Charles E. Osgood

Charles Egerton Osgood (November 20, 1916 – September 15, 1991) was an American psychologist who developed a technique for measuring the connotative meaning of concepts, known as the semantic differential. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Osgood as the 40th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[1]


Osgood was born in Somerville, Massachusetts. He received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Yale University in 1945.[2]

He was a professor of psychology of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana from 1949 to 1984, and a research professor of the Institute of Communications Research (ICR), in the UI College of Communications. He was the Director of the ICR from 1957 to 1984. He served as president of the American Psychological Association from 1962 to 1963.[2]

Among his awards were the APA's Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (1960), and the APA's Kurt Lewin Award (1971).

Theoretical Contributions

His theoretical contributions include the Mediational Theory of Meaning. This theory focuses on the representational mediated process of communication, which is separate from the sensational and perceptual level. The Mediational Theory of Meaning is more concerned with word connotation than denotation. [3] Osgood breaks down the meaning model into three parts. 1) A word is decoded as a sign through the sensory and perceptual level. 2) The representational mediated process establishes the meaning of the word by relating it to an actual event. 3) The internal stimulation is encoded in an outward expression (response). [4]

Osgood also became famous for his extensive cross-cultural studies of meaning attribution. He applied his semantic differential method in 24 cultures (using factor analysis of people's estimations of common nouns by bipolar adjective scales). He derived three universal dimensions of meaning attribution: Evaluation, Activity and Potency [5].


At the height of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, Osgood formulated a new approach to international relations called "Graduated Reciprocation in Tension-reduction", or GRIT. This was first articulated in a paper titled, "Reciprocal Initiative", and developed at greater length in his seminal book, An Alternative To War Or Surrender, both published in 1962. Osgood hoped to be able to reverse the nuclear arms race through a series of carefully calibrated, reciprocal steps which would gradually foster greater trust between the two superpowers. He was appointed to the Social Science Advisory Board of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, serving from 1964 to 1971.[6]


  • Charles E. Osgood, Method and Theory in Experimental Psychology, Oxford University Press, 1956.
  • Charles E. Osgood, George Suci, & Percy Tannenbaum, The Measurement of Meaning. University of Illinois Press, 1957. ISBN 0-252-74539-6.
  • Charles E. Osgood, "Suggestions for Winning the Real War with Communism," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 3 (1959), pp. 295–325.
  • Charles E. Osgood, "Reciprocal Initiative", in The Liberal Papers, Doubleday/Anchor, 1962.
  • Charles E. Osgood, An Alternative To War Or Surrender, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1962.
  • Charles E. Osgood & Murray S. Miron (eds), Approaches to the Study of Aphasia, University of Illinois Press, 1963.
  • Charles E. Osgood. Perspective in Foreign Policy. Palo Alto: Pacific Books, 1966. ASIN B0007DRMIS.
  • Charles E. Osgood, William S. May, & Murray S. Miron, Cross Cultural Universals of Affective Meaning. University of Illinois Press, 1975. ISBN 0-252-00426-4.
  • Charles E. Osgood, Focus on Meaning: Explorations in Semantic Space. Mouton Publishers, 1979.
  • Charles E. Osgood, Psycholinguistics, Cross-Cultural Universals, and Prospects for Mankind. Praeger Publishers, 1988. ISBN 0-03-059433-2.
  • Charles E. Osgood & Oliver Tzeng (eds), Language, Meaning, and Culture: The Selected Papers of C. E. Osgood. Praeger Publishers, 1990. ISBN 0-275-92521-8.


  1. Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Renee; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; et al. (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century". Review of General Psychology. 6 (2): 139–152. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139.
  2. U. of I. Archives - Biographical Sketch Archived September 1, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  3. Griffin, Em. "Mediational Theory of Meaning" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  4. Bonjorni, C. (2002). "Charles Osgood: Mediation Hypothesis". CSUN Fresno. Retrieved 2019-03-10.
  5. Osgood, Charles; Tzeng, Oliver (1990). Language, Meaning, and Culture: The Selected Papers of C. E. Osgood. Praeger Publishers.
  6. University of Illinois Archives Archived September 13, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
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