Alice Eagly Oral History Interviews


Part one

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SCARPINO: This one is live as well. So as I said when the recorder was off, I’m going to read a short statement and then ask your permission and then we’ll get started. Today is Thursday, October 31, 2013. My name is Philip Scarpino. I am the Director of Oral History for the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence at Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis. I have the privilege to be interviewing Dr. Alice Eagly. I’m conducting this interview on behalf of the International Leadership Association and the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence because Dr. Eagly is a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association. We are in a suite at the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal, Canada, and both of us are attending the ILA annual meeting.

We will place a more elaborate biographical statement with the interview and transcript, so at this point I will just mention a few of the highlights of Dr. Eagly’s career. She received her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan in 1965, M.A. in Psychology from the University of Michigan in 1963, A.B. in Social Relations from Radcliffe College in 1960. After earning her Ph.D., she held faculty positions at Michigan State University, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Purdue University. She is presently the James Padilla Chair of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University.

Dr. Eagly has had a long and distinguished career as a scholar with interests in the psychology of attitudes and the psychology of gender, which ultimately led to her impressive body of work on leadership. Her publication record is both extensive and impressive. She has published several books, numerous book chapters, and her citation index to her articles lists 273 entries. We will be talking about many of her publications during the course of the upcoming interview. One way to summarize the significance and impact of the body of her scholarship is to note that she has 41,131 lifetime citations of her work, with more than 20,000 since 2008.

She is the recipient of many honors and awards, a sampling of which includes Honorary Doctorate from Erasmus University, Rotterdam, 2012, Honorary Doctorate from University of Bern, Switzerland, 2011. She is the winner of the 2009 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, the winner of the 2008 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology for Eagly and Carli, Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders. She is the winner of the 2008 Gold Medal from the American Psychological Foundation of the American Psychological Association for Lifetime Achievement in the Science of Psychology. She is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Leadership Association.

I’d like to ask your permission to record this interview, to have the interview transcribed, and then to deposit the recording and transcription in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives where it may be used by patrons, including the posting of all or part of the recording or transcript to the website of the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives, and we would also like to deposit the recording and transcription with the International Leadership Association and the Tobias Center, where once again they may be posted to their websites. Are you all right with that?

EAGLY: Yes, I am.

SCARPINO: Thank you. I hope that I did some justice to your career with that statement.

EAGLY: Well, that is very nice. Yes, you did.

SCARPINO: Okay. Like I said when the recording was off, I want to start with some really simple questions and then get a little bit more elaborate.

EAGLY: Sure.

SCARPINO: When and where were you born?

EAGLY: I was born in 1938 in Los Angeles, California.

SCARPINO: Where did you grow up?

EAGLY: We lived a number of places in the Los Angeles area and then in Oakland, California, and in Long Beach, California, after that. Then when I was 11 years old, we moved to Seattle, Washington. So I grew up on the west coast but several places.

SCARPINO: A huge climate shift from Los Angeles to Seattle.

EAGLY: Yes. Yes, it was. Right. Much cooler, much cloudier.

SCARPINO: What was your family doing in Los Angeles?

EAGLY: My family had moved there. My parents had moved there in the Depression. They had come from Seattle. My father was an engineer, a mechanical engineer. They moved to Los Angeles for his work. It was not a time when there were lots of jobs around and I think it was a livelier economy in L.A. It was an expanding area. So that’s why we were there. Yeah, it was a very different place then than it is now, very much smaller.

SCARPINO: Less traffic?

EAGLY: Very much smaller, yes.

SCARPINO: Do you have any brothers and sisters?

EAGLY: I do. I have a brother who is three years older than me. He passed away a few years ago.

SCARPINO: Who were your parents? What were their names?

EAGLY: My father was Harold Hendrickson and my mother was Josara Whyers Hendrickson.

SCARPINO: You said your father was an engineer. What did your mother do?

EAGLY: My mother during my childhood and teen years was a homemaker. She was a stay-at-home homemaker. She had been working in office positions before she had her first child and, consistent with what women did in those days if they possibly could, she stayed home with her children for many years. Then after I went to college only did she go back and she worked for the City of Seattle and took some courses and this and that and actually did very well in her work in those years.

SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a more complicated question now. Either this is going to work or it isn’t, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll set this up for the benefit of anybody using the recording or reading the transcript. In October 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing Manfred Kets de Vries in London. In prepping for that, I read an article that he published in 1994 titled “The Leadership Mystique.” Something that he said in that article struck me and I asked him about it, and then I’ve asked other people that I’ve interviewed since then. This is what Kets de Vries said. He said, “All of us possess some kind of inner theater and are strongly motivated by a specific inner script. Over time, through interactions with caretakers, teachers, and other influential people, this inner theater develops. Our inner theater, in which the patterns that underlie our character come into play, influences our behavior throughout our lives and plays an essential role in the molding of leaders.” So, here’s the question: Using his term, inner theater, can you tell me about your own inner theater?

EAGLY: My own inner theater, oh my. That sounds so thematic. I don’t think my life was that thematic. I think partly being a woman of my generation, there were many uncertainties about career, whether I would be able to have one, what would I do? So it wasn’t that I grabbed hold of some theme when I was 18 years old or something, but I was always a very good student and I was kind of joyfully studious. I liked learning. So in school I was a very good student and I graduated at the top of my high school class. Then I went off to Radcliffe College which was only somewhat separated as a women’s college from Harvard in that it was academically integrated. So that was a very exciting place to be because it was a place where ideas were always in the air and there were many famous faculty who were wonderful to listen to in the lectures. That’s kind of how we did it those days. They gave lectures and we listened. So there, although I originally had thought I would be in chemistry actually, but that was something, a very unformed idea in high school because I kind of liked science. We didn’t have social science.

SCARPINO: I think we all have them in high school.

EAGLY: Yeah. We didn’t have social science. We had history and we had kind of social studies which was sort of American government, but we didn’t have anything like the social science that I became exposed to in university. So I majored in a field they called social relations. It was an integrated social science major with social and clinical psychology and sociology and social anthropology. I found that all immensely exciting.

SCARPINO: How did you identify that as a major?

EAGLY: I kind of fell into it. After I decided that chemistry wasn’t that interesting, and there might have been a bit of gender threat there, too. There were hardly any women . . .

SCARPINO: . . . in chemistry?

EAGLY: . . . in chemistry, yeah. Then I thought I would study psychology, which at that time at Harvard, they had the psychology department like Skinner in one department and then they had the social psychology and clinical psychology in the social relations. I figured out that that part linked to the other social sciences would be more interesting. They seemed to be, in the psychology department, running rats or something which seemed less interesting. Again, that was a sort of naïve decision. I was very young then, but I was pleased then when I got into this social science type major because of the breadth of it.


EAGLY: I, again, was very studious and did very well. Initially, I was insecure because I came from a public high school in Seattle and lots of these private students. . .

SCARPINO: . . . private schools…

EAGLY: . . . came from the best private schools in the East.

SCARPINO: As you went to Harvard then, were you confronted by issues of both class and gender?

EAGLY: Well, yes. There was a set of classmates from very wealthy families, for sure, wealthy and famous families, but there were a lot of middle class students. The gender issue was not that good for women because this was before Harvard and Radcliffe became integrated, and you know they have to admit equally now.


EAGLY: But at that point, I think we were about 10% of the student body, so we were a minority. I remember in some of the first classes, they sat us at a special section.


EAGLY: Yes. But that was only one or two classes. It wasn’t what we would consider—being in a minority status is not a good thing for one’s confidence.

SCARPINO: That would roughly be the equivalent of admitting, say, African Americans or Asians, and then make them sit on the right side of the room or something.

EAGLY: Yes. Yes. But I think it was only one or two classes, but there was this odd separation.

SCARPINO: I want to back you up and ask, just to make sure that I’ve done this, when you were high school age, middle school age, were there any individuals or experiences that really played a role in shaping the adult you later became?

EAGLY: Oh, I don’t know. My father, an engineer, a mechanical engineer, had become a professor at the University of Washington in engineering, even though he didn’t have a Ph.D., but faculty in engineering in those days usually didn’t. I had a lot of exposure to the university. In Seattle, we lived in the part of the city near the university, he was a professor there. So I think ultimately having an academic career, at least I sort of knew about them, even though there weren’t that many women in them then. But there wasn’t a person I guess. I had some good teachers whom I valued. But no, there wasn’t. The women I knew in the family and family friends, if they married, all had traditional lives, staying home with the children actually.

