Albert “Al” Hastorf, a pioneer in the study of social interaction and social perception, died Monday, Sept. 26 in Palo Alto. Hastorf, who was 90, spent three decades teaching, conducting research and serving as a top administrator at Stanford.

Albert Hastorf portrait

Albert ‘Al’ Hastorf was remembered as a ‘wonderful, generous man, a fabulous raconteur and a devoted citizen of Stanford.’ (Image credit: Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service)

A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Memorial Church. A reception at the Faculty Club will follow the service.

Three weeks ago, the Stanford Historical Society presented him with Albert H. Hastorf: A Series of Oral History Interviews conducted by Susan W. Schofield. The 150-page bound volume is a lightly edited transcript of interviews Schofield conducted in Hastorf’s office in the Main Quad between November 2007 and November 2008.

After receiving the book, Barbara Hastorf began reading it aloud to her husband in the evening, and a friend reported that the couple enjoyed reliving those stories about their lives.

Schofield, a former academic secretary at Stanford, knew Hastorf before she interviewed him. She said interviewing him was a delight and a privilege. She described him as a “wonderful, generous man, a fabulous raconteur and a devoted citizen of Stanford.”

In a Monday email to faculty and staff in the Department of Psychology, Chair Jay McClelland wrote: “It is with great sadness that I pass on to you the news that Al Hastorf passed away this morning. Al suffered a health setback a few weeks ago, and has been in hospital and then hospice care since that time.

“Al and Barbara have remained supporters of the department in his retirement by endowing the Hastorf Family Fund, which provides graduate student support in any area within the department, and the Albert and Barbara Hastorf Teaching Fund, which supports an annual prize to a graduate student for outstanding achievements in teaching.

Last April, Hastorf gave a talk at the Stanford Historical Society titled “Psychology at Stanford: A History,” which is available on Stanford iTunes as a podcast.

From the East Coast to the West Coast

Hastorf, who was born in New York City and raised in Westfield, N.J., earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Amherst College in 1942.

He met Barbara Reck when he was a sophomore in college and she was a student at nearby Mount Holyoke College. They married in 1943.

From 1942-1946, he was on active duty with the U.S. Army Air Corps (now known as the U.S. Air Force) Aviation Psychology Program, where he conducted research on the selection and training of aircrew members.

Hastorf earned a master’s degree in psychology at Princeton University in 1947, and a doctorate in psychology at Princeton in 1949.

“I spent every summer, from the day after school got out to the day before school started, at a summer home my family had on Lake Champlain in Vermont,” Hastorf said during one oral history interview with Schofield. “And if there’s a psychological home for me, it’s probably that one. I had close childhood friends there, we played together all summer; it was a sparkling place and still is.”

Hastorf began his teaching career at Dartmouth College in 1948, with leaves of absence in 1954 as a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and in 1958 as National Science Foundation Fellow in Residence at Stanford.

At Dartmouth, Hastorf rose through the professorial ranks, becoming professor and chairman of the Psychology Department in 1955 – a title he held for four years.

In 1967, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Amherst, his undergraduate alma mater.

Professor and administrator at Stanford

Hastorf, who joined Stanford’s faculty in 1961, served as executive head of the Psychology Department from 1961-1970. He was appointed Benjamin Scott Crocker Professor of Human Biology in 1979.

Hastorf was one of the founding directors of Stanford’s Interdisciplinary Program in Human Biology and of its Center for the Study of Youth and Development.

He served as dean of the School of Humanities & Sciences from 1970-1974, and as provost from 1980-1984. He took a one-year sabbatical after leaving the post.

In 1987, Hastorf became the third director of the Terman Study of the Gifted, a long-term study of the lives of intellectually gifted people started in 1920 at Stanford by the late Psychology Professor Lewis Terman.

Hastorf published four books with co-authors, and published more than 50 chapters and articles. His most recent co-authored book, Social Stigma: The Psychology Marked Relationships, was published in 1984.

