HCEO recently sat down with IP network member William Revelle to discuss his wide-ranging interests in psychology, and how technology has revolutionized the field.
"My main area of research is personality, broadly defined," Revelle says. "I call it the last refuge of the generalist."
His research interests include the structure of personality and emotion, the biological basis of personality and motivation, psychometric theory, the structure of daily mood, and models of attention and memory.
In recent work, Revelle has examined how a person's economic background influences their choice of college major and eventual occupation. "The striking effect," he says, "is that economic background makes a real difference in all kinds of opportunities one is exposed to and also how one takes advantage of those opportunities."
Revelle also discusses the ways that new technologies have transformed his work. "Much of science is driven by changes in technology," he says, citing the impact that Galileo's telescope had on science in the 1600s. "Psychology has been revolutionized by the use of the smartphone, as a way of collecting data within subjects. Or the use of computers to collect data on the web. This has just completely changed the way we collect data and think about data."
Though outside his area of study, Revelle notes the impact that behavior genetics has had on psychology. "What's interesting about some of the genetic work is you can use it to measure inequalities," he says. "In the United States, for instance, the heritability of intelligence is much higher among the wealthy than it is among the poor. So you get a differential heritability across social class, whereas in the UK, much of Europe, and Australia, that doesn't exist. What this partly implies is that there's much more inequity in the United States across social class. The higher the heritability the more equal the environments."
Revelle has been a professor of psychology at Northwestern University since 1973 where he directs the graduate program in personality psychology.