SCARPINO: That was the next thing I wanted to ask you. You described yourself as joyfully studious. . .


SCARPINO: . . . which is a really wonderful phrase. There were lots of young women who were joyfully studious, but not so many who achieved what you did. How do you think you made that transition from joyfully studious to professional academic?

EAGLY: Well even in high school, I had the idea that I wanted to have a career, but it wasn’t clear how I would do that. I had no formed ideas. So going off to college I had the idea still I wanted to distinguish myself or do something meaningful somehow. Then again, I was very studious and so I graduated at the top of my class from Harvard and Radcliffe. The women were higher than the men actually. (laughter)

SCARPINO: (laughing) Sometimes happens.

EAGLY: That was kind of unexpected. I didn’t expect to do that well, but again, I was very engaged in the intellectual side of things.

SCARPINO: Did your mother encourage you to think in terms of a career?

EAGLY: Sort of, yeah. She was very welcoming of the idea, yes, although she had had a traditional life. Yeah. And my father, yes, but he—I remember at one point he encouraged me to go to the University of Washington library and meet the librarians whom he had known as a professor because he basically thought that would be a nice career for me, which it could have been, but not the kind of really exciting career I’ve had. That was interesting.

SCARPINO: Do you think it’s possible that on one hand your parents recognized how smart their daughter was, but on the other they just didn’t know what to do about it?

EAGLY: I think they were basically very supportive and they did pay a fair amount, although college expenses were so much lower then, but they were willing to pay some. I got a National Merit Scholarship, but those never came with much money, National Merit Scholarship. But they said okay and were happy to have me go off to the East. Yeah. Then my ideas were sort of formed in college. I was in what I considered a very exciting major. I love the social sciences. I didn’t know if I went to graduate school exactly what it should be in, but then I somehow decided that social psychology was sort of at the center of a lot of things, which is correct actually.

SCARPINO: So you discovered social psychology after you got to college?


SCARPINO: When you went to Radcliffe, did you really know very much about graduate school? Did you know it was possible?

EAGLY: Only that I lived near a university and my father was a professor, so I knew that people got graduate degrees and all. So again, I was very studious and I thought, “Well, yeah, I probably should go to graduate school,” and presumably that would lead to an academic career, although it was still a very tentative era for women because I would have started graduate school in 1961. In the ’50s, women were more or less not allowed in the academy.

SCARPINO: In psychology?

EAGLY: Well, in any field, they were more or less not given faculty positions. There are some.

SCARPINO: My area is environmental history and most of the female scientists in that period gave up everything to be an academic.


SCARPINO: No family, no children . . .

EAGLY: Right. There was that, but there were very few. I remember when even I was a graduate student, there was one female professor in social psychology. I’d only had one woman professor in my whole undergraduate work—one.

SCARPINO: Do you remember her name?

EAGLY: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, professor of astronomy. She was very distinguished in her day.

SCARPINO: I want to ask you kind of a general question and then sort of move through and, again, this is one of these things that either it will work or it won’t. Because you’re being recognized by the International Leadership Association, I want to ask you a question about leadership. As we move forward today and Saturday, we’re going to talk quite a bit about your career and your scholarship. Right now, I want to say to anybody who listens to this recording that each of the topics I’m about to mention, we’re going to cover in more detail later on, so don’t be frightened. I’m going to set this up. From the time you entered graduate school, you were blazing a path as a leader in your field. You earned a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan in 1965 at a time when few women were in the field. As a tenured, but still relatively young scholar, you turned your attention to issues related to gender and sex roles and one of the upshots of your work was to bring those subjects into the mainstream of your field. While at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, you brought your young children to work with you, something that was not common at the time, and in so doing, made a statement about being a woman and a scholar. You’re a trailblazer in your field using meta-analysis and social role theory and applying those things to gender and sex roles producing cutting-edge work. You bridged from gender and sex roles to leadership and became an internationally respected scholar in all of those areas. I actually realize I’ve underplayed what you did, but I needed to be brief. Here’s my point and here’s my question: Beyond a shadow of a doubt, from my opinion, you became a leader in your field and an advocate for women in your profession and in the academy—did you set out to do that? Did you set to become a leader in your field? Was that a goal?

EAGLY: I set out to do as well as I could. I did not know—I hoped to be successful, but I didn’t have the confidence that I necessarily would be.

SCARPINO: Where do you think that came from? I’m still trying to figure this out. This was at a time when there were not a lot of female role models.

EAGLY: Right. There were very few.

SCARPINO: Where do you think that idea came from that “I am just going to be as successful as I can and go as far as I can?”

EAGLY: One of the things that would characterize my career, at least as I look back on it, is that I didn’t necessarily follow the crowd in terms of what topic was most popular, or seen as most important at any one point in time. I sort of followed my interests, so I studied both attitudes and gender when they were unfashionable. Attitudes in social psychology has always been a key issue, but when I did my major work, it was a period when it was rather unfashionable actually. My colleague and I, Shelly Chaiken and I, sort of wrote this book The Psychology of Attitudes, which was a big scholarly book that kind of brought it, helped bring it up again. Then when I started studying gender, it was not at all fashionable. It was sort of nobody does that, maybe some activists out there are writing in magazines or something. I thought what could be more important to human life? And aren’t we social psychologists and maybe we should engage this? That was good, too, because then. . .

SCARPINO: Did you ever feel like a risk taker?

EAGLY: I didn’t.

SCARPINO: I’m thinking about earning tenure here.

EAGLY: Actually I got tenure on my work on attitudes and that’s mainstream, even though it was a little unfashionable then. I had tenure when I really did my work on, started my work on gender. It was that some people might say, “oh nobody”—I remember one person said to me, “oh, nobody good does that” or “nobody good studies that.”

SCARPINO: Someone said that to you?

EAGLY: Yes. So I thought “Eh.” It didn’t bother me.

SCARPINO: You didn’t think “I’ll show you”?

EAGLY: Well. . .

SCARPINO: Because you did, of course.

EAGLY: . . .it was sort of, I took it as an unkind comment and it sort of made me pause, but I went ahead kind of oblivious, which turned out to be a good thing because then you’re not dealing with it’s all this ground has already been plowed 100 times. Furthermore, if you work in the currently most popular topic, it’s a very competitive ground because a lot of very good people flock there. So this way, I was able to make a contribution that turned out to be more important because it was early. They want to cite the first papers on X, Y, and Z. But they turned out to be important and I didn’t know how it would all turn out because you could take a risk like that of studying something that’s not fashionable and it never becomes fashionable. But I did it in a little bit of an oblivious way, I think, not in a very strategic way, but just following my interests but formed in my education which was in this broad interdisciplinary major. Then at the University of Michigan at that time it was an interdisciplinary program in social psychology that was sponsored by psychology and sociology, so that was broad, too. I always wanted these broader topics. The study of attitudes is very rich in social psychology. It has many aspects and goes over into sociology and political science and whatever. Similarly, gender is an immensely interdisciplinary topic. So I loved the intellectual side of it. This is great. I had to learn more biology, too. It was the kind of excitement of it. While I could have run distance experiments or something, which had that insider excitement with a lot of people competing there about those experiments, but what I did I found more engaging, these sort of broader topics that didn’t happen to be fashionable. And, as a result, I became a leader, but it’s not because I was striving to be a leader.

SCARPINO: So let me circle back again, do you now think of yourself as a leader?

EAGLY: I do in an intellectual sense, yes, because my work is cited and my theoretical contributions are used by others, and so yes that would be the case. But it wasn’t a goal, like a literal goal of mine, to do that. It was more to figure these things out and to do this work and very gratifying that people have found it useful, this work, and use it in their work. That is extremely gratifying.

SCARPINO: So thinking of yourself as a leader, does that burden you to live up to it or liberate you or both?

EAGLY: Being an intellectual leader is not like being a political leader or other kinds of leaders where you have to go out and sort of influence people. Your influence is kind of because you do this work, mainly this writing, that you become a leader, so it doesn’t have the kind of managerial engagement. There is some, like I spent some time, a few years, as department chair, that sort of thing, so I was a middle manager for a while, but that is not my life work. Being an intellectual leader, yes, you give talks here and there, but it’s not the kind of leadership that people typically study. Scholars of leadership study management and political leadership mainly rather than intellectual leadership.

SCARPINO: When were you department chair?

EAGLY: I was department chair—when did that start—about seven years ago. I ended up doing it for four years eight years ago. Yeah. Right. That’s about it, eight years ago. I did it for one year. It was an emergency in my department. The chair had resigned.

