Edward "Ned" Ellsworth Jones (1926-1993) was Professor of Psychology at Duke University (1953-1977) and Stuart Professor of Psychology at Princeton University (1977-1993). His research across four decades revolved around a single question: "How do people form impressions of each other, and how do they control the impressions that others form about them?"
His early development of correspondent inference theory heralded the beginning of the attributional approach in social psychology, and his discovery of the correspondence bias (or fundamental attribution error) and the actor-observer effect initiated social psychology’s obsession with cognitive errors. His work on self-handicapping, social stigma, and strategic self-presentation examined the ingenious ways in which people shape the impressions that others form of them and that they form of themselves. Jones’s work combined a deep insight into human affairs with an unflagging commitment to experimentation, and is a significant piece of the foundation on which modern social psychology rests.
Fiercely competitive at the poker table and on the tennis court, Jones was in most other settings a gentle, modest man in a trademark bow tie who never quite seemed to understand why others considered him important. This rare combination of humility and humanity made him a beloved colleague and mentor.
- Much thanks to Daniel T. Gilbert for acting as the co-ordinator of this effort to honor Ned Jones, and to Patricia Linville, Janet Morgan Riggs, and the following individuals for donating to the Foundation in his name. They all share their personal memories of Ned.
Here’s how I would like to summarize the life of Ned Jones: he was a good guy who told the truth. Ned’s truths were never shocking or outrageous or unbelievable. They were not revelations. Ned’s truths were elegant, simple, astute observations that were just so right—so perfectly on the money—that the moment you heard one you realized that you could have thought of it yourself, except that...well...you hadn’t. When Ned gave you a birthday present it was never a card-shuffling machine or an electric corkscrew. It was a brown tie. Similarly, he did not give social psychology exotic intellectual gifts that we keep in the attic except when they are being trotted out for a history lesson. Instead, he gave us stuff we really needed. He was the unparalleled master of telling us what we didn’t quite know but needed to, and in an all-too-short life he hit that sweet note again and again and again.
- I learned a lot from Ned, but three things stand out.
Studies that don't work are often more valuable than studies that do. I remember being in his office on a Saturday, poring over the data from my first year project. Since I was working on my first publication, and he among his very last, the experience must have felt dramatically different for us. But our goal was the same, spurred by his intense curiosity. He just wanted the numbers to talk.
Get to know your students outside the classroom. Although many important lessons happened in his office, a lot of important things happened when we were simply hanging out together. We'd eat and drink martinis and have conversations that taught me a lot about how a great psychologist approaches life and work.
Make the effort to write well. I loved the way Ned wrote—accurately, gracefully, interestingly. Nothing was ever overstated. It was simply unthinkable for me to turn anything in to him that didn't at least try to take the writing seriously.
- Ned invited you into his life in so many ways-not merely into the laboratory where one brainstormed theories and ideas for experiments and then executed them, but also into his family for dinner and some active recreation. It could be basketball, tennis, or badminton, but whatever it was, was played at full intensity, just like his research.
- One of my prized possessions is Ned’s tattered copy of Heider’s autobiography, The Life of a Psychologist. On the dust jacket, it says: "To follow Heider’s career in this autobiography is to trace the development of much of modern psychology." Although Ned’s life ended without an autobiography, I believe he would say that his devotion to the experimental study of social interaction was deeply rooted in his devotion to the people in his life. For me, it is in tracing the path of his relationships –in reflecting on those everyday interactions- that Ned’s remarkable legacy as a scholar and mentor becomes clearest.
- Ned was one of, if not the most important social psychologists of his generation. He was a wonderful mentor who taught by example. He taught me so much but most important was the understanding and appreciation that asking and answering compelling social psychological questions was a rewarding lifelong endeavor.
- For me, Ned's brilliance as mentor was matched by his enormous kindness. When I left graduate school for a year to do some soul searching, Ned handwrote a long, kind, and hopeful letter TO MY MOTHER whom he had met only once. On another occasion, I shared with Ned my concerns about not being able to stay awake in class. He asked if I missed anything really important, and said that, if not, I shouldn't worry about it. That helped immensely. And once, after I kept Ned's daughter, Janet, company while he and Ginny were away on a trip, he gave me a wad of cash big enough to buy an electric piano. I miss him.