Charles S. Carver was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1947 to Robert and Mildred Carver. He grew up in Huron, Ohio, where he played football and was captain of his high school wrestling team. Carver received his bachelor’s degree from Brown University (1969) and his doctoral degree in experimental personality psychology from the University of Texas at Austin (1974). He took his first academic position at the University of Miami in 1975 (after a year of postdoctoral work at Texas). Carver remained at the University of Miami for his entire career, where he was a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of the Adult Division of the Department of Psychology. Carver passed away in June of 2019.
Carver was once asked in an interview what it was that made his work stand out from the rest. His reply is revealing, not only in identifying where the true contribution of his work might lie, but also in what it said about his humility. He replied that he did not think of himself as a particularly creative person, but rather as someone who was really good at taking the diverse viewpoints expressed by others in unrelated domains and putting them together in an interesting way. And then, pushing that integration as far as it would go.
This tendency to integrate and push ideas was evident from his early days in graduate school (and shortly thereafter). Carver had been working with Arnold Buss and Robert Wicklund doing research on the behavioral consequences of self-awareness and self-consciousness. At the same time, he was taking a seminar on control theory in the school of education. Carver was convinced that these two areas of inquiry had something very useful to say to each other, even though it was not immediately apparent what those connections might be. Ultimately, what came out of his musing was the integration of cybernetics, control theory, and research on self-awareness into a highly influential model of behavioral self-regulation.
The model focuses on the idea that people set goals for themselves that are organized hierarchically, and that people then engage in action directed to the pursuit of those goals via a set of control theoretic processes, involving self-monitoring and feedback mechanisms. The general idea that behavior is goal directed and hierarchically organized is now one that permeates personality–social psychology, as does the term self-regulation. This model also included novel conceptualizations of how confidence and expectancy shaped willingness to persist versus disengage from goals, and how an understanding of emotions can be integrated into a control theoretic framework. A large body of work in anxiety and depression has been inspired by these ideas.
Carver had an inquisitive mind, an exceptional clarity of thought, and showed tremendous generosity to his students, colleagues, and many collaborators, who felt fortunate to work with him. And as was so characteristic of Carver, he always made his collaborators feel that he felt the same way about them.
Carver has been honored by the American Psychological Association (APA), Division 38 (Society of Health Psychology) and Division 8 (Society for Personality and Social Psychology), for his career contributions to the areas of Health Psychology, and Social, and Personality Psychology, respectively. In 2018, he received APA’s award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions "for significant theoretical and empirical contributions to our understanding of goal-directed behavior and self-regulation.” His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute of Mental Health.
Carver served for 6 years as Editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’s section on Personality Processes and Individual Differences and another 6 years as an Associate Editor of Psychological Review. He authored 10 books and over 425 articles and chapters. His work has been cited over 140K times in scientific publications by other researchers (according to Google Scholar, as of July, 2020).
As someone who first knew Chuck as one of his graduate student mentees in the early 1980’s, I vividly recall one of our first meetings. I had recently completed my Master’s thesis at Conn College showing the benefits of social support as a stress buffer in submarine school cadets in Groton. Having read my work, Chuck opened up our early conversation with, “ What the ---- is so good about social support?”. At that moment I felt that it was up to me to defend my own interests and thesis rationale…no less the entire field of study. It was shear terror!! Chuck had a talent for grabbing your attention that way about 4 seconds into the conversation.
As one who witnessed his impact on the many graduate students we supervised together over the next 30+ years…who ended up in those same conversations…I prepared a brief communication to break the news to those students who I was able to reach. Here are some passages:
“As you know Chuck was always consumed by deep thought, opining loudly, and giving of himself to the field, and this had its tangible outputs, not only in shear numbers of scientific works, but their huge per capita impact. He was well on his way to another annual citation rate in the thousands when he was struck down…so know that he was vital in so many ways in this and many previous years.
