Leon Festinger papers: 1939-1988 (bulk 1965-1985)
Summary Information
Title: Leon Festinger papers
Creator: Festinger, Leon, 1919-
Inclusive dates: 1939-1988
Bulk dates: 1965-1985
Extent: 3.5 linear feet (in 5 boxes)
Abstract:
Social psychologist, specialist in the theory of cognitive dissonance, with interest in the fields of visual perception, archaeology and pre-historic social organization. Papers, primarily from his years at Stanford University, include correspondence, speeches, unpublished articles, reports, some research material and files relating to various professional organizations and meetings.
Call number: 90165 Aa 2
Language: The materials are in English.
Repository: Bentley Historical Library
1150 Beal Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2113
Phone: 734-764-3482
Fax: 734-936-1333
e-mail: bentley.ref@umich.edu
Home Page: http://www.bentley.umich.edu/
Finding aid prepared by: Charles A. Tamason, May 1990

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Materials donated in 1990 by Trudy Festinger, wife of Leon Festinger (Donor No. 7776).

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research except for Box 4 which will be open in 2025.

To protect fragile audiovisual recordings (such as audio cassettes, film reels, and VHS tapes), the Bentley Historical Library has a policy of converting them to digital formats by a professional vendor whenever a researcher requests access. For more information, please see: http://bentley.umich.edu/research/duplication/.

Copyright:

Copyright of unpublished works has been transferred to the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan except for speeches which may not be published in whole without donor approval. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.

Preferred Citation:

item, folder title, box no., Leon Festinger Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan


Biography

An internationally renowned social psychologist, Leon Festinger was responsible for the development of the theory of cognitive dissonance in the 1950s. He taught only briefly at the University of Michigan (1948-1951) but is considered to be one of the founders of the university's Institute for Social Research. In his later career, he researched and published in a number of other fields including visual perception, archaeology and early human history.

Born in New York City in 1919, Leon Festinger received his B.S. from City College of New York in 1939. He studied under Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in social psychology, at the University of Iowa where he received his M.A. in 1940 and Ph.D. in 1942. His early interest was in precise quantitative measurements in psychology as is reflected in his doctoral dissertation based on a mathematical model of decision-making. During World War II, Festinger worked as a senior statistician for the Committee on Selection and Training of Aircraft Pilots at the University of Rochester. In 1945, he joined Kurt Lewin, Ronald Lippitt, and several other psychologists as an assistant professor at the Research Center for Group Dynamics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the center, research was oriented toward the study of social action and real-world social problems and Festinger gradually became more interested in problems in social psychology.

When Kurt Lewin died in 1947, the young research center at M.I.T. was faced with dissolution but shortly found a new home in Ann Arbor. Many years later, Festinger explained the move to the University of Michigan when he wrote, "With the help of Rensis Likert, director of the Survey Research Center, and Donald Marquis, head of the Psychology Department, we moved the Research Center for Group Dynamics in 1948, faculty, students and all, to the University of Michigan, where we, together with the Survey Research Center, constituted a newly created Institute for Social Research. Thus, Michigan, which already had Theodore Newcomb and Daniel Katz on its faculty, became a huge institution with regard to social psychology." While at Michigan, Festinger co-edited Research Methods in the Behavioral Sciences- a widely used text in psychology.

In 1951, Festinger left Michigan for the University of Minnesota and then in 1954 he moved on to Stanford University. While at Stanford, he published some of his most important works in social psychology. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance appeared in 1957. This theory holds that dissonance between two sets of ideas or values is tension provoking for an individual and that various strain-reducing techniques will be utilized by that individual to make the two sets consonant. A field study of cognitive dissonance, When Prophecy Fails, was also published while Festinger was at Stanford. This work was based upon observations of a religious group which believed that they would be rescued by space ships before the world ended in a giant flood on December 21, 1954.

In 1964, Festinger's research interests changed. As he explained in Retrospections on Social Psychology, which he edited, "I left the field of social psychology in 1964. This had nothing to do with the importance of the problems - they are very important - or with the vitality of the field - it was, and remains, vigorous. It had to do only with a conviction that had been growing in me at the time that I, personally, was in a rut and needed an injection of intellectual stimulation from new sources to remain productive." Festinger turned his attention to the study of perception and consciousness and, in particular, to visual perception. Through a careful technical analysis of eye movements, he hoped to discover how an internal readiness to receive visual information combined with the incoming visual input to produce the conscious experience of visual perception.

In 1968, Festinger left Stanford to become the Else and Hans Staudinger Professor of Psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York City. At the New School, he continued his work on the measurement of visual perception and authored many journal articles on this subject during the 1970s. Around 1978, his academic interests again changed focus. He began a study of the social organization of pre-historic groups and especially the development of specialized functions within these groups. The results of this research, based largely upon archaeological sources, were published in his monograph The Human Legacy, in 1983.

