University of Rochester

Psychologist Appointed to Gowen Endowed Professorship

May 2, 2005

Edward L. Deci, University of Rochester professor of psychology whose research on human motivation has been tested and applied from office environments to smoking-cessation clinics, has been named the Helen F. and Fred H. Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences.

He and Rochester professor of psychology, psychiatry, and education Richard M. Ryan developed Self-Determination Theory in the 1980s and continue their research on how people are intrinsically motivated and self-determined under conditions in which their basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are satisfied.

This approach to human behavior by Deci and Ryan, both members of the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, has been used and studied by psychologists at universities around the world. Their work on the nature and development of self-determination has applications in education, health care, parenting, mental health, work organizations, and athletic settings here and across cultures. They have researched the issues in all of those environments.

“The impact of Ed Deci’s work in human motivation is remarkable,” said Thomas J. LeBlanc, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the College Faculty. “It is studied by psychologists around the world and attracts young researchers to our College. He and Rich Ryan continue to explore what drives people and to apply Self-Determination Theory to improve our quality of life.”

Deci earned a bachelor’s degree at Hamilton College, a master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. He also held an interdisciplinary postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. He has received many research and training grants, including from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. He is currently collaborating with Ryan and Geoffrey C. Williams, associate professor of medicine and psychology at the University, on a project funded by the National Cancer Institute to study the role of self-determination in maintaining tobacco abstinence. That same research team has studied the motivation for management of diabetes with a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases, and the motivation for smoking cessation and diet improvement with a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Deci is the author or editor of 10 books, including The Psychology of Self-Determination (Lexington Books, 1980); Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior with Ryan (Plenum, 1985); Why We Do What We Do with Richard Flaste (Grosset/Putnan, 1995); and The Handbook of Self-Determination Research edited with Ryan (University of Rochester Press, 2002). His writings have been translated into seven languages.

Deci is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society, and has lectured and consulted for universities, public school systems, corporations, mental health systems, and governmental agencies throughout the United States and abroad.

In addition to his work at the University, Deci is chair of the board of directors of the Institute for Research and Reform in Education, which is involved in districtwide educational reform in school systems around the country that serve a high percentage of disadvantaged students. He also is president of the Monhegan Art Museum on Monhegan Island, Maine.

Two named professorships were established by the University of Rochester Board of Trustees in 2001 to honor Mr. and Mrs. Gowen, longtime supporters of the University. Mr. Gowen, a 1932 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College, was executive director of MacKay-Shields Financial Corporation in New York. In several roles at Rochester, Mr. Gowen served as a member of the Trustees Council when it was formed in 1964, and then as a trustee from 1968 until his death in 1978.

Following his death, Mrs. Gowen continued her involvement at the College. A bequest from the couple expressed the wish to establish faculty professorships.