This past several months he was also consumed by heroic efforts to stay with us as long as possible, enduring multiple chemo regimens and surgeries, right up till his last weeks. So now he can rest. No more ERs, CTUs, or ICUs; no more R01s or chapter deadlines; no more powerpoints….just lots of well-deserved rest. If we get to rejoin our 4-legged companions in the afterlife, you can imagine him playing with a healthy young Calvin in the great beyond, both waiting for his love, Youngmee to join them.
Chuck will always be remembered as having the generosity of an army of men. His generosity to the field gave us so much scaffolding to build on, that it is hard to formulate a new idea or hypothesis in Social or Health Psychology without bumping into one of his seminal theories or instruments—he is a linchpin of the creative moments we got to enjoy, as did so many of our peers, alive and passed, when they made a new “discovery”. If you permit a musical analogy, he gave us so many of the riffs and scales we build into the songs we write and the solos we play in the social and behavioral sciences, that it is Dylan-esque.….his work will live well beyond all of us.
His generosity to his family, friends, faculty and students is legion. I never received so much from one person in academia, and I have witnessed others being blown away by his gifts on so many occasions. His generosity was infectious, modeling for faculty the value of giving time to ideas, eloquent writing and hungry students. Most academic institutions and societies reward investigators for the so called impact factor, the H index. Although Chuck’s H was huge, his legacy for me and many others will be his “G” Index, for his always generous heart.
For all of us, faculty and students, we got to live during the “Carver Era”, and it is up to us to take some piece of what he gave us into our careers as mentors, helpers, leaders, etc. to pay it forward, giving the next generations the chance to benefit. He would have liked that.”- Mike Antoni
- Anyone who worked with Chuck knew that he had high standards. His mind was restless until he could figure out a solution for an intellectual puzzle. He was never content to stick with other’s global interpretations—he wanted to see the details of how items were written, how scales were composed, how distributions looked, and build up from there. He was compelled to find a parsimonious model to fit those details, and to understand the heart of the issue well enough to generate his famously crisp clear prose. Intimidating as those standards were, he held them most strictly for himself. The precision of his thinking led to his creation of an impressive body of long-lasting theories and well-cited papers.
I moved to the University of Miami well aware of his brilliance and contributions to the field. I promptly took to avoiding him, afraid that he would find the deep holes in the logic of my ideas. It took a couple years before we became friends. My house suffered from a snake infestation, and when my exterminators told me they were afraid to go near the house, Chuck showed up one Saturday in his rubber boots with a machete to help me clear all the brush from my yard under the hot Miami sun.
For the next 20 years, he was a friend and colleague I turned to for the tough issues, and Chuck would always put on the boots and wade through it. To the end, Chuck was a generous collaborator. I hope I have internalized some of the constancy and generosity he offered as a friend and a colleague.
- Sheri L. Johnson, Ph.D.
- I only knew Chuck when we were graduate students together in the Personality and Social graduate program of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1970s. When asked in interviews why he chose that department he said it was the only program he could get into, but that couldn’t be true—the rumour was that he had perfect GRE scores. It was a remarkable cohort of graduate students, including Mick Scheier and Karen Matthews, but we all thought Chuck was the brightest and deepest thinker. He was formidable physically as well as intellectually—he looked every bit the wrestler that he was. But when I got to know him, I saw how gentle and kind he was and I especially appreciated his wry sense of humour. I only saw him once a decade or so since then—we mostly talked about our shared love of dogs. However, I was pleased to track his contributions to psychological science.
- Robert Plomin
- I first met Chuck when I was a graduate student at UCLA and he was on sabbatical there. I was in the process of designing my dissertation, which used both the Life Orientation Test and the COPE. Here is one of Chuck’s contributions to psychology: he provided useful and widely used assessment tools. He gave me some advice on the COPE, which I ignored. It turned out he was right, of course.
