Samuel (Sam) Gaertner is the Trustees Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Sam devoted his career to investigating the nature of intergroup bias and ways to create more positive and enduring intergroup relations. He has inspired his students with his creative insights, passion for high quality research, dedication to the profession, and genuine commitment to making the world a better place.
Sam was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1942. Although neither of his parents attended college, Sam once remarked that they encouraged him to value this endeavor seemingly before he was born. Sam earned his B.A. (1964) and an M.A. (1967) from Brooklyn College and his Ph.D. (1970) from The City University of New York: Graduate Center where he was mentored by Bernie Seidenberg and Stanley Milgram.
Sam’s dissertation included a field experiment involving pro-social behavior among registered Liberal and Conservative Party members toward Black and White adults that produced some serendipitous yet provocative findings indicating that both groups discriminated against Blacks, but did so in different ways. These results raised a number of questions about the mechanisms underlying discrimination, especially among liberals who historically have scored relatively low on prejudice inventories. Sam began to pursue answers to these questions as he began his academic career spanning 46 years at the University of Delaware.
In 1973 Jack Dovidio came to Delaware as a graduate student to work with Sam. He came with a range of interests including altruism, and nonverbal behavior but with a primary personal interest in intergroup relations and prejudice. After two years, their group-based boundary as faculty advisor and graduate student disintegrated, and they became a research team, each with their own personal interests and skill sets, and have been colleagues, collaborators and close personal friends ever since. Over the years, they each together and separately collaborated with graduate students and post-docs in their labs and other researchers across the globe—but it all started in 1973 when they began to design a series of studies that explored the dynamics of aversive racism.
As the studies of aversive racism were being conducted, Sam began to think about how might the discriminatory behavior, particularly among aversive racists who believe that they are not prejudiced but discriminate in subtle rationalizable ways be reduced. At this time, Sam considered the possibility that discrimination may often be driven by increased positive regard for those categorized as in-group members rather than to negative regard toward out-group members. This approach suggested that discrimination might be reduced by inducing in-group and out-group members to re-categorize themselves as members of a larger, more inclusive superordinate group. This thinking resulted in the development of the Common Ingroup Identity Model. It was noted, that re-categorization would not necessarily mean completely forsaking original in-group identities completely but could involve a dual identity in which both sub-group identities and a superordinate group identity exist simultaneously. A series of laboratory and field studies conducted by Sam and Jack together and separately across a variety of settings including, a multi-racial high school, a football stadium, corporate mergers, step-families, an anti-bias elementary school intervention and medical settings (with the help of Lou Penner and his colleagues) found support for the idea that inducing a common in-group or a dual identity can improve intergroup relations.
Sam has established an enviable academic record and earned an international reputation in the area of intergroup relations. He is an imaginative scholar who has made a series of unique and extremely valuable contributions. He employed a range of techniques to understand prejudice and discrimination including some pioneering work in social psychophysiology and social cognition. David Amodio and Saaid Mendoza (2010), for example remarked in a Handbook of Implicit Social Cognition chapter that, “A seminal series of studies by Gaertner and McLaughlin (1983) first demonstrated the implicit priming of racial stereotypes.
Sam has been a co-editor (with Rupert Brown) of Social Issues and Policy Review and he had been on the editorial boards of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Social Psychological and Personality Science, and Group Processes and Intergroup Relations. His research has been supported by grants from the Office of Naval Research, the National Institutes of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation.
Sam and Jack were awarded the 1985 and 1998 Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, the 2004 Kurt Lewin Memorial Award (a career award) from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) and Sam was awarded the 2007 Distinguished Service to SPSSI Award, and the 2012 Career Contribution Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
At the Lewin award ceremony for Sam and Jack, Claude Steele introducing their presentation, remarked, “In the history of the field, there are relatively few great, lasting collaborations—collaborations in which the power of each person’s contribution becomes clear, just as, throughout their careers, a combined contribution is also clear, distinct and powerful….Their insights into the psychology of human prejudice have been penetrating and comprehensive in scope. Individually and together, they have accounted for an extraordinary amount of research progress in this area have been penetrating in scope. Their body of work constitutes a real pillar of our field.”
- I’m so proud to be a member of Sam Gaertner’s academic family. His intellect, creativity, and contributions to the field of intergroup relations can only be outshined by his love of family and his humanity. Thank you Sam.
- Phyllis Anastasio
- I am fortunate indeed to be able to count Sam Gaertner as a colleague and friend. Sam’s work on the Common Ingroup Identity Model of intergroup contact was pivotal for the field of intergroup relations and greatly influenced my own work over the years. I also had the immense pleasure of collaborating with Sam in our joint editorship of The Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology and subsequently Social Issues and Policy Review. I greatly appreciated his fine academic judgement—often critical, always wise—and his pithy sense of humour in dealing with our many (and sometimes recalcitrant) contributors. That he will be featured on SPSP’s Wall of Fame is a long-overdue honour for someone who has done so much for our discipline.
- Rupert Brown
- Sam has been part of my life for the last 17 years, and it didn’t become easier to explain how he endlessly inspires me as a scholar and as a friend. Sam is a brilliant scholar, curious, a restless mind, who always sees things from unexpected, innovative, lenses. This can drive you a bit crazy when you are a graduate student trying to finish your dissertation, but without his infinite curiosity and wisdom we wouldn’t have the many breakthroughs he did in our field. His many awards and honors throughout his career speak to that. Still, I don’t think any award or honor can truly embody his generosity, his care for his students, his altruism. Most of all Sam is an amazing mentor, who leaves the best of him in all his mentees. I think this is his most important legacy, the one that will last forever, inside each and everyone one of us who was fortunate enough to share his love for social psychology and intergroup relations, to be part of his life, to share his infinite sense of humor, his smile. Thank you for being who you are.
- Rita Guerra
- I was an unprepared and naive student, and Sam is the reason I'm in the field. Extremely creative and genuine in his excitement to muse about research, and equally his kindness and concern for his students. I continue to try to model him as a researcher, mentor, and human.
- Eric Hehman
- I am forever indebted to Sam. Sam has been a guiding light for so many in our field, and an inspiration to me, personally, since our first collaboration nearly 20 years ago. Gaertner (1973), Gaertner & Dovidio (1977), and Gaertner & Dovidio (1986) played no small role in drawing me into the field of psychology, and work on intergroup relations. His papers are instant classics, and his mentoring, generosity, and integrity are legendary. Sam has spent much of his career working to improve the human condition while opening doors for so many of us along the way. We are better because of Sam,
- Adam Pearson
- I have been a long-time admirer of Sam's theoretical and empirical work, which has profoundly influenced the field of intergroup relations. It is also my good fortune to count him as a friend, beginning with our days at Nags Head. Congratulations, Sam, on this well-deserved recognition.
- John Levine
- Congratulations on this richly deserved honor. Your work has been an inspiration and guidepost to me and so many other people. Thanks for our collaborations and for our friendship.
- Lou Penner
- Sam Gaertner is a true example of excellence in teaching, scholarship, and mentoring. His dedication to understanding issues of social significance, particularly race prejudice and social interactions, has been tremendous. In particular, his contributions in the formulation of aversive racism, and his work on expression of race bias generated new perspectives and methods for examination of race relations. In addition to being an outstanding scholar, Sam is kind and generous with his time, thoughts, and deeds. I am proud to call him relative.
- Cynthia Willis-Esqueda