Donald T. Campbell

Lehigh University

November 20, 1916 - May 6, 1996

Scientific Discipline: Social and Political Sciences
Membership Type:
Member (elected 1973)

Donald T. Campbell made extensive contributions to social science methodology.  He developed new methods to analyze the direct and indirect measurement of social attitudes, which improved the quality and applicability of data gathered from observing candid social behaviors in varying environments.  Campbell believed that public policy could be improved through experimentation, and his book, Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Research, became a standard resource for policy evaluation.  His most important contribution was the concept of Blind Variation and Selective Retention (BVSR) he introduced and used to describe fundamental principles influencing cultural evolution.  He later defined this philosophy as “evolutionary epistemology.” Campbell’s BVSR concept not only explained the origin of creativity, but it determined the evolution of instinctive knowledge; this led to the modern theory of Universal Darwinism.

Campbell attended San Bernardino Valley Union Junior College and received his A.A. degree in 1937.  He relocated to the University of California, Berkeley to earn his A.B. degree in 1939 and his Ph.D. in 1947.  After obtaining his doctorate, Campbell became an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University from 1947 to 1950 and then at the University of Chicago from 1950 to 1953.  He left to accept a position as an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University in 1953.  He rose to a full professor five years later, and then in 1973, he was appointed Morrison Professor of the university (a position he held until 1979).  Along with teaching, Campbell was president of the Midwestern Psychological Association (1966-1967) and the American Psychological Association (1975).  Campbell received several awards for his sociological contributions, including the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in 1970 from the American Psychological Association, the Kurt Lewin Memorial Award in 1974 from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the Distinguished Scientist Award in 1988 from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology.

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