Here is one of his contributions to psychologists: his generosity with his time, expertise, and support. I would draw on it many times over the years, beginning with that meeting at UCLA. I was one of his associate editors at JPSP:PPID, and he had my back when my decision was challenged by an eminence grise. Most recently, he provided detailed and wise advice on a high-profile review paper I was writing with a colleague. He wanted us to get it right as much as we wanted to get it right.
Here are Chuck’s high standards, which showed in all kinds of ways. I think he was the one who clarified the distinction “compared with” vs. “compared to” and other esoteric rules of grammar for me. At one point, I jokingly asked him to stop because seeing errors everywhere was hurting my brain.
When Chuck and Mike Scheier asked me to co-author a review paper on optimism with them, I felt like I had really made it. To be a colleague of Chuck’s is one of the great accomplishments of my career, and to be his friend was a great joy. To say I miss him is not exactly right. Rather, il me manque (Fr.): he is missing to me.
- Suzanne Segerstrom
- Chuck and I met when we were both assigned to "servants' quarters" at an intellectual event where clearly we were not the featured speakers. In that initial encounter we talked late into the night about science, our respective theories, and our lives. We stayed friends forever after that. Although coming from very different theoretical backgrounds (cybernetic vs. organismic) I think we both enjoyed the challenge of trying to translate to each other ideas about self-regulation. I was continually inspired by Chuck’s industry, his creative research, his broad interests, and his calm tolerance of things that would stupidly arouse me. He was stout and sturdy in both body and spirit. I enjoyed serving as an associate editor at JPSP under Chuck’s leadership; he was an amazing role model as an editor—conscientious, structured, and clear. I stole all the skills I could from him, as well as nearly followed him to the University of Miami. However, my respect for him truly hit its peak when he married Youngmee Kim. I recall them on a trip to Germany (during which I think he proposed on a mountaintop), but what I remember is seeing him so happily in love. Another inspiration. Chuck was a brilliant scholar with high standards, penetrating work, and tremendous integrity. But what I shall really miss the most is his wonderful presence that so graced our profession. He is gone too soon. Love you Chuck!
- Richard Ryan
- Chuck was a titan in my area of research when I entered the field. His theoretical and empirical work were ground-breaking and throughout my career his ideas influenced my thinking (both through reading his work and, occasionally, through personal discussion). Chuck’s work was rigorous, insightful, programmatic, and creative; I believe it will stand the test of time. Few psychological scientists have contributed as much as he contributed—he will be sorely missed!
- Andy Eliot
- I met Chuck in person at my job talk. You’re interpreting a mediated effect, he said, but you have no mediation analysis. Lesson learned, I had the analysis done in time for my interview with Chuck the next day. Chuck was forthright and had a keen eye for things that didn’t quite add up—as well as a keener eye for the heart of an intellectual claim. I and my colleagues at the University of Miami saw Chuck’s intellectual clarity and his bulldog-like questioning style in the countless symposia and job talks (of others) that followed. Chuck was gruff in demeanor and clear in thought. His daily lunch-time jogs through the South Florida heat were the stuff of legend. But so too were his love for Calvin and the dogs that followed. I remember Chuck when I walk past the grassy plots near the psychology building where he used to walk them—and I miss him when I want to know if my analysis makes sense.
- Daniel Messinger
- I was fortunate to have Chuck as an informal mentor in the first few years of graduate school and then as a formal advisor in the latter stages of my training (he chaired my dissertation work). At the time, I don’t think I realized how generous it was for Chuck to mentor me, especially given that my research focus was not closely connected to his program of work.
It turns out, his generosity did not stop there. He spent a lot of time helping me learn how to write more effectively, think more clearly, and communicate more precisely. He often gave me feedback on my writing just to be helpful and with no expectation of anything in return. He spent a lot of time working through my ideas to make them as strong (and interesting) as they could be. His office door was always open.
After leaving graduate school, he continued to offer support and guidance to me. He was a strong advocate for me. He wrote letters and contacted colleagues at various institutions that were considering me for a faculty position. I am quite certain that I would not be where I am today without Chuck’s guidance and influence along the way.
