In Memoriam: prof.dr. Joop van der Pligt

Kurt Lewin Instituut
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In Memoriam: prof.dr. Joop van der Pligt

January 13, 2015 - In Memoriam: Prof. Dr. Joop van der Pligt
22.11.1951 Sluis, the Netherlands – 09.01.2015 Xàbia, Spain

by Frenk van Harreveld, PhD

When on January 9th of this year, at the age of 63, Joop van der Pligt unexpectedly passed away; Dutch social psychology lost one of its key figures. Over the last 30 years Joop was of immense importance not only to the department of social psychology at the University of Amsterdam but also to the development of the field as a whole. Joop was a respected and altruistic leader, who inspired his colleagues with his intellect, warmth and sense of humour.

Joop obtained his PhD at King’s College, University of London in 1981, after which he was research fellow at the University of Exeter and Associate Professor at the Institute of Environmental Studies (Free University of Amsterdam) before in 1986 becoming professor of Experimental Social Psychology the University of Amsterdam.

At that point in time, social psychology was not nearly the area of research it is today in the Netherlands and Joop was one of the people dedicated to developing it. As only a few illustrations of his contributions to social psychology, Joop was president of the Dutch Social Psychology Association (ASPO) from 1989 to 1994, member of the Teaching Committee of the Kurt Lewin Institute (1991-1993) and member of the governing board of the KLI (1994-1997), which he chaired from 1997 to 2003. As the head of the department of social psychology at the University of Amsterdam he was responsible for what in the last research assessment of psychology departments was called “the flagship of social psychology in the Netherlands”. In recent years he went to great lengths to steer this ship through turbulent times in social psychology.

Within the University of Amsterdam his influence extended way beyond the area of social psychology. As chair of the Science Committee of the Department of Psychology (1987-1992) Dean of the Department of Psychology (1994-1998), member of the Amsterdam University Senate (1998-2001) and director of the Psychology Research Institute of the University of Amsterdam (2000 – 2006), Joop guided the Department of Psychology through various important transitions.

On the basis of his research, Joop published almost 200 empirical papers, books and book chapters. Joop had a broad research interest, but most of his research addressed topics that relate to attitudes and decision-making such as the role of (anticipated) affect in judgment and decision-making, how people deal with counter-attitudinal information, ambivalence, perceived risk and the acceptability of risk. Also he investigated the consequences of uncertainty and (lack of) control on judgment and decision-making.

In addition to empirical work on basic processes in attitudes and decision-making, Joop’s broad perspective on psychology and society also led him to applied research and applications of his research. In his applied research he for example investigated the perceived risks of technological developments, dietary behavior, compliance, and risk and insurance, for organizations such as the Dutch Ministry of Justice, the UK Ministry of Transport, The Netherlands Institute for Social Research, Achmea and the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security. Joop was a member of numerous committees overseeing research on topics such as climate change, law enforcement, food and energy sustainability and AIDS.

As Joop operated on the borders between social psychology and decision-making, he contributed to the latter field as well. In 1993 he was one of the founders of the European Association of Decision Making (EADM) and Joop was a member of the organizing committees of SPUDM (‘Subjective Probability, Utility and Decision-Making’) conferences in 1991, 1992, 1999 and 2001.

Transferring knowledge and inspiring others was of great importance to Joop. Throughout his career he was a dedicated teacher, who inspired students with his broad knowledge and love for social psychology, both in the classes he taught as well as in the individual supervision of students. He played an important role in the development of several teaching programs such as the Research Master’s program in Psychology and the masters track in Health and Behavior at the at the University of Amsterdam. Joop’s influence on the Dutch social psychological landscape is further illustrated by the 27 dissertations he supervised. He was a beloved mentor to many Dutch social psychologists, who now hold professorial positions or have successfully pursued careers in more applied domains.

Notwithstanding his accomplishments, and him being one of the people who have built social psychology in Netherlands to what it is today, Joop was always more substance than ego. He was a loved and respected member of the social psychological community with a highly developed sense of morality and a sharp sense of humour. His warmth made his closest colleagues feel like his extended family. But above all, Joop was a loving and dedicated father and husband. His family have made a memorial website where many friends, relatives and colleagues have contributed their memories:

At this website everyone can pay tribute and express condolences.

Joop is, and will be, deeply missed.

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