James D. Laird, professor emeritus of psychology, died on Dec. 26, 2020, at the home of his daughter in Lincoln, Vermont. He was surrounded by his family.
Laird joined the faculty of the Frances L. Hiatt School of Psychology after earning his doctorate from the University of Rochester, and stayed at Clark for his entire career. He served in many university posts, including chair of the Frances L. Hiatt School of Psychology.
In his research, Laird explored feelings: how they arise, affect behavior, and may be controlled and organized. Perhaps his most significant contribution to psychology was in what is referred to as “self-perception theory,” which contends that feelings are the consequence, not the cause, of behavior. This theory has been cited in many media outlets through the years as a way for people to improve their mood — we can make ourselves happier just by smiling.
Laird’s dozens of publications include the influential papers “Self-Attribution of Emotion: The Effects of Expressive Behavior on the Quality of Emotional Experience” (1974) and “Emotion-Specific Effects of Facial Expressions and Postures on Emotional Experience” (1989). His 2007 book, “Feelings: The Perception of Self,” presents a summary of his decades of self-perception research.
The James Laird Fellowship in Social Psychology has been established by his family and friends to provide financial assistance for graduate students who are focusing their research on social psychology. To make a gift in Professor Laird’s honor, click here.