Brenda Major
Board of
Foundation for
Brenda Major
Brenda Major is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and past Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Her research areas include the psychology of stigma, psychological responses to abortion, the psychological justification of inequality, including gender inequality, and the antecedents and consequences of perceived discrimination and unfair treatment. She is the author of more than 150 articles and book chapters and the book, The Psychology of Legitimacy, edited with John Jost. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the American Philosophical Foundation, and the Cattell Foundation.

Brenda has served as President of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology and President of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Her many awards include the 2014 Scientific Impact Prize from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology, the 2012 Kurt Lewin Prize from the Society of Psychological Study of Social Issues, the 1988 Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, the 1986 Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, the 1985 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association of Women in Psychology, and she was named a California Distinguished Wellness Lecturer in 1997. Brenda chaired the American Psychological Association Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion from 2006-2008. Her research examines the impact of organizational diversity initiatives on minorities’ and majorities’ perceptions of fairness and acceptance within organizations, and the impact of perceived ethnic, gender, and weight-based discrimination on physiological stress responses, health behaviors, and interpersonal relationships.


I am thrilled with the chance to honor Brenda Major and the contributions she has made to social psychology. Her work reorienting the field toward understanding prejudice from a target's point of view has been groundbreaking and continues to impact current research. In addition, Brenda has been an inspiration to so many of those who have worked with her. From her, we have learned to think theoretically, but to translate those theories into elegantly and ecologically sound designs that answer real world questions. Her influence has made a lasting mark on how I think about social psychology and the science I do. I am honored to have had her as a mentor.

Toni Schmader, PhD, Canadian Research Chair, Professor, University of British Columbia

I had not seen Brenda Major’s tour de force chapter in the 1994 edition of Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (“From social inequality to personal entitlement”) until Jenny Crocker mentioned it to me during a colloquium visit to Yale, where I was a graduate student. The ideas in that piece were in perfect harmony with an article that Mahzarin Banaji and I had just published in a special issue of the British Journal of Social Psychology (Jost & Banaji, 1994). I was thrilled (and validated) that a luminary in our field such as Brenda had reached conclusions that were similar to my own. An intellectual crush was born.

Brenda and I chatted at a conference or two after that, but I had no way of knowing that she would change my life in 1996, when she telephoned me (as people did back then) to ask if I would be interested in moving to Santa Barbara for a year or two. I was. The time I spend at UCSB turned out to be among the most exhilarating and inspiring periods of my career, as I had wonderful conversations with Jim Blascovich, David Hamilton, Stanley Klein, Dianne Mackie, Howie Giles, Wendy Berry Mendes, Toni Schmader, and many others. But the best were with Brenda, often at the beach or the lagoon or in her hot tub, when we hatched plans to organize a conference and edit a book volume on The Psychology of Legitimacy.

Legitimacy, we felt, was the concept that unified theories of relative deprivation, social comparison, stigma, self-esteem, social justice, belief in a just world, social identification, social dominance, system justification, depressed entitlement, and so on. When I was offered a tenure-track job at Stanford in 1997, Brenda screamed (with excitement) even louder than I did. We ended up hosting the conference at Stanford in 1998 and publishing the book a few years later (Jost & Major, 2001). Intellectual crush consummated.

I flew back to Santa Barbara for Brenda’s surprise 50th birthday celebration and partied with her and Jim until the sun came up! Brenda is a good friend and a terrific scholar and researcher. She is most deserving of this prestigious form of professional recognition.

John Jost, PhD, Professor, New York University

Brenda’s a tornado of energy, information, and ideas. Her curiosity is boundless. Her theoretical proficiency is stunning. Her passion for the scientific study of social justice is contagious. And she’s great fun. There’s no one better to discuss basic rules of life with (e.g., “If Wegmans doesn’t have it, I don’t need it; If I have to iron it, I won’t buy it”) or regale you with tales of the perils of wrap dresses getting caught on overhead projectors at national conferences. Being Brenda’s student is a privilege that pays long dividends—like good parenting, great mentorship is something that is often appreciated even more deeply with time. Thanks to Brenda, I endeavor to see the forest for the trees, pay attention to the data, and always have a good answer to, “So what?”

Wendy Quinton, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Buffalo

Brenda’s mentorship was transformative, and my time as a postdoc in her lab was the most joyful period in my career. Brenda identifies important yet poorly understood scientific paradoxes, and offers a rich theoretical framework providing unique insight into these perplexing questions, and produces trailblazing research with socially significant, and often hugely controversial, implications. It is an amazing combination of brains, brawn, and bravery. I am immensely grateful to Brenda for showing me how to be playful with science, imparting endless wisdom about life inside and outside academia, being a tireless advocate for women, and for being my cherished intellectual playmate and friend.

Cheryl Kaiser, PhD. Associate Professor, University of Washington

There are some people who shape your life in a profound and lasting way. Brenda Major is one of those people for me. In graduate school, she taught me the value of models and process, to be inspired by theory and data, and to be deeply committed to one’s ideas but be prepared to abandon your cherished beliefs if the data prove you wrong. I’ve learned so much from her, and continue to learn from her every time I read her articles, chat casually, or hear her think aloud. Brenda is an amazing mentor, collaborator and friend. I am fortunate to have her in my life as my favorite professional and personal hero.

Wendy Berry Mendes, PhD, Sarlo/Ekman Endowed Professor, UC San Francisco

Brenda has had a tremendous influence on my career development. While I admire many of Brenda's qualities, the theoretical sophistication of her thinking and the conceptual clarity of her writing are particularly inspiring. In addition, her enthusiasm for her work and passion for justice have had a lasting impact on me.

Laurie O’Brien, PhD, Associate Professor, Tulane University

Brenda changed my life. She inspired me to propel my thinking down new roads of theory and explore ideas I never would have discovered alone. She challenged me to become a better writer, experimentalist, and ultimately a better scientist. More importantly, however, she welcomed me into her lab and her home and believed in me. As Brenda’s post-doc, she trusted me to mentor graduate students, experiment with psychophysiology, and even care for dear old Hobbes! In that process, she gave me the opportunity to be a better social psychologist and form lifelong relationships that made me a better person. Although the entire field is lucky to have such an astute and productive scholar of intergroup relations, it is those of us who know and work alongside her who are luckiest of all. With Brenda’s energy, curiosity, and contagious excitement, she is a true inspiration.

Jonathan Kunstman, PhD, Assistant Professor, Miami University

Brenda Major is an incredible mentor. She is generous with her time and all her mentees are taken under her wing. As she states, she is our mentor for life. My career trajectory has changed due to Brenda's mentorship during my one-year post-doc at UCSB. My research program is now more theoretically driven and includes greater diversity of methodologies including psychophysiology thanks to Brenda's tutelage. Brenda is an excellent researcher, teacher, and mentor and deserves the highest recognition from our field.

Bettina Casad, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Missouri - St. Louis

Also honoring Brenda Major's contributions:

Richard Gramzow, PhD, Associate Professor, Syracuse University
PJ Henry, PhD, Associate Professor, NYU Abu Dhabi
Sarah Townsend, PhD, Assistant Professor, USC Marshall School of Business
Dina Eliezer, PhD, Booz Allen Hamilton
Brooke Vick, PhD, Associate Professor, Whitman College
Monica Schneider, PhD, Associate Professor, SUNY Geneseo

Further Donations are always welcome, whether to honor Brenda Major 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.