In more recent years, I always enjoyed meeting up with Chuck at conferences, when our conference travels (far too infrequently) aligned. Although we collaborated sporadically on various projects over the years, I most enjoyed hearing about what he was working on. He was an intellectual giant and very likely the smartest person I have ever known. Although his death is a major loss for the field of personality and health psychology, his influence continues to permeate via the many lives he impacted throughout his career. I consider myself very fortunate to have been one of the people who experienced firsthand his generosity, support, and kindness. He will be missed by many.
- Chris Beevers
- Chuck started as my secondary mentor, but officially took me under his wing late in my grad school tenure. I have to admit that he was one of the most intimidating people I’ve ever worked with. Even writing this spurs on a hint of anxiety, a feeling that he’s somehow giving me a stern look, quick to evaluate the (lack of) clarity of my writing. Thankfully, it didn’t take me too long to appreciate the ways in which Chuck’s “sternness” was a strength... a refusal to participate in life’s platitudes and surface-level engagements, a reflection of the genuineness with which he approached his own life and work. He was deliberate and real. He wanted himself, and everyone else, to be better, and worked hard to make that happen.
Chuck taught me how to approach science with great care. The generosity with which he dedicated his time to students, particularly with folks like myself who he didn’t “sign up” to mentor, will stick with me forever; it’s something I try my best to bring to mentoring my own students. I owe Chuck a heap of gratitude for making me care enough about what I do to make it good. He valued careful, thoughtful, and important work. He was the smartest scientist—and most effective writer—I had the great pleasure to work with.
Chuck and I stayed in touch in the decade since I graduated. I would call now and again to see what he was up to (how I learned he ended up in the hospital after falling off a ladder doing work on his new dream home with Youngmee). Over the years his toughness faded, and the gentle, caring man I’m sure he always was—to those who were patient enough to find out—shined through. He always made sure to include me on health updates, and never failed to respond quickly and thoroughly to my burning questions about approach and avoidance motivation (I had many…I still do). The last time I saw him in person was at a conference in San Francisco; he was an invited speaker. During his talk he made sure to acknowledge me, asking me to raise my hand for the audience to see. He was always a tireless advocate, a true force in the field, and a caring friend. I will miss him.
- Dan Fulford
- Chuck Carver and I met when we were in graduate school together at the University of Texas in Austin. We remained in frequent contact until the time of his death in June of 2019. Chuck and I were close friends and research collaborators. He taught me a lot over the 45 years we worked together.
What did Chuck teach me? He imparted to me the power of merging the methodology of social psychology (doing experiments) with the methodology of personality psychology (doing correlational research) via a series of interlocking conceptually related studies. Such a hybrid approach to research produces a much stronger empirical base for theory than could be attained by using either approach in isolation. This blending of social and personality psychology is especially meaningful to me. In our first monograph, we proclaimed that deep in his heart one of us was a personality psychologist and the other a social psychologist, but we never revealed who was who. People were after us for years to come clean (Judson Mills, being the person of greatest and most persistent interest). The mystery behind the claim remains to this day.
Chuck taught me other things as well. He coached me on the utility that lies in the drawing of ideas from seemingly unrelated literatures to better understand the phenomenon at hand—for example, using control and cybernetic principles to understand human behavioral self-regulation. Chuck also taught me how to persevere when receptivity to ideas was not particularly favorable, how to respond to the feedback by working harder to develop a better, more convincing empirical base of support. Finally, he taught me to write in a simple, straightforward way that made understanding easy. As Chuck would have me chant, “simple is good, simpler is better”.
I was not the only one that benefited from collaborating with Chuck. During the course of his career, he worked together with many researchers, both inside and outside the University of Miami. There were also a large number of students that benefited from Chuck’s mentorship. I know because so many of them showed up at the memorial service that was held in his honor. Yes, there are a lot of folks who learned from Chuck, and there are many people that will miss him. More importantly in the present context, the field will miss him, and it will miss him dearly.
- Michael Scheier