Former psychology professor dies
Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 01:01
UConn’s Professor Emeritus of Psychology Julian B. Rotter died at the age of 97 in his residence on January 6th, 2014.
A professor emeritus is an instructor who has retired from teaching yet maintains a symbolic title after their career has ended. The title is reserved for those who have “put their time in,” and those that have had long and distinguished careers like Rotter’s.
Born in October of 1916, Rotter’s early years were spent in Brooklyn, New York, where he was raised by his parents Abraham Rotter and Bessie Goldstein Rotter, and where he directly experienced the effects of the Great Depression. During these drawn out years of depression, Rotter was an intimate witness to how much the environment a person is a part of shapes their disposition and understanding of the world, as he saw his father struggle with a once successful business, and felt the impact of financial hardship on his family. In his formative academic years, Rotter’s attention was drawn to the work of psychotherapists Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler.
Following his high school graduation, Rotter began a long and prolific career in academia. After gathering a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Brooklyn College, he enrolled in the State University of Iowa. Once he finished his schooling there, he attended Indiana University and received a doctorate for clinical psychology in 1941. In that year of transition for Rotter, he also married his first wife: Clara E. Barnes Rotter, and the two were married until her death in 1985.
Immediately after completing his doctorate education, Rotter enlisted in the U.S. army. He worked at first as a personnel consultant in the Army, later moving to aviation psychologist for the Air Force.
After his service Rotter returned to his path towards becoming a professional academic. He taught at Ohio State University and was their director of the clinical psychology training program for eleven years, until 1963. That is when he came to the University of Connecticut and worked as the director of their clinical psychology training program. He held this position for 24 years until his retirement in 1987.
Marianne L. Barton, an Associate Clinical Professor at UConn, was also a graduate student of Rotter’s while he directed UConn’s psychology training program. Barton spoke of Rotter reverentially: “Jules was a wonderful teacher who believed passionately in the values he passed on to his students,” she said. “He also was a kind and generous mentor. As Director of Clinical Training he knew the graduate students, watched over us in his quiet, non-intrusive way, and offered advice, support and opportunities when we least expected it. I think some people would argue that Jules’ greatest legacy was social learning theory. I think his real legacy was a generation of psychologists who think carefully, study Psychology rigorously and mentor as he did. He was a fine person and I am grateful to have known him.”
Rotter was the recipient of many awards, though he professed that he did not put much stock into them. He was on a list of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century; 18th in frequency of citations in academic journal articles and 64th in overall eminence.
Rotter’s second wife, Doffie Hochreich Rotter, his brother, Saul Rotter, and Jean Rotter, his daughter, survive his legacy. Rotter’s son Richard and brother Norman both passed away during his lifetime.
Despite his many contributions to the field of psychology, Rotter was best known for his social learning theory and his locus of control theory. While his locus of control theory has undergone much scrutiny and research, and has subsequently been looked upon as his greatest work, Rotter was of the opinion that his Social Learning Theory was his most influential work.
The social learning theory, Rotter’s first breakthrough and lauded publication, states that personality is the interaction between a person and his or her environment. That is to say personality is not innate, and that the environment an individual resides in provides the individual with a unique set of experiences and, consequentially, a unique personality.
Professor Barton took the time to comment on Rotter’s research: “In many ways Social Learning Theory anticipated the development of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which is extremely influential in clinical practice today.”
The locus of control is Rotter’s inquest into how much people believe they mold the events of their life and the world’s response to their actions. In this theory is a spectrum. On one side are those with an external locus of control. These people see their experiences as pre ordained or serendipitous. Those with an internal locus of control see the world’s reinforcements as direct results or consequences of their behavior.
From Rotter’s illustrious body of work in examining an individual’s relationship with their environment, to his sacrifice in the armed forces and his healthy and lasting family life, it is clear that UConn’s Professor Emeritus of Psychology was no ordinary man.