Honoring Jim Blascovich

October 09, 2015

Jim Blascovich, Distinguished Professor and the Co-Founder and Director of the Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior, is planning to retire in March of 2016. Over the past 40 years, the last 20 of which were spent at UCSB, Jim’s many contributions have indelibly changed the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, the field of social psychology, and UCSB.

Jim received numerous awards and recognition in his career as a social psychologist. He served as the President for both of the major societies in the field of social psychology, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (in 2003) and the Society for Experimental Social Psychology (in 1996). Research awards include the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize for the top research publication in intergroup relations (in 2007) and the Sage Award for Best Article in Small Group Research (in 2011). He also received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research here at UCSB. The contributions of his many graduate students and postdoctoral collaborators are manifest as well; they continue to make seminal contributions to social neuroscience and understanding social influence in virtual reality.

As Chair of the Psychology Department (2000-2006), Jim secured the resources to launch the Sage Center for the Study of the Mind, the Brain Imaging Center, and (with colleague Jack Loomis) the Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior. Jim also “oversaw” completion of the Psychology East building. In describing the history of the new building he gives great credit to previous chairs, Loy Lytle and especially Aaron Ettenberg, for prioritizing the structure in the construction queue. Jim says, “As chair I did everything I could to push for the building and was able to get its size expanded by including a basement level. This was important for our initiative to build a strong cognitive neuroscience program.” When the Executive Vice Chancellor made a push to hire Distinguished Professors, Jim immediately thought of Mike Gazzaniga, the founder of cognitive neuroscience. Under Jim’s leadership, the Department hired Mike as well as nine other faculty members, substantially increasing the size and strength of the Department.

Jim also played a crucial role in the building of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), a professional organization of over 6000 social psychologists. Among his many roles during his continuous 25 years of service to the Society, Jim was the Secretary-Treasurer and then the first Executive Officer from 1989-1995 and later the President. Jim crafted and implemented a strategy that put the organization on the sound financial footing it still enjoys today. This includes negotiating with publishers for the rebirth and financial health of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and the launch of Personality and Social Psychology Review. In addition, he helped convince the SPSP Executive Committee to launch an annual convention, one that now attracts thousands of social psychologists from around the world. Not surprisingly, he received SPSP’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Society in 2005. Jim also served as a founding board member and president of the Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology, an organization that provides financial support for young faculty and other wide-ranging, long-term activities that enhance social psychology. The many social psychologists who have been honored by the Foundation appreciate Jim’s forward-looking leadership and fund raising in helping to foster this organization’s success.

In addition to all of these professional and administrative responsibilities, Jim is a model theoretician and a true pioneer for his scientific discoveries. He developed the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat and validated cardiovascular indexes of challenge and threat motivation that have since been used in hundreds of published studies by researchers around the world. As a consummate and innovative methodologist, he also introduced social psychologists and other scientists to the power of digital immersive virtual reality technology to create rich psychological experiences for research participants. He co-authored Infinite Reality: The Hidden Blueprint of our Virtual Lives with his former postdoctoral fellow and collaborator Jeremy Bailenson. Published in 2011, the book continues to grow more influential as use of virtual worlds expands in everyday life.

A common theme in all these accomplishments is that Jim is a “builder.” As a way of honoring Jim and continuing to build on what he’s helped develop over the years at UCSB, the social psychology area is launching the Jim Blascovich Campaign for Social Psychology at UCSB. The purpose of this campaign is to raise funds for recruiting and training graduate students in the social psychology program at UCSB. Interested social psychologists, collaborators, alumni, former students, and members of industry should consult the departmental giving page to contribute to this fund, as well as to keep abreast of the exciting further events that the department and university will hold in honor of Jim’s contributions to the field and the department.