David Williams

Professor Emeritus

AB, Psychology, Harvard University;

Ph.D., Psychology, Yale University

Office Location: 
Solomon Labs, 3720 Walnut St, Room D22
Research Interests: 
Individual Differences and Behavior Genetics
Specific Research Areas: 

Existential/Humanistic Personality Theory, Lifespan Development, Ego Integrity

Research Synopsis: 

I am interested in uniting two century-old traditions of psychology that have contributed much to me but little to each other.

  • One is Learning Theory: rooted in the work of Darwin, Pavlov, and Skinner, this tradition aims to explicate the mechanisms underlying things that organisms do. The goals of "prediction" and "control" form the basis of its experimental paradigms. The more recent "cognitive" sciences, whose models take advantage of digital computing and mathematical logic, have adopted Learning Theory's mechanistic commitment and vastly extended it without compromising the emphasis on prediction and control.
  • The other is Personality Theory: derived from a broad range of clinical procedures, it never developed core paradigms that could make its central concepts experimentally real. Personality Theory still consists largely of the abstractions of psychotherapists like Freud, Jung, Frankl and Rogers, expressed in metaphoric support structures designed to provide concreteness and plausibility. Its empiricism is literal but not experimental--an empiricism based primarily on the encounters of human beings related through social roles like "therapist", "patient", and "client".  Personaliy Theory generalizes from encounters that are intended to liberate people from needless self-imposed limitations, not to predict or control them further.
Selected Publications: 

Williams, D.R. & Barber, J.  (2009)  Freedoms Lost, Freedoms Regained, in Ciprut, Jose V. (Ed.) FREEDOM: Reassessments and Rephrasings.  Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 75-97.

Williams, D.R. (2009) Personhood, Peoplehood, and Polity, in Ciprut, Jose V. (Ed.) The Future of Citizenship.  Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 97-120.

Williams, D.R. (2009) Ego and Ethos, in Ciprut, Jose V. (Ed.) Ethics, Politics, and Democracy: From Primordial Principles to Prospective Practices.  Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 135-158.