SCARPINO: This was at Northwestern?

EAGLY: Yeah. Then I had a year’s leave and then I came back for a regular term, which is three years.

SCARPINO: How did the academy do in terms of dealing with a woman as department chair?

EAGLY: It’s not uncommon anymore, actually.

SCARPINO: I know that, but. . .

EAGLY: But I was the first female chair of that department, but I know from some other work I’ve put in a paper recently that in psychology, about 35% of department chairs, estimated by the APA, are women. That is doctoral-granting departments, so it’s not all that unusual anymore. It’s become much more usual, and in my university there are quite a few women who are chairs.

SCARPINO: Was that the first time you held an administrative leadership position?

EAGLY: First time as chair. My others had been more low-level, like head of the social psychology area or something which is just sort of administrative. There’s not a larger leadership component.

SCARPINO: Have you thought of yourself as an advocate for women in your field?

EAGLY: Yes, yes. That’s important to me.

SCARPINO: In what way is it important?

EAGLY: I think when I started out, this is in the ’60s in my career, it was kind of a complicated era in that certainly opportunities were opening up for women in kind of a sudden way actually. But still there was some resistance and some degree of discrimination, although it was very mixed on the one hand. Sometimes in the more progressive places, they were very welcoming of women and might set them ahead to do certain kinds of things actually because we need a woman. On the other hand, there was still some resistance here and there, and then there was that minority. My first job at Michigan State, it was a huge department and still is no doubt. So, how many faculty would it have been—I don’t know, 40 or something—and there were two women besides me, but one was never seen and was unusual in various ways; only came in at night to teach a course. Then there was a clinical psychologist who had a good career, a more senior woman. But it did feel uncomfortable, like walking into the department meeting. There was one young woman, that was me, and then there was the woman who was never seen.

SCARPINO: So in a department of around 40, there was a mysterious unseen woman and then one who was actually there and present for duty in you?

EAGLY: Yeah. That’s not a comfortable—that is not a good situation we all know. That’s something that some minorities might face today, African American minorities in departments still, but it’s sort of uncomfortable because you are kind of under scrutiny. But it was mixed. People were reasonably kind. The men were reasonably kind. It went on. But, yes, I think I was a role model to a number of women, particularly since then I went ahead and had children, one even pre-tenure. Tenure was easier those days. It was the great expansion of American universities. I don’t know if today. . .

SCARPINO: . . .not 100-page dossiers and so on.

EAGLY: Now they have to have a much bigger record. Of course, people publish more for various reasons. We didn’t even have word processing or anything. Everything was so slow back then. I don’t know if I would think it’s a good idea now, but I did and then I had another child later. So, I think some women were pleased at that, who themselves wished to have children and then did, and then that I went on and became successful. In my cohort, there’s just a few of us in social psychology who published a fair amount and became visible. There are just a handful of us, so I think we were collectively positive for the women, sort of the breakthrough women.

SCARPINO: Did you advocate for each other?

EAGLY: I don’t know directly. If we had chance to be supportive of one another, we were. I still am of colleagues if I’m asked to write for them for some award or whatever. Within the university, there are various ways. When I was at the University of Massachusetts, I was part of a salary study committee. That was an era when there were a lot of salary studies, where there was the presumption of wage discrimination, and then the university would set up a committee and then among us would be somebody with good statistical skills. I have reasonable, but we would have somebody else who would run all the data and then we would do multiple regression equations. So I was advocating for that before the university set it up actually.

SCARPINO: Did you discover that women’s salaries were out of line with the men?

EAGLY: There were adjustments. Yeah. I think that the general conclusion was there was some degree of inequity and the university wished to remedy it and they set up the committee. They did the right thing, in other words, but I was part of the initiative to do that. At Northwestern, I’ve been part, not at the moment, but a few years ago, an initiative to get the university to attend to child care because most universities do something on campus or whatever, nearby. It’s pretty routine, but Northwestern had not, which was quite shocking to me because I even produced evidence about everybody else was. The university was very resistant, but then finally they’ve done some things, not as much as I would hope they would ultimately do. So that is to support women, to support the women and men, the people with families. So I’ve been part of local initiatives that are important to the success of women. Also, if you have on-campus child care, the students can see that men and women have children.

SCARPINO: Right. You don’t live in your office.

EAGLY: They are sort of doing it and these are our women professors and they seem to be going along, so I think in terms of opening up the young women’s horizons to have more models than they may have had.

SCARPINO: Do you see that as part of your mission, to open up young women’s horizons?

EAGLY: Sure, right. Yeah. That’s part of being a feminist. You want gender equality, so then we have to have some change so the women are less likely to drop out of the labor force and can see ways that they would not necessarily do that and could be able to continue their careers. Many of them are fantastically talented and capable of doing so much with their lives, but if they make just conventional choices then that usually sets them way back. So let them evaluate that carefully.

SCARPINO: When you entered the field of social psychology, there were not very many women in that field and you have had a large number of doctoral students. Do you go out of your way to encourage women to come into the field and do you mentor them?

EAGLY: We have no problem with women in the field now. You know the psychology Ph.D.’s are something like 75% women now. So that was a gradual shift.

SCARPINO: Why do you think that is?

EAGLY: There are more women every place, but psychology has had a steeper trajectory than other fields. I think women are often interested in human relationships and it’s a very engaging field, so women are choosing it over some other science fields, I guess. Yeah. Encouraging other women, you don’t have to differentially encourage. We’re needing to maybe start to reverse by encouraging more men.

SCARPINO: There must have been a period, though, when you became a professor when there were not so many women.

EAGLY: That’s true, but when I was a graduate student at University of Michigan in the social psychology program, I was not by any means the only woman. I think it was about a third women, even then. But University of Michigan has always been a kind of progressive place, so we were not so few in the program. There were very few faculty in the university who were women, but that did change then. The graduate programs always had women, just now they are a majority of women, also in social psychology. Yes, of course, I’ve been supportive to the women, but I’ve always enjoyed having male students, too.

SCARPINO: I’ve talked to some of them.

EAGLY: A number of male students.

SCARPINO: In fact, one of them, I’ll talk more about this later, one of them told me that every time he helps a student, he feels he is saying thank you to you for what you did for him.

EAGLY: Oh, that’s very kind.

SCARPINO: I thought it was quite nice actually.

EAGLY: Yeah. That’s nice.

SCARPINO: Outside of the academy, do you think of yourself as an advocate for women more generally?

EAGLY: I think in my work on gender, yes. Particularly having worked on leadership, which is one of the areas if we ever have gender equality, we have to have more equality in leadership obviously. Particularly in that area where I’ve done a bit of writing that’s more accessible, like the book Through the Labyrinth is not exactly a trade book, but it’s kind of a crossover book. Then that article that I wrote with Linda Carli in the Harvard Business Review turned out to be immensely popular. It kept selling for them for a long time. So in that sense, there’s been a bit of outreach and I would hope to continue that because I think to the extent people understand gender in a more adequate or complex way, then people can make better decisions about it. Or to the extent we’re committed to gender equality, we could figure out how to do it better.

SCARPINO: Do you think that as a society we’re committed to gender equality?

EAGLY: Not universally by any means, no. It’s a topic on which people, Americans, Canadians, too, I presume, differ because there are certainly conservative elements of society where the traditional family arrangements, traditional division of labor is valued. And then there are a lot of people who are committed and think gender equality would be a very good idea, think having more women leaders would be a good idea, particularly in the U.S. recently where we had this debacle with the closing of the government.

SCARPINO: Well, that’s where I was going to go with this.

EAGLY: Okay.

SCARPINO: You see the mess that we have in our own federal government in the United States. What reflections does that cause you to have on the subject of gender equality and women as leaders?

EAGLY: There was some very good publicity with the debacle of closing down the government because the efforts that sort of led to the accord that got our government back came from female senators, Senator Collins and then some of the other women who were meeting together. The women senators—there are 20 now—they are meeting together and that’s great because it is across party lines. Although the majority are democrats, they are not all democrats. So they then exerted some leadership to kind of be more cooperative, bring things together, and they got very good press out of this for sure. I don’t believe that women are inherently more cooperative or that pattern would always be present, but in those circumstances they certainly exerted a positive role, and I think women would in many ways. I do think it would be better, a better government or a better world, if women were 50% of the leaders for sure.

SCARPINO: As a women who spent most of her adult life studying attitudes and gender and then leadership and so on and then you look at our government and you see a leader, like say, Michele Bachmann, how do you respond to that?

