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Carl Hovland

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Carl Iver Hovland (June 12, 1912 – April 16, 1961) was a psychologist working primarily at Yale University and the US Army during World War II who studied attitude change and persuasion. He first reported the sleeper effect after studying the effects of the Frank Capra propaganda film Why We Fight on soldiers while at the Army. In later studies on this subject, Hovland collaborated with Irving Janis who would later become famous for his theory of groupthink. Hovland also developed social judgment theory of attitude change. Carl Hovland thought that the ability of someone to resist persuasion by a certain group depended on your degree of belonging to the group.


Early lifeEdit

Carl Iver Hovland was born in Chicago on June 12, 1912.[1] As a youngster in Chicago, he attended the Lloyd School and then completed high school at the Luther Institute. He entered Northwestern University at the age of 16, receiving his B.A. in 1932, and an M.A. the following year. He then transferred to Yale, where he obtained the Ph.D. in 1936. Except for a three-year research stint in Washington during World War II, Hovland remained associated with Yale the rest of his life, rising rapidly through the academic ranks to a Sterling Professorship at the age of 36.

As a child, Hovland had a deep interest in music. In fact, up until college when psychology became a major part of his life he was looking into a musical career. [2] At the age of six years, he read Latin textbooks fluently, beginning the development of the linguistic skills which were to be so important in his later studies of alchemy and religion.[3] In 1938 he married Gertrude Raddatz. She was a piano student, like Hovland, in Chicago.[4] During the late 1930s and early 1940s Hovland made major contributions to several areas of human experimental psychology, such as the efficiency of different methods of rote learning. From his close association with Clark L. Hull and other psychologists working at the Yale Institute of Human Relations, Hovland developed a comprehensive view of the behavioral sciences that led him to extend the analytic experimental approach of research on human learning to underdeveloped areas of research in the human sciences.


Hovland's first opportunity to work intensively in the underdeveloped area of social psychology arose during World War II, when he took a leave of absence from Yale for over 3 years to serve as a senior psychologist in the War Department. He was recruited by Samuel Stouffer, also a sociologist who was on leave from University of Chicago.[5] Carl had the responsibility of leading a research team of fifteen researchers.[5] His main role was to conduct experiments on the effectiveness of training and information programs that were intended to influence the motivation of men in the American armed forces.[6] He assembled a group of six psychology graduate students who worked with him on these studies for several years. One of the most widely cited of the pioneering experiments on opinion change by Hovland and his group involved testing the effects of a one-sided versus a two-sided presentation of a controversial issue. The results contradicted contentions of totalitarian propagandists, who claimed that a communication that presents only one side of the issue will generally be more successful than one that mentions the opposing side of the argument. These wartime studies were reported in Experiments on Mass Communication (1949), written jointly by Hovland, A. A. Lumsdaine, and F. D. Sheffield.

Carl Hovland was a big man, soft in speech, gentle in manner, as incredibly quick and deft in physical movement as in intellection. In his earlier years he was quite shy, but the social rigors of the life to which his extraordinary talents inevitably exposed him helped to develop the quiet ease of manner that characterized his middle age. He was unfailingly cheerful, even in the last tragic year of his life, and continued to work with his students and colleagues until his brief final illness. It was this capacity for being always helpful, always objective, that placed him inconstant demand as a consultant, not only to students, but to all the leading Foundations, to half a dozen major Government agencies, and to the behavioral research arms of several great corporations. He was repeatedly honored by his colleagues in one way or another-as an APA representative to the Social Science Research Council, as a member of that Association's Board of Directors, by election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to the American Philosophical Society, and to the National Academy of Sciences.T he honor he appreciated most deeply, perhaps,was the award of the Warren Medal by the Society of Experimental Psychologists,word of which reached him only a month before his death. [2]

Psychological research was Hovland's intellectual joy however. Especially in his early career, his investigations covered a wide range of topics. By the time he had secured his doctorate, Hovland had published a dozen research papers and collected data for at least half a dozen. Four of these papers were in the American Journal of Physiology, two in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, and others in psychological journals . His papers in psychological journals included a study of test reliability, a major review of the literature on apparent movement, as well as his four classical papers on conditioned generalization from his doctoral dissertation.[7]

After the war Hovland returned to Yale University, where he recruited several members of his wartime research team, with whom he continued to study the factors that influence the effectiveness of social communications. Among Hovland's best-known studies are those elucidating the influence of the communicator's prestige and the ways that prestige effects disappear with the passage of time. For example, Hovland and his collaborators showed that when a persuasive message is presented by an untrustworthy source, it tends to be discounted by the audience, so that immediately after exposure there is little or no attitude change; but then, after several weeks, the source is no longer associated with the issue in the minds of the audience and positive attitude changes appear. This "sleeper effect" was shown to vanish, as predicted, if the unacceptable communicator was "reinstated" several weeks later by reminding the audience about who had presented the earlier persuasive material.

For 15 years Hovland and his group systematically investigated different ways of presenting arguments, personality factors, and judgmental processes that enter into attitude change. While pursuing his own research, Hovland continually encouraged his associates on the Yale project, a study of the conditions under which people are most likely to change their attitudes in response to persuasive messages.[6] The Yale Group's work was first described in Hovland's book Communication and Persuasion, published in 1953.[8]

His major interests in his last few years of life were with concept formation, which he approached with computer simulation.[9] In 1952 he published a demonstration that the problems of concept-learning can be solved by an hypothetical decoding machine, and also provided both a notational system and an analysis of the problem of concept-learning that were widely adopted by other researchers in this field.[7]


In the last decade of his life Hovland's research on verbal concepts and judgment led him into an intensive analysis of concept formation. Once again he played a pioneering role in developing a new field of research - computer simulation of human thought processes.

A month before his death, he was honored with the award of the Warren Medal by the Society of Experimental Psychologists.[10]

Carl Iver Howland died in New Haven on April 16, 1961.[11]

Further readingEdit

A summary of the research developments and theoretical ideas that have grown out of Hovland's pioneering projects is presented in a comprehensive chapter by Irving L. Janis and M. Brewster Smith in Herbert C. Kelman, ed., International Behavior: A Social-Psychological Analysis (1965). Hovland's work is also discussed in Arthur R. Cohen's Attitude Change and Social Influence (Basic Topics in Psychology) (1964).


  1. Sears, Robert (December 1961). Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961. The American Journal of Psychology 74 (4).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sears, Robert R. (1961). Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961. The American Journal of Psychology, 74(4), 637-639.
  3. Joseph, Peterson "Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961", "The American Journal of Psychology", Dec. 1961.
  4. Sears, S. R. (1961). Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961. The American Journal of Psychology, 74(4). 637-639. University of Illinois Press.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Shepard, R. N. (n.d.). Carl iver hovland. Retrieved from
  6. 6.0 6.1 Aronson, Elliot, Timothy D. Wilson, and Robin M. Akert. Social Psychology. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Education, 2010. Print.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Sears, R.R. Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961. THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY, V. 74 (4), 11/1961, p. 637-639
  8. Hovland, Carl I., Irving L. Janis, and Harold H. Kelley."Communication and Persuation: Psychological Studies of Opinion Change" New Haven: Yale UP, 1953. Print.
  9. Sears, Robert (December 1961). Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961. The American Journal of Psychology 74 (4).
  10. Sears, Robert (December 1961). "Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961". The American Journal of Psychology 74: 639.
  11. Carl Iver Hovland: 1912-1961. The American Journal of Psychology. 84:637, December 1961.

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