Theodore Newcomb

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Theodore Newcomb
Born July 24, 1903
Rock Creek, Ohio
Died December 28, 1984
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Nationality American
Fields Psychologist
Alma mater Columbia University
Doctoral students Joseph E. McGrath
Susan M. Ervin-Tripp
Known for Proximity principle

Theodore Mead Newcomb (July 24, 1903 – December 28, 1984) was an American social psychologist, professor and author. Newcomb led the Bennington College Study, which looked at the influence of the college experience on social and political beliefs. He was also the first to document the effects of proximity on acquaintance and attraction. Newcomb founded and directed the doctoral program in social psychology at the University of Michigan. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Newcomb as the 57th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[1]


Early life[edit]

Theodore Newcomb was born in Rock Creek, Ohio on July 24, 1903. His father was a minister. Newcomb attended small rural schools until he started high school in Cleveland. After graduating as valedictorian of his high school, Newcomb graduated from Oberlin College and attended Union Theological Seminary. While at seminary, Newcomb decided to become a psychologist. He completed a PhD at Columbia University in 1929.[2]


Newcomb held academic appointments at Lehigh University (1929-1930), Case Western Reserve University (1930-1934), Bennington College (1934-1941) and the University of Michigan (1941-1972). He served in the military during World War II between 1942 and 1945. Shortly after his return from the war, Newcomb founded Michigan's Survey Research Center, which became the Institute for Social Research. He also founded Michigan's doctoral program in social psychology and he chaired the program from 1947 to 1953.[3] He was also editor of Psychological Review from 1954-1958 [4]


Newcomb led the Bennington College Study, an investigation into the attitudes and beliefs of students through their college careers.[2] The study highlighted the importance of reference groups in late adolescence for the development of social and political beliefs. It was also the first major study to interview a group of participants about their beliefs several times over a period of time.

One expectation from his theory is that persons who like each other will with increased contact gradually come to agree more on topics of mutual relevance. In a reanalysis of Newcommb's data, Wackman shows that the major change over time in the acquaintance process is toward increased accuracy of perceiving the friend's position - rather than toward greater agreement or balance.

Newcomb also studied factors associated with acquaintance and attraction, including the proximity principle. In one study, Newcomb looked at roommates assigned at random and found that they were likely to become friends.[5]


Newcomb died at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1984. He had suffered a stroke three weeks earlier.[6]


  • Newcomb, Theodore M.: The Love of Ideas (1980)
  • Newcomb, Theodore M.: Social Psychology (1950)[7]
  • Newcomb, Theodore M., Ralph H. Turner, and Philip E. Converse: Social Psychology: The Study of Human Interaction (1965)
  • Newcomb, Theodore M.: Persistence and change: Bennington College and its Students After 25 Years (1967)
  • Newcomb, Theodore M.: Personality and social change: Attitude Formation in a Student Community (1943)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; et al. (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century". Review of General Psychology 6 (2): 139–152. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139. 
  2. ^ a b Biographical Memoirs, Vol. 64. National Academies Press. 1994. pp. 322–335. 
  3. ^ "Theodore Mead Newcomb Papers: Biography". Michigan Historical Collections. Bentley Historical Library. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  4. ^ Kintsch, Walter; Cacioppo, John T. (1994). "Introduction to the 100th Anniversary Issue of the Psychological Review". Psychological Review 101 (2): 195–199. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.101.2.195. 
  5. ^ Forsyth, Donelson (2009). Group Dynamics. Cengage Learning. p. 105. ISBN 0495599522. 
  6. ^ "Theodore M. Newcomb Dies; Pioneer in Social Psychology". The New York Times. December 31, 1984. Retrieved March 16, 2013. 
  7. ^
Educational offices
Preceded by
E. Lowell Kelly
65th President of the American Psychological Association
Succeeded by
Lee J. Cronbach