EAGLY: There is diversity in female leaders for sure. She and Sarah Palin are so interesting because they’re on the right, which is less usual for women, but both of them are very assertive. On the one hand, since one of the issues for women is often being sufficiently assertive, being charismatic, sort of being out there because women are taught to be modest and nice, and so that’s one of the issues for young women, often. If they do want to be that, they have to learn how to do that. So having those women on the right in one way is quite wonderful because you see them. They’re really out there. But they’re not the traditional value pattern. We know that women tend to lean to the left and they tend to have more sort of benevolent and socially compassionate attitudes as a group than men. So they are sort of going against the grain in terms of attitudes, but that’s okay I think. There is a pretty powerful presence on the right in the U.S. and I think it’s better that some of them are women than not. It’s very interesting. It was so interesting with Sarah Palin and then Hillary Clinton and all that with the prior round of presidential politics. It will be wonderful to see how it plays out this time.

SCARPINO: It certainly will. I’m going to switch to a more chronological approach.

EAGLY: Sure.

SCARPINO: Some of the things we’ve talked about, your high school and so on, but you mentioned at one point that when you were in high school, you had an interest in chemistry.

EAGLY: I did just because I liked science. I liked the idea of science and hypotheses and quantification. It was the only model. I took chemistry and physics, and my father was an engineer so there was that model, but it wasn’t very deep I must say. It wasn’t a deep sort of interest. I thought, “Well, I’ll be a scientist. What kind of scientist? Oh, chemistry seemed interesting.” So it wasn’t very deep.

SCARPINO: I normally wouldn’t say much about myself in one of these interviews, but I was in high school in the 1960s and there were lots of high school young women in chemistry and physics and so on, but when you were in high school, was that common? Did young girls take chemistry or physics?

EAGLY: Yes, some. I remember when we got to—we had three semesters of each of those—so when I took the third semester of physics, there were only about three of us, but it was fine.

SCARPINO: There is a huge attrition in physics anyhow.

EAGLY: Yeah. There was the fourth year of math that was interesting. There were only two of us in the class. Girls tended to drop out of math. They don’t any more, but they did then. That was all right, but it was setting myself apart from kind of the mainstream of teenage girls for sure.

SCARPINO: Did you know you were doing that?

EAGLY: I guess I did.

SCARPINO: I don’t know much about being a teenage girl, but my sense is that they don’t, many of them don’t—I raised one—but they don’t actively seek to set themselves apart.

EAGLY: No. No, I didn’t. But I liked those subjects. I liked all my subjects, though. I suppose it was somewhat isolating, but the boys were not unkind. They were fine about it.

SCARPINO: When you looked around you when you were in high school and realized who the scientists were, did you ever think that there were limited options for a girl?

EAGLY: I didn’t know how I would do it, but I didn’t worry about that that much. I remember telling, in a sort of joking way, “Well, maybe I’ll have a chemistry lab in my basement,” something like that. But I was just joking. I look back on that and see that I definitely didn’t have it worked out. I didn’t tell this boy, I think he was asking me, “Well, I’ll be a professor of chemistry, obviously, at a top university.” That would never have occurred to me.

SCARPINO: When you looked around you when you were young or before you went off to college, did you ever conclude that there were limited choices available to a young woman? Did you see the world that way or did you see it differently?

EAGLY: I didn’t worry about it, but I did have the conventional desire to get married and have children, that’s for sure. It wasn’t that I saw myself just in terms of career, but I hoped to have a career. I didn’t know about having young children and the career, whether that would be allowable or doable. I remember thinking a bit about that.

SCARPINO: Ultimately you did, and you took your children to work, and so on and so forth.

EAGLY: I didn’t understand when I was young the costs of dropout would be immense. But as soon as you get in the career and you see what people are doing and then going stepwise and getting tenure, I knew that it would be disastrous to say, “Oh well, I’m going to take a several-year vacation and come back.” You wouldn’t be on the—you would lose your job—so it just wasn’t an option.

SCARPINO: You went to Radcliffe and I’m going to ask you why. You must have had lots of choices with being an excellent student in high school. Why?

EAGLY: I went to Radcliffe because my brother went to Harvard. That’s quite simple.

SCARPINO: Okay. Was he there, was there an overlap?

EAGLY: Yes, of one year. He went on one of those naval scholarships, Naval ROTC scholarships, and he had to go in the Navy after that. Therefore, I had the idea, the concept, and I thought, “Well, my brother got to go to Harvard, maybe I should go to Harvard.” I also applied to a number of other places including a couple of women’s colleges like Wellesley. My brother said I should go to Wellesley. That’s how conventional he was.

SCARPINO: I’ve occasionally had people just tell me, “Well, I just picked it because it was the farthest from home.”

EAGLY: No. I probably wouldn’t have made that decision had my brother not been in Harvard. I might not have had the concept. Then I thought maybe I should go to Wellesley then, but that was the convention. The girls he dated were at Wellesley.

SCARPINO: So that’s how he knew.

EAGLY: That was the more conventional. He actually was rather conventional and conservative in his ideas throughout his life and we came from the same family. Then I thought, “Well no, I should go to the place that has all the famous professors,” and so I did.

SCARPINO: But you knew that? You knew that the famous professors were there?

EAGLY: You bet I did.

SCARPINO: Who stands out as you look back?

EAGLY: Oh, they had a bunch of people there in the social sciences. The person I did my undergraduate thesis with, Herbert Kelman, is someone I have sort of had a lifetime association with. There were a number of people, Thomas Pettigrew, in social psychology. There was the famous Talcott Parsons in sociology and the famous Clyde Kluckhohn in anthropology.

SCARPINO: Did you work with Parsons?

EAGLY: No, but I took a course. There were a number of—Gordon Allport in psychology was very famous.

SCARPINO: Did you have a course from Allport?

EAGLY: I had a course and they called them tutorials, small group thing, on the psychology of religion. We read William James. So there were a number of very famous social scientists, psychologists there. I knew it was by far the better faculty, and Radcliffe had the reputation, as my brother depicted, sort of like the intellectual women, some of whom were odd and that sort of thing.

SCARPINO: Any of your classmates who went on to famous careers that people would have heard of?

EAGLY: At Harvard, no doubt there are. But the Radcliffe classmates, there is one very well-known historian. You’re a historian, do you—she’s in American history. She just died. Pauline Rubbelke Maier.


EAGLY: She was a classmate.

SCARPINO: Did you know her?

EAGLY: Yes. I noticed she just passed away recently. Very sad. So I think of her. There were a few other professors, but there weren’t any politicians. I’m sure in law and medicine, for our era, there were a lot of very good careers I know. I don’t think we had famous novelists at Harvard.

SCARPINO: A couple of the people that I talked to about you, and I asked each one of them, “What would you ask Alice Eagly if you were going to interview her?” Each one—I don’t think they talked to each other—each one of them said, “Ask her what inspired her when she was at Radcliffe.”

EAGLY: Oh, yeah.

SCARPINO: So, can you answer that question? What inspired you?

EAGLY: Sure. The whole, the glory of really the social sciences. I thought it was so fascinating. I thought everything was pretty fascinating. And then, it was a situation in which there were very many intellectual women because we were segregated in our housing, as I guess most universities were.

SCARPINO: I think they were all ruthlessly segregated in those days.

EAGLY: Right, right. We lived in these dormitories with these other women and they were highly selected and many of them were extremely intellectual. So it was okay to discuss ideas and discuss what we learned. We all had dinner together, a formal sit-down dinner, in those days.

SCARPINO: In a cafeteria?

EAGLY: No, it was served. But the freshman year, we took turns waiting on, so to speak, and so in part we did the service, but there were also employees. We had sit-down dinners and we had coffee in the living room afterwards, the demitasse, and so we talked to each other in a way that—you know, it’s all cafeteria and more random now, it’s rather different. It’s that way at Harvard, too, now. This thing about sitting around and talking, and we often talked about what we were learning and it was an intellectual, very smart group. So I think that was good and kind of affirming for having careers. The larger environment, though, since we were this small minority and there were a lot of very conventional men there, was not so affirming. But then I liked what I learned. I liked it all and then there was a certain feeling of—it motivated me to do well in a way, because I saw these other women doing well. The men were not so much to that thinking. So I wanted to go on and I didn’t in a sense want—so many of the women then would marry—that was the very conventional—this was in 1960, so think 1950s. We were in school in the ’50s. Very conventional era and so many of them had the model that they would marry by the end of college and then settle down right away and have children. If they had a career, it was later, and quite a few of the women in my class did that and some of them then went to law school, medical school, or whatever, 10–15 years later. I sort of wanted to keep going. I had the idea that wouldn’t be a good idea to embark on family formation so young.

