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Theodore Mead Newcomb (July 24, 1903 - December 28, 1984) was an American social psychologist, professor and author. Newcomb led the Bennington College Study, which looked at the influence of the college experience on social and political beliefs. He was also the first to document the effects of proximity on acquaintance and interpersonal attraction. Newcomb founded and directed the doctoral program in social psychology at the University of Michigan.


Early lifeEdit

Theodore Newcomb was born in Rock Creek, Ohio on July 24, 1903. His father was a minister. Newcomb attended small rural schools until he started high school in Cleveland. After graduating as valedictorian of his high school, Newcomb graduated from Oberlin College and attended Union Theological Seminary. While at seminary, Newcomb decided to become a psychologist. He completed a PhD at Columbia University in 1929.[1]


Newcomb held academic appointments at Lehigh University (1929-1930), Case Western Reserve University (1930-1934), Bennington College (1934-1941) and the University of Michigan (1941-1972). He served in the military during World War II between 1942 and 1945. Shortly after his return from the war, Newcomb founded Michigan's Survey Research Center, which became the Institute for Social Research. He also founded Michigan's doctoral program in social psychology and he chaired the program from 1947 to 1953.[2]


Newcomb led the Bennington College Study, an investigation into the attitudes and beliefs of students through their college careers.[1] The study highlighted the importance of reference groups in late adolescence for the development of social and political beliefs. It was also the first major study to interview a group of participants about their beliefs several times over a period of time.

Newcomb also studied factors associated with acquaintance and attraction, including the proximity principle. In one study, Newcomb looked at roommates assigned at random and found that they were likely to become friends.[3]


Newcomb died at home in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1984. He had suffered a stroke three weeks earlier.[4]


Preceded by:
E. Lowell Kelly
Theodore Newcomb elected APA President
Succeeded by:
Lee J. Cronbach

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 (1994) Biographical Memoirs, Vol. 64, 322-335, National Academies Press.
  2. Theodore Mead Newcomb Papers: Biography. Michigan Historical Collections. Bentley Historical Library. URL accessed on March 16, 2013.
  3. Forsyth, Donelson (2009). Group Dynamics, Cengage Learning.
  4. includeonly>"Theodore M. Newcomb Dies; Pioneer in Social Psychology", December 31, 1984. Retrieved on March 16, 2013.



  • The Love of Ideas (1980)

Book ChaptersEdit


Further readingEdit

  • Katz, D(1986) Theodore M. Newcomb: 1903-1984. American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 99, No. 2 pp. 293-298

External linksEdit

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