"I remember my many meetings and talks with him. His brilliant
contributions to the study of emotion are an important part
of the history of psychology," said Meng Zhaolan, past chair
of the psychology department at Peking University, China.
"Many of the top stress and emotion researchers in Israel
today - and there are many included in this fold - owe their
career and promotion to Dick's support," said Moshe Zeidner,
dean of research at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research
of Emotions at the University of Haifa, Israel. "I will
certainly miss this gentleman and scholar."
A graduate of the City College of New York in 1942, Lazarus
served for three and a half years in the U.S. Army during
World War II. He obtained his doctorate in 1947 from the
University of Pittsburgh and subsequently served on the
faculties of The Johns Hopkins University and Clark University
before moving to UC Berkeley to head the clinical psychology
Lazarus's work influenced psychology in many ways. At a
time when psychology tried to understand human behavior
by first understanding simple organisms engaging in simple
behaviors learned by associations, rewards or punishments,
Lazarus instead stressed the study of cognition. His position
eventually won out. He conducted highly cited experiments
on the role of unconscious processes in perception - studies
which were years ahead of their time and confirmed in recent
studies in affective neuroscience.
He also helped keep alive the concept of emotion during
a time when it was ignored by psychology. His theory of
emotion centered on the concept of appraisal - how an individual
evaluates the impact of an event on his or her self or well-being
- a concept which he elaborated upon extensively in his
classic work, "Emotion and Adaptation," published in 1991.
In this book, Lazarus synthesized empirical and theoretical
arguments to show how patterns of appraisal enter into the
generation of at least 18 emotions. He also showed how appraisal
explains the meaning of a person's emotional behavior; how
a single response, like a smile, can be in the service of
many different emotions; and how totally different responses,
like retaliation or passive aggressiveness, can be in the
service of the same emotion.
Lazarus's strong convictions about the importance of cognition
for understanding human behavior led to his investigating
topics such as consciousness and unconsciousness, and to
extending cognition into fields such as stress and coping.
Early in his career, he studied a phenomenon he called "subception,"
whereby a person reacts emotionally but with no conscious
awareness to stimuli that had been paired with electric
shock, but does not react emotionally to stimuli not followed
by a shock. This work documenting the sometimes unconscious
nature of emotions was subsequently rediscovered in the
1980s when neurophysiologists found that certain brain-injured
patients show strong emotional reactions to stimuli of which
they are totally unaware - a phenomenon called "blindsight."
Lazarus went on to study the importance of preparing a
person for emotion. He and his associates documented with
experimental precision that a person's emotional reactions
to witnessing a film of painful circumcision rites could
be "short-circuited" by a soundtrack describing the procedure
in a matter-of-fact way, or the emotional reactions heightened
by a soundtrack emphasizing the pain the subject was experiencing.
The subception and instructional set studies are now considered
classics in both experimental psychology and psychophysiology.
These experiments led Lazarus to establish the UC Berkeley
Stress and Coping Project, in which he extended his ideas
on the importance of appraisal to explain exactly what stress
is and what coping involves. This project culminated in
the publication in 1984 of "Stress, Appraisal, and Coping,"
which became one of the most widely read and cited academic
books in psychology. Lazarus and Susan Folkman, his former
student who is now on the faculty of UC San Francisco, argued
that people suffer stress when they believe they lack the
resources to deal with difficult events, but that they do
not suffer stress if they believe that they have such resources.
Stress and coping were thus intimately related to each other
and to cognitive factors.
"Richard Lazarus was a generous mentor and colleague,"
Folkman said. "He was always available to discuss ideas,
and usually did so with great enthusiasm and tenacity. I
could always depend on him to tell me exactly what he thought
of my work, both the good and the not so good. Our last
such conversation took place just a week before his death."
Lazarus and Folkman went on to make an important and now
widely accepted distinction between two types of coping.
In one, the person attempts to address directly the problems
that he is facing; in the second, the person tries to dampen
or minimize the emotional state itself, without addressing
the problem that elicited the state. Both types of coping
are important, and, if used properly, can have extraordinarily
beneficial consequences for physical and mental health.
In another classic study, Lazarus documented the unsuspected
benefits of the coping process. He demonstrated experimentally
that patients who engage in forms of denial (for example,
refusing to believe that a serious medical problem exists
or to accept that the problem is as severe as it, in fact,
is) recover better and more quickly from surgery than patients
who do not engage in such denial. Lazarus thus came to believe,
contrary to orthodox wisdom, that under certain conditions,
false beliefs can have very beneficial consequences to one's
health and well-being. The study on the benefits of denial
has now been replicated by others, and its findings are
taken into consideration in health psychology and psychosomatic
medicine. The study on denial also documented Lazarus's
claims that an event in itself, taken without consideration
of how the person construes that event, does not explain
the generation of physical, emotional or physiological states.
Lazarus was the recipient of many awards, including a Guggenheim
Fellowship, honorary doctorates from the University of Haifa
and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany,
and in 1989, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution to
Psychology Award from the American Psychological Association.
Though Lazarus retired from UC Berkeley in 1991, his writing
and research did not stop. Of his 13 books, five were written
after his retirement, including "Passion and Reason: Making
Sense of Our Emotions," which was co-authored with his wife
of 57 years, Bernice. He also continued to contribute many
influential articles and book chapters. His most recent
work was an extensive critique of the contemporary movement
called "Positive Psychology." Just prior to his death, he
completed a treatise on the emotion of gratitude, an emotion
seldom studied or discussed in psychology.
In addition to his wife, Bernice, he is survived by their
two children, David Lazarus of Pleasant Hill, Calif., and
Nancy Holliday, of Orinda, Calif., and four grandchildren.
The family will hold a private memorial service on Dec.
8 in Walnut Creek.