Richard E. Nisbett

Richard Eugene Nisbett (born 1941)[1] is an American social psychologist and writer. He is the Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished Professor of social psychology and co-director of the Culture and Cognition program at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Nisbett's research interests are in social cognition, culture, social class, and aging. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University, where his advisor was Stanley Schachter, whose other students at that time included Lee Ross and Judith Rodin.

Richard E. Nisbett
Native name
Richard Eugene Nisbett
Born (1941-06-01) June 1, 1941
Alma materColumbia University
Spouse(s)Sarah Isaacs
AwardsDonald T. Campbell Award from American Psychological Association (1982), Guggenheim Fellowship (2002)
Scientific career
FieldsSocial psychology
InstitutionsUniversity of Michigan
ThesisTaste, deprivation and weight determinants of eating behavior (1966)
Doctoral advisorStanley Schachter

Perhaps his most influential publication is "Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes" (with T. D. Wilson, 1977, Psychological Review, 84, 231–259), one of the most often cited psychology articles published, with over 13,000 citations.[2][3] This article was the first comprehensive, empirically based argument that a variety of mental processes responsible for preferences, choices, and emotions are inaccessible to conscious awareness. Nisbett and Wilson contended that introspective reports can provide only an account of "what people think about how they think," but not "how they really think." Some cognitive psychologists disputed this claim, with Ericsson and Simon (1980) offering an alternative perspective.[4]

Nisbett's book The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... And Why (Free Press; 2003) contends that "human cognition is not everywhere the same," that Asians and Westerners "have maintained very different systems of thought for thousands of years,"[5] and that these differences are scientifically measurable. Nisbett's book Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (2009) argues that environmental factors dominate genetic factors in determining intelligence. The book reviewed extensive favorable attention in the press and from some fellow academics;[6] for example, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Daniel Osherson wrote that the book was a "hugely important analysis of the determinants of IQ". On the other hand, more critical reviewers argued that the book failed to grapple with the strongest evidence for genetic factors in individual and group intelligence differences.[7]

With Edward E. Jones, he named the actor–observer bias, the phenomenon where people acting and people observing use different explanations for why a behavior occurs.[8] This is an important concept in attribution theory, and refers to the tendency to attribute one's own behaviour to situational factors, other people's behaviour to their disposition. Jones and Nisbett's own explanation for this was that our attention is focussed on the situation when we are actors, but on the person when we are observers, although other explanations have been advanced for the actor-observer bias.

In an interview with The New York Times, Malcolm Gladwell said, "The most influential thinker, in my life, has been the psychologist Richard Nisbett. He basically gave me my view of the world."[9]

Books and significant papers

  • Nisbett, R. and T. Wilson (1977). "Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes." Psychological Review 84(3): 231-259.
  • Ross, L and Nisbett, R.E. The person and the situation. McGraw Hill, 1991. Reissued with new foreword by Malcolm Gladwell and afterword by the authors, 2011.
  • Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South (Westview Press, 1996)
  • The Geography of Thought. Free Press. 2003. ISBN 978-0743216463.
  • Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (Norton, 2009)
  • Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking (FSG, 2015)



  1. Deutsche Nationalbibliothek "Nisbett, Richard E."
  2. Nisbett, Richard E.; Wilson, Timothy D. (1977). "Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes" (PDF). Psychological Review. 84 (3): 231–59. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.84.3.231.
  3. "Google Scholar". Retrieved 8 September 2019. Cited by 13531
  4. Ericsson, K. Anders; Simon, Herbert A. (1980). "Verbal reports as data". Psychological Review. 87 (3): 215–51. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.87.3.215.
  5. Nisbett 2003, p. xvi
  6. Holt, Jim (March 27, 2009). "Get Smart". The New York Times.
  7. Lee, James J. (2010). "Review of intelligence and how to get it: Why schools and cultures count, R.E. Nisbett, Norton, New York, NY". Personality and Individual Differences. 48 (2): 247–55. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.09.015.
  8. "Actor-observer difference". Oxford Reference.
  9. "Malcolm Gladwell: By the Book". The New York Times. October 3, 2013.
  10. Brief Biography for Richard E. Nisbett, University of Michigan faculty page
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