Timothy D. Wilson is a social psychologist known for his work on the limits and sources of self-knowledge. He was born in New York City and grew up in Philadelphia. He had a peripatetic undergraduate career, spending two years at Williams College and one each at Mt. Holyoke College and Hampshire College. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Michigan, under the guidance of Richard Nisbett. From 1977-1979 he was an Assistant Professor at Duke University, after which he joined the faculty of the University of Virginia, where he has been ever since and is now the Sherrell J. Aston Professor of Psychology. The University of Virginia awarded him its highest academic honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award for Excellence in Scholarship, as well as an All-University Outstanding Teaching Award. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2020. In 2015 the Association for Psychological Science awarded Wilson the William James Fellow Award, to honor a “lifetime of significant intellectual contributions to the basic science of psychology.”

Research Interests

Timothy D. Wilson has investigated the limits and sources of self-knowledge. Early in his career he demonstrated the limits of introspection as a source of self-knowledge, particularly reports about why people do what they do. Subsequently he showed that there can be costs to engaging in too much introspection, namely deficits in decision making and attitude-behavior consistency. His later research, in collaboration with Daniel Gilbert, investigated people's knowledge about their future emotions (their affective forecasts). He and his collaborators found that people often overestimate the impact of future events on their emotional reactions. His book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious chronicles much of this research on self-knowledge. More recently he has focused less on the limits of introspection and more on its functions, namely whether people can derive pleasure from "just thinking." Throughout his career he has also been interested in applications of social psychology to address social problems, as described in his book Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By.

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Primary Section

Section 52: Psychological and Cognitive Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 53: Social and Political Sciences