While Festinger's intellectual pursuits changed over the years, certain interests remained constant. Throughout his career, he was considered to be an especially insightful reviewer and his critical judgments were eagerly sought by book publishers, journal editors, and many organizations. He served as a consultant to governmental, military, and private institutions. He also maintained a keen interest in international scholarly cooperation. He participated in many international conferences, was a visiting professor in Japan, and an Einstein Visiting Fellow in Israel. He also kept up a wide circle of international correspondence. Among his many honors, Festinger was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also received the Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Psychological Association and an honorary doctorate from the University of Mannheim.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Leon Festinger papers document the career of one of the leading psychologists of our time. Material exists from all phases of his career and shows evidence of his work in social psychology, visual perception, and pre-historic social organization. However, as Festinger noted on several occasions, much material was jettisoned to lighten the load for each move to a new university. Consequently, more documentation exists from his later career (especially after the mid-1960s) than from earlier periods. Except for occasional reminiscences, very little information is included regarding time spent at the University of Michigan or his association with the Institute for Social Research. While the collection contains only limited primary research material, references to that research and to his many experiments in social psychology and perception may be found in his correspondence. His activities as a reviewer, consultant, and proponent of international academic cooperation are especially well-documented in his correspondence. The original arrangement of the Leon Festinger collection has largely been maintained. The collection is divided into three series: Early Writing and Research (1939-1957); Alphabetical Files (1950-1989); and Reprint File (1940-1986).

Subject Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the finding aid database and catalog of The Bentley Historical Library/University of Michigan. Researchers desiring additional information about related topics should search the catalog using these headings.


  • Cognitive dissonance.
  • Social psychology.
  • Visual perception.
  • Photographs.
  • Festinger, Leon, 1919-1989.
  • Festinger, Leon, 1919-1989.
Contents List
Request materials for use in the Bentley Library
Container / Location Title
 
Early Writing and Research (1939-1957) [series]

Perhaps the best overview of Festinger's career can be obtained from the folder "Leon Festinger: personal histories and obituaries" which assembles background information on Festinger's life at the beginning of the series Early Writing and Research (1939-1957). This series is chronologically arranged and contains his M.A. and Ph.D. theses from the University of Iowa. Several unpublished studies from the 1940s and 1950s and correspondence regarding his Ford Foundation grant which sponsored his early work on cognitive dissonance are also included. Festinger's work for the Navy during World War II on visual decision-making by aircraft pilots is reported in the file "A Test of Decision-Time: Reliability and Generality."

Box   1  
Leon Festinger: Personal histories and obituaries
Box   1  
Experiments in Suggestibility, honors thesis, City College of New York 1939
Box   1  
Wish, Expectations and Group Performance as Factors Influencing Level of Aspiration, M.A. thesis, University of Iowa 1940
Box   1  
"The Role of Decision in Learning and Extinction", unpublished paper 1941
Box   1  
An Empirical Test of a Theory of Decision, Ph.D. thesis, University of Iowa 1942
Box   1  
"A Test of Decision-Time: Reliability and 'Generality'" with Seymour Wapner, a study used for the selection and training of aircraft pilots conducted at the University of Rochester 1945
Box   1  
Statistics examinations in social psychology, (M.I.T.?) 1946
Box   1  
"Notes on the Character of a Permutation" by E.E. Chittenden 1946

(Festinger's notes and comments)

Box   1  
Individual Changes in Communication Experiment, with John Thibaut (inconclusive results) 1949
Box   1  
Undated experiments and research from the, 1940s 1940-1949, Undated
 
Ford Foundation Grant (research project in communication) 1952-1954
Box   1  
Research grant (proposals and correspondence)
Box   1  
Meetings 1952
Box   1  
Memos from Alvin Boderman and Jack Brehm
Box   1  
Memos from Leon Festinger
Box   1  
Memos from Don Martindale
Box   1  
Memos relevant to cognitive dissonance theory
Box   1  
Frederick Mosteller, "The Combination of Independent Probabilities", unpublished manuscript (Festinger's critique) 1954
Box   1  
Ford Foundation Grant (cognitive dissonance) 1957
Box   1  
"The Motivating Effect of Cognitive Dissonance," 1957

(Colorado symposium paper)

Box   1  
Undated experiments and research from the, 1950s 1950-1959, Undated
 
Alphabetical Files (1950-1989) [series]

Alphabetical Files (1950-1989) is the largest of the three series and is primarily a correspondence file although Festinger's speeches, consulting reports, and critical evaluations (of experiments, books and journal articles) are also included. Festinger worked for many years as a consultant for the Behavioral Research Service of the General Electric Company and for various branches of the military in their efforts to increase worker productivity and test for leadership skills. "The President's Science Advisory Committee" documents Festinger's work in evaluating the civil defense shelter program and in developing a national agenda for the behavioral sciences in the early 1960s under the Kennedy administration.