SCARPINO: Could one reasonably conclude that being there changed your life?

EAGLY: I don’t know how it would have gone had I gone to the University of Washington like most of my high school classmates. They went to the University of Washington or one of those colleges in the West. A few went to Stanford, but not too many went East, although two of my classmates did go to Harvard besides me. So, it did because I did well and it was inspiring and intellectually engaging, I guess I have to say, in a big way.

SCARPINO: And you graduated at the top of your class?

EAGLY: I did.

SCARPINO: I wrote down here in my notes that you academically lit the place up. National Merit Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Beta Kappa Ranking Senior Prize, graduated at the top of your class. Other than anyone we’ve talked about, did you encounter anyone else while you were there at Radcliffe or Harvard that really inspired you? You mentioned several people.

EAGLY: Well, I was collectively inspired by a lot of my classmates because they were so smart and interesting in various fields. Radcliffe itself was a bit odd. It didn’t have a faculty and it never had one of its own, but it had an administration. It had a president and had deans, no faculty.

SCARPINO: The faculty were all at Harvard?

EAGLY: From the very beginning. It never had a faculty. The president and deans were persons in our lives, and I remember Radcliffe got a president maybe after the first two years I was there. When I was there it was the old style. The president was a man, some Harvard professor they brought over. But then they hired a woman. I’m blocking on her name, but she was a scientist, I think a biologist of some sort. She was the first to sort of talk to us about careers, because she had children and a husband and then a successful career as a scientist and became an administrator. So she talked about herself as some kind of phrase like “a scientist with nest-building experience” or something. She referred to her life in that holistic way and she engaged more with the students, invited us over and talked to us about many things. She was, I think, kind of a breakthrough, in that she did provide a role model of an integrated career and family life and was willing to bring it to the surface. That was nice.

SCARPINO: You spent most of your adult life as an advocate for gender equality. . .


SCARPINO: . . .yet you went to a women’s college.

EAGLY: Well, not an ordinary women’s college.

SCARPINO: It was kind of a subsidiary of Harvard because they wouldn’t let women in there.

EAGLY: It was.

SCARPINO: Was that the right thing for you at that time?

EAGLY: Yeah, but it wasn’t like going to Wellesley. It wasn’t like a real women’s college. It was a men’s college that they let us in the door to, and that was how Radcliffe began sometime in the 19th century. It was set up as an entity so women could get a man’s education, and they brought Harvard professors over to give their lectures a second time to this engaged group of women, so it was always about giving women access to Harvard, and it remained that. It was all about—when Yale and Princeton and those schools were closed to women—so in its time, it was very progressive, but it was all about Harvard.

SCARPINO: When you graduated in 1960, you spent a year in Norway on a Fulbright.

EAGLY: I did.

SCARPINO: Why? What attracted you to do that?

EAGLY: Well. It was common if you were a good student to try to get some sort of fellowship for a year and maybe go abroad and I’d never been to Europe or anything, so that was a good idea. My father’s family was Norwegian.

SCARPINO: So that’s why you picked Norway?

EAGLY: That was one part of it and then it happened that there were psychologists there. The professor who I did my honors degree with, Professor Herbert Kelman, had a fellowship to go there. Then he told me there was this then very famous psychologist who was going to be there that year by the name of Fritz Heider who was then very prominent in social psychology. He was actually older then, but he had published this book that was getting so much attention. Then some other psychologists were sort of gathering there, so I thought, well, it’s not a famous place in psychology on its own, but then they have this gathering of several very well-known people.

SCARPINO: Where was this?

EAGLY: In Oslo, University of Oslo.


EAGLY: Then there was the ethnic connection. Some of my father’s relatives were—he died about that time—but there was still some contact. It was his father that had immigrated and his mother. So I thought, “Oh, my Nordic tradition.” So why not? Yeah. Then I also applied for something to go to Germany. The German government had—but I didn’t know besides that I had studied German—but I wasn’t by any means fluent in German. I didn’t have any concrete plan. If they gave me this, where would I go in Germany? It was sort of vague. And I think I did get that, too, but I didn’t have a concrete idea what I would do or why I would go to Germany.

SCARPINO: You speak any Norwegian?

EAGLY: I learned quite a lot the year I was there.

SCARPINO: What kind of an impact did spending that year at University of Oslo? Academic year?

EAGLY: It was not so academic. I went to this seminar with the famous psychologists, but I was just a young person. I didn’t speak. There was actually a Norwegian social psychologist who was, at that time, sort of rising in prominence, although he sort of didn’t continue to, really. So I went to his. . .

SCARPINO: Who was that?

EAGLY: Who was that? It was a man by the name of Rognar Rommetveit, and I went to his seminar which was interesting. It was in Norwegian and so I was sort of on the edges of understanding. I ended up marrying one of the other Fulbright scholars, so it was personally significant in that way. Then just the idea of being in a different culture and being abroad, I think, for someone like me who hadn’t had that opportunity, is just enriching in multiple ways. To be in a—you say, “Oh they do things differently, don’t they?” I think it’s just inevitably for a young person a very good experience to go to a completely different culture, even though it was in my ethnic heritage. But then I understood those relatives better because there is a certain ethnic stoicism and inexpressiveness actually. I don’t know if all the people in the north, but certainly the Norwegians. Then I understood my father so much better. It wasn’t all personality. It was also a culture. He had probably grown up with that. . .


EAGLY: . . .that sort of restraint, and he was not an expressive person or a very chatty person at all. Then there were just lots of them like that, so I understood a little bit about it. It was personally enlightening to see that. It was a good experience.

SCARPINO: After that Fulbright, you entered graduate school at the University of Michigan.


SCARPINO: Why did you pick Michigan? You must have had lots of options.

EAGLY: There weren’t so many social psychology programs back then that were actually active programs. That was a very different era in psychology. Psychology was much, much, much smaller as a discipline than it is now. Stanford had a sort of active thing going. Michigan was really the largest and, in many ways, the most prominent program. I applied to several. But then one of the key things is the idea of the interdisciplinary program appealed to me. I had been in this interdisciplinary major. I loved breadth, and so the fact that it was co-sponsored by psychology and sociology was appealing, although it was actually not in its successful period. It sort of fell apart a few years after that, for reasons having to do with what was happening in the disciplines, particularly in psychology. I had an idea of what it might bring, which it did only to some extent as a program.

SCARPINO: You were a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, National Science Foundation Cooperative Graduate Fellow.


SCARPINO: You were mentored by Herbert Kelman and Melvin Manis.

EAGLY: Right.

SCARPINO: So Kelman moved up there?

EAGLY: Yes. It was interesting. He went to Michigan and then he went back to Harvard. He was invited back a number of years later. But when I was a graduate student, he had moved to Michigan and so then I ended up working with him again. Then I worked with Melvin Manis, also.

SCARPINO: Did you go there to work with them or was that just serendipity?

EAGLY: I didn’t know who I’d work with. I liked Herbert Kelman. He was very supportive and a very smart man, and Melvin Manis. They were both very supportive, and it was still that vulnerability, I guess, as a woman. It was sort of like, could I do this? Even though, I’d always done well so I should have been confident.

SCARPINO: Did you ask yourself when you figuratively walked in the door, can I do this?

EAGLY: No because I had a kind of academic confidence, because I did so well as an undergraduate, but it’s sort of like now I have to do something else. I have to do research. Well, I did a little research as an undergraduate, but you have to do research. I have to develop in other ways.

SCARPINO: Were there very many women on the faculty?

EAGLY: In social psychology, there was one woman professor, Helen Peak, and that was good. We women in the program appreciated that a lot, and her presence. She was a positive presence. On the larger psychology faculty, I think there were hardly any, but there were women that were in those uncertain statuses. They would be lecturers or research associates.

SCARPINO: And that means somebody who is working part time or not on tenure track?

EAGLY: Yeah, right. And there are still a lot of women doing that in universities, but then you could see what had happened. Talented woman marries man, man becomes professor, she becomes research associate. There are many famous cases of that, but earlier generations because that was—and some of those women ultimately became professors and got recognized because sometimes they were working together with their husbands or whatever. For one thing, there was the nepotism rule back then that you couldn’t have your spouse be a professor. So there weren’t a lot of role models, but there was a bit. It wasn’t like totally none.

