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5 Influential Psychologists Today

5 Important Contemporary Psychologists

  • Albert Bandura
  • Steven Pinker
  • Martin Seligman
  • Philip Zimbardo
  • Alison Gopnik

Influential psychologists today may work in a number of different fields, including social, cognitive, developmental, experimental and more. Many people both in and out of the field may be familiar with some of the big names in the history of psychology, such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and B.F. Skinner. They may be less familiar with some of the prominent psychologists working today although many of them are known from TV or popular books. Below are five psychologists working now who are influential.

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1. Albert Bandura

Bandura has had a distinguished career for almost 60 years, but it is as the founder of social learning or social cognitive theory that he is best known. Bandura’s well-known Bobo doll experiment examined how children might learn violent behavior from adults although in subsequent years his theories moved more toward an emphasis on people having agency and self-control. The popular cognitive behavioral therapy draws in part on his theories of self-control or “self-efficacy.” Today, Bandura is the David Starr Jordan Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University.

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2. Steven Pinker

Pinker’s popular books have won him a large audience outside the field of psychology, and he has received two Pulitzer nominations. He is considered one of the most influential psychologists today in the area of language and psychology, or psycholinguistics, as well as cognitive psychology. As Pinker discussed in an article in The New York Times, his 2018 book that looked at data on violence and other measures of how healthy societies were caused controversy when it argued that the world was improving.

3. Martin Seligman

As is the case with Pinker, many people may be familiar with Seligman from his bestselling books on what is often called “positive psychology,” such as Flourish and Authentic Happiness. However, some people from outside the field of psychology may also know about his theory of “learned helplessness.” Learned helplessness posits that trauma leaves people with a sense of powerlessness that they may struggle to overcome even in other situations in which they could do so. Seligman’s later work has continued to make him one of the most influential psychologists today and has focused largely on how people experience happiness.

4. Philip Zimbardo

Many people who may not know Zimbardo by name may have heard of his famous Stanford Prison Experiment. He became one of the most influential psychologists today partly for this 1971 experiment that set up a mock prison in which guards and prisoners fell into their roles with alarming ease. Although the experiment remains controversial for both its ethics and methodology, as discussed by BBC News, many feel that it provided insight into how ordinary people can behave in inhumane ways. Today, Zimbardo is a professor emeritus at Stanford University.

5. Alison Gopnik

Gopnik specializes in developmental and cognitive psychology. Gopnik’s bestselling book, The Philosophical Baby, detailed her work and findings in using mathematical models to describe how infants learn. This work demonstrated that in the “nature versus nurture” debate, “nature” plays a significant role and that children are not necessarily blank slates that can be imprinted upon in a developmental sense.

Psychology is still a relatively young science compared to some others, and there remains much to be discovered about the human mind. People who are interested in pursuing a career in psychology may find role models in these or other influential psychologists today and might go on to wield a similar influence themselves.