Box   1  
A
Box   1  
Academic Press 1965-1972
Box   1  
Advisory Councils of the City College of New York (social sciences and engineering) 1980-1983
Box   1  
Air Force Research Center (Festinger's evaluations of military-funded social science research) 1950-1957
Box   1  
Air Force research project 1957-1958

(contains correspondence and two reports by Leon Festinger: "Research on Ideology Change Through Forced Compliance" and "Some Attempts to Measure Tolerance for Dissonance")

 
American Psychological Association
Box   1  
Address by Leon Festinger ("Some Thoughts about the Innate Characteristics of Humans") 1980
Box   1  
Division of Personality and Social Psychology 1962-1963
Box   1  
General 1959-1984
Box   1  
Proposal: "Ethics of Research with Human Subjects" 1968
Box   1  
Scientific Development Board 1954-1955
Box   1  
American Telephone and Telegraph Company 1970

(includes speech entitled "Experimental Social Psychology")

Box   1  
Aronson, Elliot 1960-1989
Box   1  
Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Disease 1968-1969
Box   1  
B
Box   1  
Bad Homberg conferences (social psychology) 1983-1987
Box   1  
Brehm, Jack
Box   1  
C
Box   1  
Canon, Lance K. 1968-1971
Box   1  
Carnegie Institute of Technology talk ("Some Reflections Concerning Social Psychology") 1965
Box   1  
Center for Creative Leadership 1968-1973
Box   1  
Cognitive Neuroscience Institute 1981-1986
Box   1  
Cohen, Arthur 1960-1964
Box   1  
Colby, Kenneth 1968-1984
Box   1  
Columbia University Seminar 1986
Box   1  
E
Box   1  
Eastern Psychological Association 1969

(contains speech, "Some Thoughts About Color Perception")

Box   1  
Engineers Joint Council 1960-1962
Box   1  
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc
Box   2  
F
Box   2  
Faucheux, Claude 1965-1974
 
Festinger, Leon
Box   2  
Curriculum Vita 1959-1982
Box   2  
Personal 1968-1975
Box   2  
Follow Through Program, Stanford Research Institute 1971-1973
Box   2  
G
Box   2  
Gazzaniga, Michael 1968-1982
 
General Electric Company
Box   2  
Correspondence and reports 1957-1970 (5 folders)
Box   2  
Correspondence with Stacy J. Adams 1958-1964
Box   2  
Louisville study 1957
Box   2  
Manager's study 1963
Box   2  
Gumenik, William 1965-1966
Box   2  
H
Box   2  
Hiniker, Paul J. 1964-1983
Box   2  
Hirsch, Helmut 1975-1976
Box   2  
Hochberg, Julian
Box   2  
Human Resources Research Office, United States Army 1951-1957
Box   2  
I
Box   2  
Ierardi, Gorden S., (John Wiley & Sons) 1964
Box   2  
Institute for Defense Analysis 1963

(contains conference proceedings: "Personality Assessment for Communication Effectiveness", April, 1962)

Box   2  
Irle, Martin 1965-1983
Box   2  
J
Box   2  
K
Box   2  
Katz, Daniel 1963-1964
Box   2  
L
Box   2  
Lewin, Kurt, (contains "The Contribution of Kurt Lewin to Psychology" by Marian Radke and Leon Festinger)
Box   2  
Luce, Duncan 1978
Box   2  
M
Box   2  
Malewski, Andraej 1962-1965
Box   2  
Mannheim Conference 1983

(contains paper by Leon Festinger,"Reflections on How to Study and Understand the Human Being")

 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Box   2  
Petition from the Research Center for Group Dynamics to remain at M.I.T. (1947 ?)
Box   2  
Seminar talk ("The Application of Behavioral Science Knowledge") 1969
Box   2  
Mills, Judson 1960-1984
Box   2  
Moscovici, Serge 1965-1989
Box   2  
Moscow International Congress of Psychology 1966
Box   2  
N
Box   2  
National Academy of Professional Psychologists
Box   2  
National Academy of Sciences 1961-1980
Box   2  
National Institute of Health 1961
 
National Research Council
Box   2  
Assembly of Behavioral and Social Sciences 1973-1982
Box   2  
Committee on Occupational Classification and Analysis 1977-1981
Box   2  
Committee on Vision 1975-1982
Box   2  
New School for Social Research 1981-1987
Box   2  
New York Academy of

(Sciences (includes talk "Eye Movements and Visual Perception"))