His early work focused on transactional analysis, particularly in the areas of perceptual distortion and social influences on perception. His later research focused on the impact of physical deviancies and disabilities on social interaction and social perception.

Hastorf is perhaps best known in social psychology for the famous study with the late Hadley Cantril (former chair of the Psychology Department at Princeton) titled “They Saw a Game,” which was published in 1954 in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. The study documented how differently partisan Princeton and Dartmouth supporters saw and interpreted the rough play in a memorable football game between the two schools. The study paved the way for virtually all subsequent work on the impact of motivational and cognitive biases on perception.

Hastorf was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1990.

Provost Hastorf

In 1980, when Stanford asked Hastorf to become acting provost – after Provost Donald Kennedy took the helm as the university’s president – Hastorf told Stanford Daily he was happy to “pitch in” for a year.

“They needed someone with enough administrative experience around here to do it until a real search could be done,” said Hastorf, who at the time was writing a book on social psychology with a colleague from the University of Maryland. “I did not expect to think of myself doing this, [but] everyone wanted to do a careful search for a provost. ”

After what Kennedy described as an “extraordinary performance” as acting provost, the university’s search committee unanimously chose Hastorf as Stanford’s vice president and provost in 1981. He was then 60 years old.

He served as provost until September 1984.

“I feel as if I’ve paid my tithe to the university,” he told Stanford Daily in a 1983 story announcing he would resign the following year. He said he was eager to return to his trade – research and teaching.

“I think it’s very important that faculty take on administrative positions, but not for so long that they forget who they are,” he said.

In a 1984 profile of Hastorf in the Palo Alto Weekly, then-President Kennedy said Hastorf had been an effective provost because of his “unbelievable rapport” with Stanford faculty and his understanding of the needs of a university for faculty of high quality.

The Palo Alto Weekly story described Hastorf as a “tough-minded scientist” and a “tender-minded friend” who would be “packing his book on social cognition along with his fishing rods” for a yearlong sabbatical.

“He has an easy-going, Western manner (he often wears khakis, Wallabees with a hole in the left sole, and no tie), but paces like the New Yorker he is by birth – apparently to relieve tension,” the Palo Alto Weekly story said.

In the 1980s, Hastorf served on the board of The Thatcher School, a coeducational boarding high school in Ojai, Calif., and the Nueva School, a nationally recognized, independent pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school, in Hillsborough, Calif.

After retiring in 1990, Hastorf taught occasional freshman seminars in social psychology and stayed in touch with colleagues through lunches at the Faculty Club, according to a story in Stanford magazine.

In 2004, he became the first emeriti faculty member to hold the title, “Emeritus Standing Guest of the Faculty Senate,” which gave him the opportunity to speak on issues that came up for discussion, though it conferred no voting rights.

A grateful university honors Hastorf

In 1979, Stanford awarded Hastorf the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for Outstanding Service to Undergraduate Education.

In 1987, Hastorf became the 15th recipient of the Stanford Alumni Association’s Richard W. Lyman Award, which recognizes unique and dedicated initiatives in service to the university and the Alumni Association by faculty members.

Stanford President Emeritus Richard W. Lyman himself presented the award to Hastorf at a ceremony in the Faculty Club.

The inscription on the award cited Hastorf “for the joy he brings to every branch of the Stanford family as its quintessential university citizen and ambassador of good will.”  It also saluted Hastorf’s “gifts as a teacher, researcher, mentor, folklorist and storyteller, contributing vitality and wisdom to his scholarly field and his Stanford flock; and for earning the trust and admiration of generations of students, campus colleagues, fellow educators and alumni worldwide.”

In addition to his wife, Barbara, Hastorf is survived by sister Jean Doar; daughters Elizabeth Hastorf, Class of ’70, of Seattle, and Christine Hastorf, Class of ’72, of Berkeley; and grandson Nicholas. Hastorf was preceded in death by another grandson.