Sidney Siegel--The Stanford Years
|Sid's interest in psychology developed initially through his friendship with Joseph B. Cooper, Professor of Psychology at San Jose State, who was Sid's neighbor and friend as well as his teacher. Joe's interest in prejudice and in other socially significant topics in psychology appealed to Sid, who had strong political and social convictions.
When he entered Stanford, the goal of a Ph.D. in psychology still seemed remote to Sid, but he wished to test his ability for graduate work. It soon became apparent that ability was no issue and that the problem was choosing which talents to nurture. After some preliminary flirtations with educational psychology and then with clinical psychology, he settled on concentrating in social psychology, working under the direction of Paul R. Farnsworth.
It is fortunate that Sid lived in the vicinity of Stanford University, for his decision to enter graduate school there was based as much on convenience as any other factor. When Alberta met him in the fall of 1951, Alberta was amused to learn that he still had no notion that Stanford was considered in any way unusual or superior as a center for graduate study in his field. Later on, we used to laugh over the story of his discovery that L. M. Terman maintained a suite of offices in the Cubberley Building at Stanford for his research on the gifted. By this time Terman had been emeritus for some years. Sid was still so naive about psychology that he had never encountered L. M. Terman's name, although he was very familiar with the name of F. E Terman, his son, because of the latter's eminence in electronics. At that time, F. E. Terman was Dean of the School of Engineering at Stanford, and Sid commented that Stanford must be a generous university because it was kind enough to provide office space to "Terman's father."
The rest of us quickly identified Sid as one of the ablest graduate students, and he was the one to whom we turned as we struggled to master the statistics taught so patiently by Quinn McNemar. Sid's background in mathematics stood him in good stead, and he was able to grasp the topic, which many of us found so difficult. Over coffee he conveyed his understanding in terms we could grasp. Sid became Quinn's teaching assistant in his second year of study, and they remained special friends.
The first research project Sid completed was his master's study of "Cognitive Ambiguity and Ethnocentrism." In that work he displayed the ingenuity and psychological acumen that were among his special talents as a psychologist. Highly intuitive, Sid took for granted many insights which others of us had to strive to attain. Although he worked in a period when perhaps the most pertinent characteristic dividing gifted social psychologists from their more pedestrian colleagues was ingenuity, Sid took his own ingenuity as a matter of course, never attempting to highlight it in his conversation or his writing. The initial research stemmed from his astonishment at the results of studies in prejudice which used photographs; some subjects saw enough in a photograph to feel confident of their ability to make some judgment, e.g., a judgment of the person's ethnicity. Sid came to suspect that these results reflected some "need for closure" or "intolerance for cognitive ambiguity," as well as suggestibility on the part of the subjects.
He decided to carry the technique of picture tests to its absurd extreme, selecting 16 photographs of faces at random from a group of old popular magazines and then having another person select 16 sentences at random from a different group of old popular magazines. Sid gave his subjects the statements on one sheet of paper and the photographs on another and instructed, "If you feel that any of the persons pictured made one of the statements on this sheet, put the number of that picture in the box alongside the statement. If you do not associate a particular statement with a particular picture, leave that box blank." The statements included the following: "I count only the sunny hours," "We hear about such incidents right away," and "Let's get outside away from all this." On the face of the matter, it was absurd to think that anyone statement was made by a particular person pictured. Nonetheless, some subjects matched them all, while others matched onyx some and some subjects matched none. Sid called this test he had devised a measure of "tolerance-intolerance of cognitive ambiguity" (TICA) and demonstrated that the number of pictures a subject matched with statements was a correlate of authoritarianism, a variable just then attracting interest. (The Authoritarian Personality had been published a year earlier.) The study was replicated in his dissertation research
Partly because he was older than the other students and therefore more settled in his motivation, but principally because he was unusually talented and energetic, Sid moved ahead quickly in his graduate work, completing his master's degree before the end of his first year of work and passing his written and oral examinations for the Ph.D. well before the second year ended. While he was completing a major in psychology, he embarked upon extensive outside work in mathematical statistics. At first, he said he was studying statistics because he was a "Lewinian and therefore antistatistical" and he wished to disprove the claim that the antistatistical position was dictated by ignorance. He came quickly to delight in the power and the precision of statistical reasoning and to see its ready reconcilability with the focus on experimentation that is a principal attraction of Lewin's work. Sid was fortunate in his statistics teachers: first Quinn McNemar and then Lincoln Moses, George Polya, Albert H. Bowker, Kenneth J. Arrow, and J. C. C. McKinsey.
He collected data for his dissertation, "Certain Determinants and Correlates of Authoritarianism," during the spring of his second year of graduate Study, and the paper was in final form by the fall of 1953. The study was an early ripple in the wave of publications on correlates of authoritarianism which was to reach flood tide in the psychological literature of the late fifties; in the precision with which hypotheses were stated and in the ingenuity of the measures which were devised, it is outstanding in this literature. Together we conducted a follow-up on some of the subjects a year later in a study "'Which was more; satisfying to Sid than the initial one because it employed an experimental rather than a correlational design. Neither study is typical, of his later and more important work, however, for in these initial studies paper-and-pencil self-report measures were among those employed, and he quickly became distrustful of such approaches and came to rely on behavioral indexes of the variables of interest to him.
After receiving his Ph.D. late in 1953, Sid decided to stay on at Stanford through the 1953-1954 year. By that time we were planning to marry, and he wanted me to complete my doctoral work at least through the comprehensive examinations before we left campus. In the fall of 1953 he began a research association with two members of the Department of Philosophy at Stanford, Donald Davidson and Patrick Suppes. They had been working on theories for the measurement of utility (subjective value) and sought him as an ally to devise an empirical rendering of their theoretical work. Sid worked with them in developing a technique for working with a single subject to measure the utility of some continuous class of objects in an interval scale. A central problem was identifying an event which had subjective probability .50 for the subject, and Sid devised a zero-association nonsense-syllable die to serve as this event. The work on the measurement of the utility of money was carried out in the spring of 1954 and first reported in a technical paper which appeared in 1955. Davidson and Suppes conducted further work on the same topic after Sid left Stanford, and the total report of the work appeared finally in the book Decision Making: An Experimental Approach, published in 1957.