Daniel Wegner | Trinity University

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Daniel Wegner

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

It is with deep sadness we announce the death of Daniel Wegner, a former professor of psychology at Trinity University. Wegner passed away Friday, July 5, at his home in Massachusetts.

Throughout his almost 40-year academic career, Wegner was recognized for his work that focused on the role of thought in self-control and in social life. He is remembered for his famous "white bear" studies, in which people become preoccupied with a white bear when they are merely asked not to think about it. Wegner first came up with the study and wrote about it with help from a pair of Trinity students and a colleague from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

He was also known for his controversial work, The Illusion of Conscience Will,& where he argued that the human sense of free will was an illusion.

Known for his sharp sense of humor, his office at Trinity featured posters of b-grade movies such as "Beach Girls and the Monster" and "Goliath and the Vampires." He was also one of the authors of "The Pysch-Illogical Dictionary," a column in Psychology Today that featured odd definitions to everyday terms. Examples include "Eye contact: the result of a very narrow nose" and "Propaganda: what to do with a male goose that has slumped over."

A native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Wegner attended Michigan State University, where he received a bachelor's, master's, and doctorate in psychology.

Wegner joined Trinity's psychology department as an assistant professor in 1974 and was promoted to associate professor in 1979. He became a full professor in 1985 and served as chair of the department from 1988 to 1989.

"Dan Wegner had a transformative impact on the department of psychology. His national reputation, indeed international reputation, marked a time of incredible change in the Trinity faculty in psychology," said Charles White, vice president for Information Resources, Communications and Marketing and professor of psychology. "That he was sought and hired by universities like the University of Virginia and Harvard was based upon work he began at Trinity with his students. He is still fondly remembered by colleagues and alumni at Trinity."

Wegner left Trinity in 1990 to become a professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Social Psychology at the University of Virginia.  In 2000, he joined Harvard University, where he was named the John Lindsley Professor of Psychology in Memory of William James in 2011.

During his distinguished career, Wegner was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto, California, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a recipient of the William James Fellow Award from the Association for Psychological Science.

Among his additional honors, he received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology.

His books include Implicit Psychology (1977) and A Theory of Action Identification (1985), both with Robin Vallacher; White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts (1989) and The Illusion of Conscious Will (2002), with Dan Schacter and Dan Gilbert;Psychology (2nd ed. 2011); and Introducing Psychology (2010).

In September 2011, Harvard organized "A Conference in Honor of Daniel Wegner" to celebrate his life and work.

He is survived by his wife, Toni, a Trinity alumna, and daughters Kelsey Hurlburt and Haley Wegner. A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at the Winchester Unitarian Society, 478 Main St., Winchester, MA, 01890.