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Foreword: Making a Creative Difference = Person × Environment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

Robert J. Sternberg
Affiliation:
Cornell University, New York
Susan T. Fiske
Affiliation:
Princeton University, New Jersey
Donald J. Foss
Affiliation:
University of Houston
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Summary

Obviously this volume is a Who's Who of contemporary behavioral and neuroscience. In my teaching days, I believe I could have organized an entire Introduction to Psychology course just by describing the work of the individuals listed in the Table of Contents. And it is easy to focus on these names: they represent some of the smartest and most creative individuals in the world, resilient scholars not afraid of hard work or failure.

But as a social psychologist (and one with clinical training), I am also aware of the context in which these individuals carried out this wonderful work – the settings in which these ideas were developed, experiments designed, and findings communicated. Social psychologists place great importance on context – situations and environments that shape behavior. The father of modern social psychology, Kurt Lewin, famously articulated the first principle of this emerging field of study: B = f (P, E). Behavior is a function of the person, his or her environment, and the interaction between the two. This simple formula may seem like a truism to any student of psychology, but it serves to remind us that behavior is not motivated in a vacuum. We may believe we are the architects of our actions – especially our accomplishments – but, in fact, the environments in which we find ourselves, and the manner in which we as individuals respond to those environments, can create huge differences in outcomes that we often assign “merely” to individual agency or internal attributes such as “grit” or determination.

So, let me tell a little story and then circle back to this amazing volume. On a trip to Sweden a few years ago, my wife and I visited the Nobel Museum, a wonderful place located in what was once the Stockholm Stock Exchange. We appreciated a presentation designed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize. Remarkably, at what anyone would expect to be the ultimate glorification of the individual person and self-directed accomplishment, the theme of the Museum's Centennial Exhibition was Cultures of Creativity.

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Scientists Making a Difference
One Hundred Eminent Behavioral and Brain Scientists Talk about Their Most Important Contributions
, pp. xxi - xxiv
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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