Focusing on Behavior | Butler Stories
Dr. Craig A. Anderson ’76

Focusing on Behavior

from Spring 2019

Dr. Craig A. Anderson ’76 has been on the leading edge of research about aggression for over 40 years. In February, his efforts were recognized with the Distinguished Scholar Award from the Society of Personality and Social Psychology.

The award honors a scholar who has made distinctively valuable research contributions across his or her career that bridge personality and social psychology or bridge personality or social psychology with another field (i.e., law, education, organizations, or medicine).

“Dr. Anderson’s work is remarkable not only for its sheer quantity and quality but also for its breadth,” says Distinguished Scholar Award selection committee member and University of Texas at Austin Psychology Professor Sam Gosling. “His research spans a wide range of areas, including judgment and decision-making; depression, loneliness, and shyness; personality theory and measurement; attribution theory; and human aggression.

“His work is also particularly notable for its applied implications well beyond the realms of academia; this feature is perhaps best illustrated by his groundbreaking work looking at the effects of media violence on behavior.”

He traces his interest in aggression to his childhood.

“I was a fairly angry child,” says Anderson, who grew up on a farm in Northern Indiana. “I was always one of the smallest in my class, getting picked on. I distinctly recall a point at 15 or 16 when I realized being angry wasn’t satisfying or productive.”

Not long after this epiphany, Anderson nearly got an up-closeand- personal look at aggression in its most institutionalized form. Attending the University of Notre Dame during the Vietnam War, he felt safe from joining the fight—at least until graduation. Suddenly, in 1971, President Richard Nixon cancelled student deferments, making undergraduates like Anderson subject to the draft.

“It was clear I was going to be drafted while still in college, and they were sending everyone to Vietnam,” he says. “So, I voluntarily joined an Army Reserve unit.” Anderson attended basic training and vehicle mechanic school at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, then tank mechanic school at Fort Knox.

Once he knew he could fulfill his reservist duties primarily on the weekends, Anderson turned back to his studies. He accepted a scholarship to Butler.

From the time he got to Butler—where his senior research project examined whether a researcher’s gender could influence the outcomes of a study—Anderson has been intrigued by the motivations behind people’s behavior.

“I’ve always been interested in what influences the way people think,” Anderson says. “How humans interpret the world underlies all my research.”

He says the Psychology Department at Butler helped his life’s work get off to a good start.

During those years, he also met and dated Dona Caprice (“Cappi”) Odom ’77, who was attending Butler’s School of Pharmacy.

They spent a lot of time together in the Psychology Department. Then one day, he recalls, one of his professors, Dr. J. William Hepler, took him aside and said, “‘Anderson, you’ve got to marry this girl. Not only can she can cook, but she can earn a living, and you’re not going to be able to make any money!’ So, I did.”

They just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. (Their daughter Caitlin graduated from Butler in 2012 with a degree in Psychology.)

After Anderson graduated from Butler, he went on to earn his master’s and doctorate from Stanford University. He taught at Rice University, Ohio State, and University of Missouri- Columbia before joining the Iowa State University faculty in 1999 as Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology.

“He is undeniably the most well-known, accomplished alumnus of the Psychology Department at Butler, and he’s very important as a social psychologist and a psychologist in general,” says Provost and Professor of Psychology Kate Morris. “His work is compelling and impactful—he’s testified before Congress. We’re obviously proud to have him as an alumnus.”