After more than three decades of contributions to the field of psychology, one Ohio State professor is being recognized amongst the ranks of highly touted psychologists dating back to World War II.
Richard Petty, a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology, was recently named one of the most eminent psychologists of the modern era by The American Psychological Association.
Petty is being acknowledged on a list that dates back to the mid-twentieth century and consists of 200 total successful psychologists, according to the OSU’s College of Arts and Sciences website. Petty is ranked number 146 on the list.
But Petty wasn’t expecting it.
“It was a big surprise,” he said.
Petty graduated from University of Virginia in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology.
“What I really enjoyed about political science was understanding the voter and why they chose the candidates they did and what led to some people being conservative and what led some people to be liberal and at the time it was all theory,” Petty said.
During his undergraduate years, Petty took a psychology class as a junior and “loved it.” This one class sparked an interest that led to receiving a Ph.D. in psychology from OSU in 1977 and eventually a career full of teaching, travel and research.
Petty eventually became the co-creator of the Elaboration Likelihood Model, which he and John Cacioppo created in 1986 — something for which Petty is perhaps best known. Cacioppo was named 47 on the list.
Petty’s research focuses on situational and individual difference factors responsible for changes in beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, according to the College of Arts and Sciences website.
The American Psychological Association relied on six sources to choose which psychologists made their list, including recipients of the American Psychological Association award for distinguished scientific contributions and Association for Psychological Science winners of the William James Fellow award, among others.
Petty said this award was different from any other award he has received because, instead of a group of people deciding who they want their specific award to go to, this award was based on a study that considered many statistics and awards.
“Have you ever seen the Academy Awards? One of the things they (the winners) always say is ‘I love this award because it was given by my peers.’ So it does kind of feel like ‘Wow, these are people that really understand what goes into psychological research,’ so it makes it even more meaningful to get an award from a group that are experts in the field,” Petty said.
Although Petty said he is honored to be recognized for this award, he said one of his biggest accomplishments in life does not come from awards, but from watching his students achieve success.
One of his former students is now his colleague in the Department of Psychology and said Petty is responsible for much of his success.
“I certainly wouldn’t have had the career that I’ve had if it weren’t for Rich. He was an incredible adviser and I just got all of my scientific knowledge, at least a great deal of it, from him,” said Duane Wegener, a psychology professor and close friend of Petty.
Wegener said Petty has not only had a positive impact on his career, but has also had a positive impact on OSU’s psychology program as a whole.
“They (the psychology department) had, from retirements and some other kinds of transitions, had reached a point where we were kind of low on the faculty historically and Rich became chair at about that point. Since then, he has really facilitated and overseen a lot of hiring to the point that we’re now at, or maybe slightly above, that historical type of number. It’s a much stronger department now,” Wegener said. Petty said he has hired 25 staff members during his time as department chair, which is split into two parts, with one stint from 1998-2002 and the other starting in 2008.
Petty said although he has experienced occasional setbacks in his research career, the ability to share his ideas with the scientific community for feedback has always put him back on track.
One student said they think that the interaction between Petty and his peers is also beneficial for the psychology department, even if they have not had him as a professor.
“I think that’s very cool (that he was recognized for this award) because not only can he influence my teachers that I might have, if I were to have a class with him I would be learning from the best,” said Carly Hube, a third-year in psychology.
Petty said his advice for students is to dedicate their time to what they find most pleasurable.
“Do what you really enjoy doing,” he said. “Success is a combination of ability and motivation.”