College of Liberal Arts

In Memoriam: Dr. Janet Taylor Spence, Professor Emeritus

Sun, Mar 29, 2015

The College of Liberal Arts is saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Janet Taylor Spence, Professor Emeritus, on March 16, 2015. She held the Alma Cowden Madden Professorship of Liberal Arts and the Ashbel Smith Professorship of Psychology and Educational Psychology.

A major figure in American psychology, Spence was a faculty member of the UT Austin psychology department from 1967 to 1997 and served as Chair from 1969 to 1972. A 1949 Ph.D. from the University of Iowa (hired shortly thereafter as the first and only female faculty member at Northwestern University), Spence's early work made seminal contributions to theories of the influence of anxiety on learning and performance, as well as the study of the effects of material incentives on intrinsic motivation.

In the late 1960s, Spence turned her attention to gender research. Her major works in the area of gender include her ground-breaking book with Robert Helmreich, Masculinity and Femininity, influential articles in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and Psychology of Women Quarterly, and her 1985 article in the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, which first described her theory of gender identity. In the 1970s, Spence developed several psychological measures that became standard, widely used instruments in the field of Psychology, including the Personal Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ) and the Attitudes Toward Women Scale (AWS). Her conclusion that masculinity and femininity are separate unipolar dimensions, rather than opposite ends of a bipolar trait, remains the authoritative finding in this matter.

Over the course of her career, Spence won numerous awards and also held the unique honor of being the only person to be elected president of both the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Psychological Society (APS). In fact, she holds the honor of being the first member-elected president of APS. In 2009, the APS Board of Directors established the Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions to “recognize transformative contributions to psychological science by rising stars in the field.” The award is given to at least five recipients each year at the APS Annual Convention. Recipients are considered “the most creative and promising young investigators” in the field.

Spence herself conferred the first awards in May 2010 at the APS 22nd Annual Convention in Boston. The award is a fitting tribute to Spence because of the way her career embodied transformative contributions of its own. She developed new approaches to research, developing tools such as the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale and the Attitudes Toward Women Scale, and epitomized the spirit of crossing disciplinary boundaries with work on topics ranging from schizophrenia to developmental psychology to gender bias.

After retiring from UT in 1997, Spence moved to Cape Cod, where she managed a variety of academic and editorial responsibilities, including her role as editor of the Annual Review of Psychology.

If you would like to make a donation to the Psychology Department in honor of Janet’s memory, please visit the College of Liberal Arts online giving page and indicate the Janet Spence Endowment in the box for special information.

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