 1986, is considered an exemplary model of scientific collaboration. It began with their being invited to write a major chapter on group problem-solving and process for the Handbook of Social Psychology (1954). That chapter, updated in 1968, not only became a major resource in that field, but it led them to a separate volume, The Social Psychology of Groups (1959), which became one of the most influential works in social psychology. Although Kelley was ordinarily modest in referring to his work, he aptly described the result as "a stable focus on phenomena at the group level ... hitting upon a comprehensive and systematic theory, the elements of which others might regard as mundane, but the combinatorial nature of which brings order to numerous interpersonal and intergroup phenomena." A second volume, Interpersonal Relations: A Theory of Interdependence, elaborating and extending the original analysis, was published in 1978.

In the meantime, Kelley continued important innovations and leadership in several other areas. His research and theory on the processes and manner that we attribute causality resulted in a series of publications and a flurry of activity by many social psychologists. While exploring the onceptualizations and the possible "real life" applications of interdependence theory and attribution theory, Kelley began examining the interactions and perceptions of young couples in harmony and conflict, and the ways in which they negotiated and attempted to resolve conflicts. This work led him to elaborate both attribution and interdependence theories in the context of close relationships, resulting in the important and pioneering 1979 book, Personal Relationships. A subsequent co-authored volume (Close Relationships, Kelley et al., 1983) encouraged the examination of topics long ignored in social psychology such as attraction, love, commitment, power and conflict in relationships, etc., and gave birth to a new, active International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships.

Well after his retirement, Kelley brought together a group of leading researchers in this new field to tackle an ambitious project -- the creation of a taxonomy of prototypical social situations derived abstractly from theoretically distinct patterns of interdependence. This six-year project culminated in "An Atlas of Interpersonal Situations" (Kelley et al, 2003).

Kelley's scientific contributions received numerous awards and honors from the American Psychological Association (the Distinguished Scientist Award), the American Sociological Association (the Cooley-Mead Award), the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the Society for the Study of Personal Relationships. Of particular distinction are his elected memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of ciences.

While developing this impressive body of work, Kelley maintained his academic contributions as an active professor, teacher, and program organizer. A professor in the UCLA psychology department since 1961, Kelley served as departmental vice chair, chair of the social psychology area, and chaired many dissertation committees and influenced students who would become leaders in the field of social psychology. John Holmes, co-author with Kelley of one final publication, in preparation, Interdependence Theory: Situations, Relationships, and Personality, offered a description with which many who knew Kelley would agree: "Despite his towering intellect and intense commitment, he also was a wonderful mentor -- kind, patient, encouraging, and ready to "back off" and be playful. Most of all, he was a man of enormous integrity."

Memorial written by Bertram H. Raven


Hal Kelley worked with Kurt Lewin at MIT near the time when the field of social psychology was in its earliest moments. Kelley's contributions to building and refining the field rival those of Lewin in breadth and depth. As a person, Kelley was similarly influential in bringing diverse scholars together to pursue common intellectual interests. Working with Kelley first as a postdoctoral fellow and later as a colleague from the early '70s to the early 2000s, Kelley's contribution to my career was inestimable. Kelley once said of Fritz Heider, "We stood on his shoulders in creating a fertile area of study in social psychology (attribution)." Many will stand on Kelley's shoulders as social psychology continues to develop.

John Harvey

Hal Kelley not only probed most deeply and originally into the profound problems of social psychology, but he inspired his colleagues and students to do so as well. Always with kindness and an understated sense of humor.

George Levinger

I got to know Hal Kelley in the summer of 1978 when he organized a group of nine social and clinical psychologists to write a book summarizing and defining the emerging field of close relationships. This group spent 3 weeks together at UCLA, a week together in Amherst, Massachusetts a year later, and a few days together again at UCLA another year later. In between, Hal Kelley, Anne Peplau and I met many times as a kind of steering committee for the group. Through those many, many hours of working closely with Hal and other members of the group, I got a firsthand experience of Hal's brilliance as a thinker, his good humor and his ability to lead a group of diverse minded psychologists toward a common conceptual framework for viewing a broad and complex field. An unexpected feature of Hal was his striking modesty, so disproportionate to his abilities. He had so little to be modest about, yet was consistently so. For example, he organized our group, got the funding for the group, and was our intellectual leader, yet when it came to determining the authorship of the book that emerged, the group had to convince Hal to be the first author and not just go in alphabetical order. Modesty and brilliance are not usually close companions, but in Hal Kelley they merged in an appealing way. In many ways, I was sad to see this book completed in the early 80s because I thought it would end the exciting collaboration with Hal that I had experienced. However, Hal suggested that we form a close relationship group at UCLA. Hal, Anne Peplau, and I started the Close Relationship Interest Group, or CRIG, a group of faculty and graduate students interested in close relationship research. This group met 2-3 times a quarter for about 20 years. There were such wonderful presentations and discussions on those Friday afternoons over drinks and refreshments. This group formed a kind of living legacy to Hal's leadership and inspiration.

