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Honoring the death of one of the world’s greatest behavioral scientists

If you are lucky, at least once in your life, you have significant contact with someone who is truly brilliant. I have had the luck of not just making contact with a person of this stature, but rigorously training with them for years as I earned my scientific doctorate in psychology. Having worked so closely with this visionary, I am deeply saddened to report the following:

The life of one of our behavioral science’s greatest diplomats – and one of my closest colleagues – has ended: Dr. Charlie Spielberger passed away several nights ago. Emeritus professor at the University of South Florida, past American Psychological Association President, recipient of countless lifetime achievement awards, Charlie’s prolific influence on our field and on society is impossible to measure.

His body of work is staggering in breadth and depth. I was one of his final graduate students, and our relationship evolved as we then became close colleagues as we worked numerous scientific projects over a decade. In 2009 he and I completed a five year research project I spearheaded culminating in the publication of an advanced psychological tool that now has been adapted into eight languages: the State Trait Anger Expression Inventory – Second Edition, Child/Adolescent (Brunner & Spielberger, 2009).

Charlie was one of the most innovative pioneers in the scientific field of personality assessment over the last century. I learned from one the best. He was vigilant about the task of conceptualizing complex phenomena clearly and in a way that could be soundly measured using brief self-report questionnaires. Charlie inspired me to think about how our field could be used to comprehensively yet concisely assess almost any phenomena that we tackled. And he tackled many! His State Trait Anger Expression Inventory for adults went on to be adapted into over 26 languages, and is likely the most widely used measure of anger in the world today.

Many of you have used or heard of the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), an amazingly brief but useful tool that is also used worldwide and been adapted into over 30 languages. Clearly relevant to consulting psychology, the Job Stress Inventory was also one of the many measures he authored or co-authored. He also made contributions to Positive Psychology through his assessment of curiosity.

I fondly remember working with him on Saturdays for years, creating and massaging scientific manuscripts until we arrived at a clear way of capturing the dynamics of complex phenomena such as anger. Charlie taught me a superior way viewing and analyzing human personality that provides a powerful x-ray into the human mind.

By the end, Charlie likely published nearly 1000 articles and I think up until his death continued to go into the office early and leave late. He truly gave his life to psychology, and that is not a metaphor, it is a fact. Charlie was one of the most highly cited psychologists in the world, and he truly has forwarded our field internationally.

If you read anything Charlie has written, you’ll notice that is amazingly easy to read! He really took time to write things out clearly. He never tried to rush things out the door. Everybody has a Charlie Spielberger story and here is mine: he was having a party at his house and I was given the task of writing a map to his house. It went through eight iterations before was acceptable! But boy was it a great map by the end!!!! His commitment to producing the very best intellectual work and to approaching things from the big picture perspective is inspiring and definitely influenced me to become who I am as a writer, author, speaker, and researcher.

Charlie’s core emphasis on the importance of distinguishing between assessing a state versus a trait has impacted our field and become a benchmark for evaluating new and advanced assessment tools.

I will miss him greatly as I am sure so many graduate students will who came before me – – and so many people whose lives he touched in such innovative ways.

After burning so brightly for so many decades, may he rest in Peace.

With deep gratitude to you Charlie, thank you for giving so much!

Dr. Thomas Brunner

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Meet Doctor Brunner

Dr. Thomas (Tom) Brunner is a Tucson based psychologist and published expert who has a 20 year track record of clinical excellence, scientific research, teaching, publications, awards and podcast interviews.  He is the senior author of a psychological measure adapted into 14 languages worldwide, and has written over 250 blogs, many of them have gone viral.  He is revolutionizing the field of career guidance with his fresh and trademarked approach that is spreading like wildfire. Sign up here to be notified of soon to be published book, Find Your Real Me: Career Guidance Making You Truly Free.