SCARPINO: Were there very many women in your graduate entering cohort?

EAGLY: Yes. I think, again, Michigan was pretty progressive so it might have been around a third. Yeah.

SCARPINO: When you entered the graduate program there, did you in any way think of yourself as a pioneer or trailblazer for women?

EAGLY: No. It was pre-women’s movement. It was 1961. The women’s movement started in the late ’60s, and so it was still the era when I didn’t have any real feminist consciousness. There was no vocabulary. I remember one professor—it was a course in personality—a man, and he sort of brought this up in a very brief way. I don’t know what the topic was, but he was saying it was sort of ridiculous the way women are treated. It was sort of an early consciousness and I thought, “Oh, that’s probably true, isn’t it?” But there was no discourse on the status of women except I remember that because it was so unusual.

SCARPINO: No formal discourse in the classroom? No formal discourse in the literature?

EAGLY: It came in the late ’60s. It was sort of like, oh, a surprise to me. It was very welcomed because I was in my young career phase. Then it gave a lot of sort of validation, more validation, for women having careers, and began to break into this notion that to be a good mother you have to stay home. So there was a questioning of all that, so that was supportive. Yeah.

SCARPINO: I’m going to mention the names now of two of the people that I talked to, names you gave me. One of your former students from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a scholarly collaborator, Linda Carli.


SCARPINO: She describes you as extraordinarily hard-working and your research is careful, exacting, proper, and perfect.

EAGLY: Oh, that’s kind.

SCARPINO: We’re not done yet. And she said you’re the kind of researcher who keeps pushing to make perfect even more perfect.


SCARPINO: So then I talked to Blair Johnson, who was one of your students at Purdue, and said that you faced a male-dominated field and thrived. Then he went on to say that he talked about your high standards, your constant striving to make your work as close to perfect as possible.


SCARPINO: And I don’t think that they talked to each other, but they used the same words. So here’s the question: Did any of the emphasis in your professional career on hard work, high standards, and perfection stem from being one of the few women in your field?

EAGLY: It could have because you feel you’re more vulnerable maybe. We know that in some research studies that if you make a mistake, you’re more vulnerable. Yeah. Sometimes it was actually difficult because sometimes I was too, perhaps, hard on graduate students who weren’t with the program, sort of being exacting. Linda and Blair were great to work with, but sometimes I could get a bit annoyed when this was much more difficult. Because you have to work so closely with the graduate students on the project, and mostly it was great, but yeah, I guess I did. I was seen as having high standards and being demanding. Yeah, and that was good for them. They responded well.

SCARPINO: I would say for the benefit of hindsight, they did say it was good for them.

EAGLY: Yeah. But sometimes it could be a source of some tension with some students.

SCARPINO: But they both wondered, and it makes sense, if your really extraordinarily high standards were really a manifestation of being one of the few women in your field and feeling as though you had to be better.

EAGLY: That’s what we sometimes see in research. We talk about the double standard. I think that may be true to some extent, but again, there’s all this mix because on the one hand there’s some desire because there are so few women and those who are more liberal about these issues kind of want to push women forward to make sure they have every chance. Then on the other hand there’s this underlying, often, maybe not with the same people, but distrust of whether we’re really good enough. So I think it probably contributed to that, yeah.

SCARPINO: In addition to your two mentors, Kelman and Manis at University of Michigan, were there other individuals there who influenced your professional development?

EAGLY: Well, at Michigan, again, I was with a very good group of graduate students. They were important, some of whom have had prominent careers, and so that was good because they were smart, so it was good to be with them. Other faculty, it was sort of more remote, but I might have taken—I took a course at Michigan, had many successful professors because it was one of the major psychology departments and I enjoyed taking courses in various topics and going to talks and that sort of thing. So, it was a sort of generally inspiring atmosphere. I remember going to colloquia that we had and then somebody would get up and give a very nice talk and I would wonder, “Could I ever do that, like before an audience like this? It would be intimidating.”

SCARPINO: At what point did you know you could do it?

EAGLY: Well, after I started doing it, I guess. But, yeah. So intimidating, but inspiring with people talking about their work in interesting ways. There weren’t that many women who would come into the colloquia, but again, there weren’t very many women who were prominent in psychology at that time.

SCARPINO: While you were a graduate student at the University of Michigan, did you become interested in the emerging women’s movement?

EAGLY: Yes, yeah. That was very exciting to me.

SCARPINO: Can you talk about that?

EAGLY: That was in the late ’60s. You remember, there was Betty Friedan’s book in the late ’60s that was so widely read and really quite inspirational, and I did read it. So it was creating a lot of public discussion and so that was great. I read a lot of it, but I sort of figured out that to participate, like in the public discourse, probably not what I was ready for or could do well. But there was this great void in psychology. There had been very little study of gender.

SCARPINO: Why do you think that was?

EAGLY: Because it wasn’t in the consciousness of the culture and so it wasn’t in the consciousness of the social scientist. The developmental psychologists had to some extent studied it because they studied the family (laughing), mother and father, they couldn’t totally avoid it. But the rest of psychology, of course there was Freud, but in terms of academic psychology as we knew it, there was a void, pretty much.

SCARPINO: So even though most of the psychologists were men, they didn’t study masculinity or. . .


SCARPINO: . . .that actually came after, not before?

EAGLY: No. No, they didn’t.

SCARPINO: Was it mostly female scholars who initiated the study of masculinity? Is that a fair question?

EAGLY: Female scholars more studied women and gender or sex differences, not so much focusing on men at all because the idea was in the movement, as it developed within psychology, that women had been ignored, and to the extent that sex differences had been studied as they had some, it had all been misconstrued; like Darwin got it wrong and everybody. Then early on there was this notion that women were intellectually inferior, which was widely promulgated by psychologists, but that had been sort of tested more in the first women’s movement in the 1920s by a few scholars who were women. But then there was this broader interest that rapidly developed in psychology, actually, about gender and sex differences with various voices, but not the study of masculinity. Really it was men who then distinctively have studied masculinity, and there are some women or male/female teams now. But there is quite a bit of study just on women and some of it was social issue related, like about, well, family violence and sexual harassment and abortion and rape. There were social issue topics and then there were other topics that sort of came naturally. Like in social psychology, there had been for a long time work on stereotypes, but it had been about nationality mainly, and ethnicity. And so it was like, “Oh, gender stereotypes, right, well we know how to study stereotypes. We can do that. Let’s do it.”

SCARPINO: So, is that how it worked for you that you became interested in stereotypes? There was a body of literature on stereotypes that were not gender related and you. . .

EAGLY: Well I have studied stereotypes, yeah. That’s easy for social psychologists because there was a history. We weren’t starting from nothing, and how could we have ignored gender stereotypes? They’re probably the most salient in society. Well, because there was no discourse on gender, it remained kind of invisible. Then there were a lot of issues, because it’s of historic interest in psychology, around individual differences, so comparing men and women has been forever of great interest to psychologists and relates to critical, huge issues like nature and nurture.


EAGLY: So psychologists had forever studied nature and nurture, with some interest in sex differences, went back to Darwin really and, of course, Freud coming in from that side. So sort of in a general way, it was something that psychologists could grasp hold of in that it wouldn’t be out of the boundaries of the discipline in any way. It’s just that it hadn’t been done that much in a modern, empirical way.

SCARPINO: It would be fair for a person who’s not a psychologist to conclude that psychology didn’t really take seriously issues of gender and sex differences until there were women in the profession who wished to study it?

EAGLY: Well, until there was a feminist movement that gave people inside and outside psychology some vocabulary and means of having a discourse about it, a way of thinking about it. Earlier it had been kind of simple, with a lot of interest in intellectual qualities; are women really as smart as men? And then some interest about the family and that sort of thing in developmental psychology. I wrote a paper about this that I published with colleagues fairly recently where we actually looked at the history of publication. You can do that in the database, the psych info database, and there’s just this rapid increase that started. We went back to 1960 where there was just very little, and then it rapidly increased with the women’s movement and then sort of leveled off.

SCARPINO: If the impetus and the vocabulary comes out of feminism and the women’s movement, when did you begin to think of yourself as a feminist? I don’t mean a particular day.

EAGLY: As soon as the feminist movement developed in the late ’60s, I knew that that was the right thing, so to speak, so I thought of myself as a feminist. But I hadn’t in graduate school because if you thought about feminists, you thought about the women’s suffrage movement or something.

SCARPINO: Right, yeah.

EAGLY: Yeah, the earlier movement.