Andrew Christensen

Hal Kelley knew a lot about personal relationships. He wrote about just about every phenomenon and process that personal relationship researchers care about: love, intimacy, relationship attributions, conflict, conflict resolution, power, physical attractiveness, responsiveness, social support, reciprocity, equity, communal caring, etc. Hal also played an essential role in the growth of the field -- indeed it could be said that he invented the field: His address at the 1982 ICPR in Madison, WI, a conference that many people point to as the watershed in the emergence of this discipline, literally identified the agenda that still consumes us. He was also the first president of the professional organization that grew out of that meeting. Hal won every major award in the field and, for that matter, in several of its neighboring disciplines. His four major books on interdependence and on relationships, are canonical.

Social psychology includes a lot of really smart people but Hal was the smartest person I ever met. His ability to analyze concepts, especially situations, in abstract terms was profound and electric, every bit as exceptional as a Mozart, Einstein or Hawking. When Chip Knee and I wrote a commentary chapter back in 1995, we based it on a conversation with a Yoda-like wise man who knew everything about relationships. We named him Sal only because we feared that Hal would not want to be associated with our imperfect analysis.

Hal loved a good theoretical debate. He was open-minded and willing to entertain most any contrary belief, but once he had worked the ideas through, he was resolute and always right. His questions were never the ones you were ready for -- they made you stop and think. Hal was also warm and generous with his time and attention, and he readily expressed appreciation for your ideas -- he was the least self-involved academic I have ever met. Hal could also be playful. I recall him organizing a game of "social-psychology charades" once when I visited UCLA (try acting out "cognitive dissonance"). And he loved to tease (or as he called it, to twit), especially when he thought that others were getting pretentious.

Hal was a scholar's scholar, but more than this, he was modest and welcoming. I like to say that he adopted me in 1995. After hearing yet another brilliant lecture of his at the SESP meeting, while sitting on a bus on its way to a reception at the French Embassy, I commented that his analysis was so erudite that mere-mortal scholars often missed its elemental importance. He asked me to help him make Interdependence Theory more accessible, and that began the most stimulating intellectual association of my career. We shall not see another like him.

Harry Reis

I had the good fortune to be Hal Kelley’s colleague at UCLA from 1973 until his death in 2003. When I moved from the east coast to join the social psychology group at UCLA, Hal had already established a very distinguished academic career. I was fresh from graduate school, an assistant professor interested in studying gender and close relationships. Hal Kelley’s prominence as a relationship theorist was daunting but in person Hal was unfailingly gracious and supportive.

In 1978, Hal invited me and another assistant professor, Andy Christensen, to join him and others to write a book about close relationships. This incredible opportunity enabled me to work closely with Hal, Ellen Berscheid, George Levinger and other important relationship researchers. No doctoral exam was ever as scary as presenting Hal a draft of my chapter on “Roles and Gender,” not because I anticipated harsh criticism but rather because I wanted so much to approximate his high standards of conceptual clarity and depth.

Although Hal was born in Idaho, got his PhD at the University of Michigan and taught briefly at Yale, he was at heart a Californian. He came of age in the farm country of Delano, CA, started his academic career at Bakersfield Junior College, and taught at UCLA for most of his career. Hal shared his life with his wife Dorothy, his high school sweetheart. They lived in the Malibu hills in a home overlooking the beautiful Pacific coast and were members of a beach club just down the hill. I have very fond memories of dinner meetings of the social psychology faculty at Hal’s home and of many social gatherings for the faculty and graduate students at the beach club where we could walk barefoot in the sand and sip wine sitting at picnic tables. Others have commented aptly on Hal’s blend of brilliance and modesty. I suspect that his understated style had something to do with the relaxed atmosphere of California and time at the beach with family and friends.

The Close Relationship book begins with this observation: “Relationships with others lie at the very core of human existence.… Each individual’s dependence on other people … is a fundamental fact of the human condition.” Hal gave psychology an insightful and comprehensive analysis of human interdependence in all its diverse manifestations and helped to create the interdisciplinary science of personal relationships. His gave those of us whose professional lives were intertwined with his not only warmth and caring -- but also a persistent nudge to advance the field of personal relationships through rigorous conceptual analysis.

Anne Peplau

Further Donations are always welcome, whether to honor Harold H. Kelley 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.