|Dr. Walter Mischel is the Robert Johnston Niven Professor of Humane Letters in Psychology at Columbia University where he has been since 1983. Before Columbia, he taught at the University of Colorado (1956-1958), Harvard University (1958-1962), and Stanford University (1962-1983). He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991, and in 2007 was elected president of the Association for Psychological Science (APS). Mischel’s work over 50 years has (1) re-conceptualized research and theory in personality and social psychology on the stability and variability of behavior and its links to situations; (2) clarified basic mechanisms underlying delay of gratification, and future-oriented self-control; and (3) traced the implications of self-control ability for development over the life course. He received the APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, the Distinguished Scientist Award of the Society of Experimental Social Psychologists, the Distinguished Contributions to Personality Award of the Society of Social and Personality Psychologists, and the Distinguished Scientist Award of APA's Division of Clinical Psychology. He is past editor of Psychological Review, and was president of APA Division 8 (Social and Personality), and of the Association for Research in Personality.
To build a science of the person, the most basic question is: How can one identify and understand the psychological invariancethe basic coherence and organization-- that distinctively characterizes an individual and that underlies the variations in the thoughts, feelings, and actions that occur across contexts and over time? This question proved particularly difficult because discrepancies soon emerged between the expressions of consistency that were expected and those that were found. The resulting classic personality paradox became: How can we reconcile our intuitions---and theories---about the invariance and stability of personality with the equally compelling empirical evidence for the variability of the persons behavior across diverse situations? Which is right: the intuitions or the findings? I discuss some advances to answer this question since it was posed decades ago. These findings have allowed a resolution of the paradox, and provide the outlines for a conception of the underlying structure and dynamics of behavior, and its links to situations, that seems to better account for the data on consistencies and variability in the expressions of individual differences. This conception is applied to the analysis of self-control, focusing on the ability to delay gratification, and its determinants, development, and implications over the life course.