Box   2  
O
Box   2  
P
Box   2  
Perception Consortium 1968-1970
 
President's Science Advisory Committee
Box   2  
Subcommittee on the Behavioral Sciences 1961-1962
Box   2  
Subcommittee on Civil Defense 1961-1963
 
Program in Visual Perception (New School for Social Research)
Box   2  
Baker, Donald 1971-1974
Box   2  
Brussell, Edward M. 1972-1977
Box   2  
Burnham, Clarke 1966-1969
Box   2  
Coren, Stanley 1974-1979
Box   2  
Fried, Aharon H. 1971
Box   2  
General 1970-1977
Box   2  
Holtzman, Jeffrey D. 1974
Box   2  
Sedgwick, Harold 1971
Box   2  
Sirigatti, Saulo 1973-1974
Box   2  
Young, Richard 1972-1979
Box   2  
R
Box   2  
Replications in Social Psychology 1978-1982

(correspondence with this journal)

Box   2  
Research Methods in the Behavioral Sciences 1951-1965

(correspondence with publisher)

Box   2  
RIAS 1956

(includes text of Berlin radio broadcast of "Characteristic Types of Social Behavior and Group Formation in Offices and Factories")

Box   2  
Rommetveit, Ragnar 1964-1988
Box   2  
Rutten, F.J. Th. (includes speech "Basic Research on Problems of Human Relations") 1956-1965
Box   3  
S
Box   3  
Schachter, Stanley 1962-1986
Box   3  
Schonbach, Peter 1965-1981
Box   3  
Schramm, Wilbur (includes Voice of America lecture by Festinger) 1961
Box   3  
Skavenski, Alex 1971-1972
 
Sloan Foundation
Box   3  
Correspondence 1980-1986
Box   3  
Seminars and Conferences 1982-1988
 
Social Science Research Council
Box   3  
Amsterdam Meeting 1969
Box   3  
Barcelona Meeting 1967
Box   3  
Bratislava Meeting 1970
Box   3  
Center for Cultural and Technical Interchange Between East and West 1965-1966
Box   3  
Committee on Social Behavior 1952-1955
Box   3  
Committee on Transnational Psychology 1964-1965
Box   3  
Correspondence 1971-1972
Box   3  
Latin American correspondence and visits 1966-1974
Box   3  
Montevideo Meeting 1969
Box   3  
Planning Conference on Communication and Interpersonal Influence 1952
Box   3  
Prague Meeting 1968
Box   3  
Vienna Meeting 1967
Box   3  
Stanford University Press 1970-1976
Box   3  
Stanford University, Department of Psychology 1965-1968
Box   3  
State University of New York, State College of Optometry 1968-1978
Box   3  
Studnicki, F. 1957-1984
Box   3  
T
Box   3  
Tajfel, Henri 1964-1982
Box   3  
Tanaka, Yoshihisa 1959-1965
Box   3  
A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance 1955-1962

(correspondence regarding copyright and publication)

Box   3  
Thibaut, John 1967
Box   3  
Toda, Masanao 1960-1972
Box   3  
Tokyo International Congress of Psychology 1972
Box   3  
Tyler, Ralph 1956-1963
Box   3  
UFO's Past and Present (movie consultation) 1974
Box   3  
Urbana talk ("Opinion Change Without Group Discussion")
Box   3  
V
Box   3  
Varela, Jacob 1960-1985
Box   3  
W
Box   3  
When Prophecy Fails 1956-1986

(correspondence regarding copyright, publication and criticisms)

Box   3  
Willerman, Ben 1955-1962
Box   3  
Z
Box   3  
Zimbardo, Phillip 1961-1987
 
Miscellaneous [series]

The folder "When Prophecy Fails" contains correspondence regarding publication, copyright, and dramatic rights to the work. Festinger's defense of the research methodology used in When Prophecy Fails can also be found in this folder. Notes and transcribed recordings used in preparation for writing the book remain closed until 2025 (Box 4). Researchers interested in Festinger's work on early human social groups should consult the folders "Human Legacy" and "Sloan Foundation" (sponsor of the research).

The Reprint File (1940-1986) contains copies of Festinger's published journal articles and chapters contributed to various edited works. A complete bibliography, which also includes references to his published monographs, may be found at the beginning of this series. Finally, a package of seven cassette tapes from a conference on early religions held in Seville, Spain in 1983 and photographs of Festinger may be found at the end of this series (see Box 5).

Box   3  
Reprint File (1940-1986)

(see complete bibliography at the beginning of the reprint file)

Box   4  
When Prophecy Fails (original transcripts) [Closed until January 01, 2025]
Box   5  
Photographs and award certificates
Box   5  
Tape recordings of Seville, Spain meeting regarding early religions, 1983

(see Sloan Foundation: seminars and conferences for more information on this meeting)