A Kansas University professor of psychology has bequeathed $2.2 million to his old department to help improve the training of graduate and undergraduate students.
Jack Brehm, who died last year, taught full time at KU from 1975 until his retirement in 1997. He left the bulk of his estate to the KU Endowment Association for the psychology department.
Chris Crandall, a professor of social psychology, was a friend and colleague of Brehm’s for 17 years. He recalled Brehm as a loyal friend who was well-liked by the faculty.
He remembered him as a good host who often entertained friends and traveled with them. However, Brehm didn’t have many immediate family members, Crandall said, aside from a brother and two nieces.
“Jack’s family was social psychology and the friends he made in the field,” Crandall said. “So, in a way, he left his money to his family.”
The donation came as a surprise, Crandall said, as Brehm hadn’t discussed it with many people. Ruth Ann Atchley, chairwoman of the psychology department, said the funds hadn’t been specifically allocated yet but would support psychology research for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.
Brehm’s research dealt with emotions during a time when it wasn’t a particularly popular topic, unlike today, when such research is seemingly everywhere, Atchley said.
Crandall detailed two of Brehm’s more important discoveries.
In one case, he identified that when a particular freedom enjoyed by a person is taken away, a person will instinctively react to try and get it back. This has applications in so-called “reverse psychology” and can explain why you can get a 5-year-old boy to clean his room by telling him he isn’t allowed to do so.
Another discovery related to “cognitive dissonance” and posited that humans will attempt to avoid situations where they have two thoughts or actions that contradict each other.
In this way, Brehm discovered that changing people’s behaviors can actually lead to changing their attitudes, Crandall said.