SCARPINO: Do you remember at some point thinking, “Yes, this is right, why didn’t I think of this before?”

EAGLY: I sort of eased into studying gender because I was studying attitudes and continued to, but then within that, since attitudes are about social influence in the persuasion attitude change aspect, then I sort of looked at gender in relation to social influence. So it sort of merged. I merged it with my other interest and then only later did it come out in other ways, such as studying leadership. So it was gradual. I just knew it was interesting and important, but I didn’t have any real framework for studying it, just like the other folks in social psychology. So it took some time before I had some way of thinking about it that would make sense that would carry forward so that I could branch out. Initially, it was just a subtype of my work on attitudes and persuasion, fine. But to have it be something on its own right that would have greater scope took me some time to develop a framework.

SCARPINO: Would it be reasonable for somebody to conclude looking at your scholarly career that before you moved actively into the study of gender, you self-identified as a feminist?

EAGLY: Oh, well, yes. That’s true.

SCARPINO: Do you remember, was there anything in particular that inspired you?

EAGLY: Oh, there was a huge amount of social unrest and discussion. Those were unsettled times. There was the civil rights movement, of course, and then the women’s movement coming afterwards. The civil rights movement brought the idea that we could change things and then the women’s movement also. And then there was the war in Vietnam. Those were very difficult days. So there was lots of kinds of discourse, some of it quite radical.

SCARPINO: Were you involved in that sort of thing on campus?

EAGLY: Not so much in terms of—I mean I was in various efforts. That was when I was at University of Massachusetts in the late ’60s, like the salary efforts and other efforts and some kinds of meetings and talks I went to, but I wasn’t spending. . .

SCARPINO: Teach-ins, war protests, anything like that?

EAGLY: I didn’t spend a lot of time doing that. After all, I had a child. I had a baby and I had to get tenure. I had to sort of tend to getting some writing and articles out.

SCARPINO: So different topic, but related, you married Robert Eagly in 1962?


SCARPINO: How did you meet? Is that a fair question?

EAGLY: We were Fulbright scholars in Norway. We met on the boat going over.

SCARPINO: And he became an economist?

EAGLY: He did.

SCARPINO: Professor of economics?

EAGLY: Yes, for a number of years.

SCARPINO: I understand that when you all moved to Purdue that he sort of transitioned from an academic career to a dad, I guess. Is that a fair question?

EAGLY: Yes. He had some difficulties there at University of Massachusetts and did not end up getting tenure so that was very hard. He really wanted to move away from there and so the position at Purdue came up. He had spent a couple years there in New York at the Federal Reserve Bank. That was very difficult because we were living apart and so then we both went to Indiana. He didn’t find a regular position, so we did have a role reversal in that he did a lot of the domestic side of things. We had two children by then and so that was a great support to me. It would have been better had another appropriate kind of position worked out for him. That would have been better, but it was very difficult to do that.

SCARPINO: So that happened in the context of looking for a position and wasn’t a sort of conscious “Let’s switch roles?”

EAGLY: No, no. It wasn’t what we desired. We desired to have a 50/50 arrangement.

SCARPINO: You earned your Ph.D. in 1965, spent two years at Michigan State, which we talked about a little bit, then moved to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1967, promoted from assistant to associate to full and then in 1980 you moved to Purdue where you stayed until 1995.

EAGLY: Right.

SCARPINO: We’re going to run out of time here in a bit, but what I want to do and we’ll see if a historian can do this, is I’d like to see if we can pull apart the elements of your research agenda and then before we go our separate ways on Saturday, to put them back together again.

EAGLY: Okay.

SCARPINO: But, I’m thinking that many people will use this interview who are really not familiar with your field, and I would like them to be able to get it, to see what it is that contributed to the development of Alice Eagly as a scholar and a leader. So I am going to ask you questions about your research on attitudes, about meta-analysis, about gender/sex roles, and other topics, and then we’re going to see if we can put it back together. But, if I miss anything, if you see me headed down the primrose path, for heaven’s sakes, tell me, because this is just based on a week’s worth of homework and not a lot a lifetime of study. So as a doctoral student and when you became a young faculty member, you concentrated your research on attitudes.


SCARPINO: So for the benefit of anybody who is going to listen to this recording or read the transcript, I’m going to read a brief description of your research on attitudes published in the American Psychologist in November 2000.

EAGLY: Okay.

SCARPINO: So, it is their words and not mine and it says, I quote, “As a graduate student and young faculty member, Eagly specialized in the study of attitudes by publishing experimental studies of the cognitive processes by which people change attitudes.” So, the words are all in English, but they are not necessarily clear for somebody who’s not in your field. So maybe you could start, for the benefit of anybody who uses this interview in the future, to explain what you mean by the cognitive process by which people change attitudes. What is it that you were studying?

EAGLY: Oh, yeah. Well, the usual model in those studies was that there is some kind of message delivered that is intended to be persuasive. They’re usually counter-attitudinal, so that it’s not something you already agree with, and then people may change or not. So, a psychologist wants to know what goes in between. Is it the identity of the person? Is it something about the content and how might they process—if arguments are used—how might those be processed? It is obviously complex because there are many ways that that happens. So what I did was probe some of those in terms of theories of the time. I looked at, to some extent, at the understanding, the extent to which people are actually in a detailed way using the information that they’re getting. Or are they sort of doing it a little more heuristically, like they just grabbed pieces of it? Well, it depends, of course. Then I looked at what we called attributional processes: Well, why is the person saying that? People have theories about the motivations of the person who is giving the message, so do they have sort of a vested interest in this side of things or not? If you can’t explain it in terms of their vested interest or maybe even they are kind of moving against what their usual position is, people are more likely to give it credence actually, which is some of the work that I did. It was also the beginnings of the time when psychologists were interested in sort of two levels of processing, which are more systematic or using the information very carefully versus more heuristic, which would be grabbing hold of pieces, like “Oh, anything you say is fine, you’re an expert” or whatever. We were interested in the conditions under which people would process in a more systematic way or a more heuristic way, sort of those two levels. The heuristic is often more, sort of more automatic and people are less aware that they’re doing it.


EAGLY: So we tracked some of those processes in most of that persuasion work. Then I was very much interested in the broader tradition of attitude research, which is quite rich, in the book I wrote with Shelly Chaiken on The Psychology of Attitudes where we didn’t just deal with that body of persuasion research, but a much larger body of work.

SCARPINO: Persuasion research deals with how people are persuaded?


SCARPINO: The mechanisms of persuasion?

EAGLY: Yes. What goes on in their minds when they accept ideas from outside.

SCARPINO: This is an approach that was using quantitative method?

EAGLY: Oh, yes.

SCARPINO: This is not a qualitative research?

EAGLY: No, no. It is not at all qualitative. No. Nothing is qualitative.

SCARPINO: Well, once upon a time it was.

EAGLY: Once upon a time, but in academic psychology, there is not that much. So, we would have measures of people’s attitudes and we would try to probe their processes. We often had them—this is semi-qualitative—we had them write down in some of the studies the thoughts they had had while listening to the message, but then we coded those and quantified certain features of them. But that would use a narrative method of getting them to write things down.

SCARPINO: This type of research began for you when you were a doctoral student?


SCARPINO: Was this because of the people that were mentoring you? That was their field?

EAGLY: Yes. Herbert Kelman and Melvin Manis both did some of this kind of research and it was mainstream social psychology.

SCARPINO: At that point you saw yourself in the mainstream?


SCARPINO: For the benefit of somebody who’s not in your field, can you briefly explain what your dissertation was about?

EAGLY: Oh, it was on something we called involvement as a determinative attitude, so if people really care a lot about the domain versus not. If it is less personally involving, would that affect whether they’re persuaded. So I did some experiments on that, which I did a few more. I pursued that theme later because there’s actually different sort of subtypes of involvement that make a difference. One of my meta-analyses was on that. The idea was that whether you involve—not just the fact of whether you’re persuaded, but the processes that you use.

SCARPINO: You obviously earned your doctoral degree with your dissertation, but the research that you did, looking back on it, would you classify that as cutting edge or mainstream?

EAGLY: Kind of mainstream. Not so wildly developed. I think we’re more demanding now about dissertations, too.

SCARPINO: I didn’t mean that as a criticism of your dissertation.

EAGLY: No, no. We make people do several studies. Back then, it was more you could do sort of one study.

SCARPINO: So the standards were. . .

EAGLY: …were very different and it was not like I look back on how glorious my dissertation is, not really.

SCARPINO: I looked at your resume. First couple of articles, Herbert Kelman and Alice Eagly, “Attitude Towards the Communicator, Perception of Communication Content, and Attitude Change.”

EAGLY: Yeah.

SCARPINO: Number two, Alice Eagly and Melvin Manis, “Evaluation of Communicator as a Function of Involvement,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1966. Those were your doctoral advisors?


SCARPINO: Was that customary at that time that the doctoral advisor would in effect launch the student by co-authoring?

EAGLY: Yes. Yes, that’s still the case.

SCARPINO: You’ve done a considerable amount of that.

EAGLY: With my own graduate students, yes.

SCARPINO: Your first book, Samuel Himmelfarb and Alice Eagly, editors, Readings in Attitude Change.

EAGLY: That was an edited book. Samuel Himmelfarb was a colleague of mine at University of Massachusetts.

SCARPINO: What were you trying to accomplish with this edited volume?

EAGLY: It was sort of trying to capture this attitudes area at the time. We wrote, I think, an introductory and a final chapter that we thought were kind of making broader statements about where the field was at that point, and then a number of excellent articles were included. We thought it would be useful to use in graduate courses in attitudes.

SCARPINO: Did that work out?

EAGLY: Yeah.

SCARPINO: Was it used in graduate courses?

EAGLY: Yeah.

SCARPINO: Himmelfarb was a colleague. Was he a senior colleague?

EAGLY: No. He was basically at my stage.

SCARPINO: You’re both relatively junior faculty and you’re doing this edited book on the state of your field, so to speak.

EAGLY: Yeah.

SCARPINO: Did that ever seem like a risk to you?

EAGLY: No. It was Sam’s idea and I just helped with it. It was fine as an early project.

SCARPINO: We’re going to talk about meta-analysis later, but this is pre-meta-analysis.

EAGLY: This is pre-meta-analysis.

SCARPINO: So, you are just sort of soliciting articles from people who can come at this from different perspectives?

EAGLY: Yeah.

SCARPINO: Then you provide the context for it.

EAGLY: Right. That’s what it was.

SCARPINO: I’m going to jump ahead a little bit and see if we can do this. In the 1970s and 1980s, social psychology faced a crisis, right?

EAGLY: Yes, it did.

SCARPINO: I’m trying to be nice about this. . .

EAGLY: You’re right.

SCARPINO: . . .but there was considerable debate over the value of research, theory in the field, and I read that attitude research sort of bore the brunt of a lot of that.

EAGLY: It did. It did.

SCARPINO: Can you explain for the benefit of, again, somebody who’s not in your field what was going on here, and then I’m going to follow up. What was the nature of the crisis and the criticism?

EAGLY: Well. . .

SCARPINO: Because it seemed to me like it was kind of tearing the field apart.

EAGLY: It is kind of hard to capture it, but I think it was the transition into what we call post-positivism, where it wasn’t just in social psychology, although we took it harder than others. People were discovering that these numbers we produced and the science was not that pure and there was a lot of bias and “Oh my God, isn’t that terrible?” Kenneth Gergen, who is sort of a post-modernist actually as he developed, had the idea of social psychology is history. It all just reflects the culture. We don’t really have science. Then there was the instability of data, which we do still deal with. Do studies replicate? Does it sort of add up? That was very much at issue, and so people were taking it harder in social psychology I think than in other areas of psychology. But I think it was a maturation of the field as we began to deal in a more knowledgeable and sophisticated way with what science really is, which it’s not this sort of pure thing and the numbers are representing the mind or whatever in a nice orderly way, but it’s really messy. We get methods that are kind of terribly imperfect. There is bias in a lab. There’s all kinds of things. Robert Rosenthal at that time even discovered that the rat studies; that the experimenters were influencing the rats to give the right answers by petting them, the nice ones, or whatever. It was kind of a shock. We were so naïve before that, so it was a shock. We recovered and became more sensible. I don’t think there’s enough discourse about sort of the epistemology or whatever, but I think we sort of collectively recovered and developed a more mature way of thinking about our science and the way we need to build in—as we become aware of biases, then we have to talk to about “Well, what do we do about that one?” Then we have to adjust, and we need multiple methods that have, multiple impure methods looking at the same problem. So it was just a period in which we had to suddenly grow up.

SCARPINO: Do you think that was a beneficial process?

EAGLY: Oh, yes, absolutely. It happened in all the sciences.

SCARPINO: I’m trying to think this through from a person on the outside. A scientist, not a social scientist, would probably argue that a research project is only successful if the results can be replicated.

EAGLY: Right.

SCARPINO: As fields like psychology became social science, then you also had to argue that the research is only successful if the experiment could be replicated, but that depended upon how you coded things; on the numbers.

EAGLY: It depended on many things. And that’s true of other science fields as well, but we just didn’t know how to think about it, and we didn’t realize the vulnerability of the findings. We were naïve, but that was true of other sciences. This is a sort of a much broader than psychology type of movement. But psychologists don’t usually have much perspective on it actually. So, I don’t know why we took it harder in social science. I think it’s—you know social psychology has these ideas about—a lot of the work is lab work, that we’re sort of modeling life out there in the world, but we’re producing it in this purified lab, but we can generalize it. Well that all got called into question, “How easy is that to do?” While other kinds of psychology, it’s not necessarily that they’re interested in this direct generalization to something complex like social interaction. If you’re studying how the eye works or something or just some aspects of memory or whatever, you’re not up against that generalizability problem in the same way. I think there’s reasons why we took it harder in social psychology, but it was a growing up, and it was good we had our crisis. We could have had it in maybe a more sensible way or a more gradual way or we could have been led. We could have had better leadership other than a sort of a post-modernist attack.

SCARPINO: So do you think that part of the reason for the depth and, I don’t know, the frantic nature of the crisis was there wasn’t any leadership?

EAGLY: There was leadership, but it was Kenneth Gergen who was this social psychology as history, who sort of was one of the causes of bringing it on and he received a great deal of visibility. But he took a sort of post-modernist view, “There is no ability of science to represent that world out there,” as his career developed. But then there were these other things that were simultaneous; the discovery of bias in the lab, Robert Rosenthal’s work and other people’s. So those things sort of fed on one another and there wasn’t—but there was leadership that was positive, actually, that developed. Actually one of the prominent people there was Donald Campbell who was a prominent social psychologist, who did deal with the epistemology and did write in a sensible way about the way science actually works. I take that back, there was good leadership that then developed in the ’60s and into the ’70s and helped us to come along out of the crisis.

SCARPINO: What emerged out of that crisis?

EAGLY: A more mature science, a more mature social psychology. We’re not astounded that there’s bias, but we always try to work, in the most positive fashion, to build in protections to understand bias. So for instance in the lab, the most basic thing is, if you are manipulating something, so these people get this condition and those people get that one, we can’t have experimenters who know what condition they’re in, because then they might send subtle messages. We’re supposed to get this result over there. Even unknowingly, they can bias, just like with the rats. So we have developed more sophisticated ways of experimentation. And also I think mostly people realize that we have to work in natural settings as well and we have to then see how it all fits together. So we became more mature and sophisticated, more effective. We still have a lot of problems that we’re still working on.

SCARPINO: So, if you’re a feminist, and as a feminist social psychologist scientist you decide to study gender and sex differences, do you then recognize that there’s the potential for a built-in bias?

EAGLY: Right.

SCARPINO: And then try to correct for that?

EAGLY: Of course, feminists brought the idea of androcentric bias into prominence. That was a very important theme. The other methodologists had not—they talked about basically biases in the methods, biases in the measuring instruments. They didn’t talk about broader biases based on social position or gender, and the feminists did collectively bring that in.

SCARPINO: We’re being paged, so I want to tell you the first thing that I want to ask you next time we sit down is about the psychology of attitudes which was a meta-analysis that fit into that crisis.

EAGLY: Oh, yeah. I did an early meta-analysis and I think meta-analysis helped address the crisis because it addresses replicability.

SCARPINO: I think before I do that, I’m going to ask you to explain what meta-analysis is.

EAGLY: Oh, sure. That would make sense.

SCARPINO: We won’t do that right now, but I just want to give you a heads up and then we’re going to spend the rest of our time together talking about your scholarship.

EAGLY: Okay.

SCARPINO: We’ll go from sex differences and gender to leadership and so on and so forth. I hope you will recognize that if I am not asking you the right question then you will help me along here.

EAGLY: Oh no, you are doing great.

SCARPINO: All right, thank you. So I’m going to turn this one off.