William Revelle
Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology
Northwestern University
Evanston, Illinois, USA 60208

telephone: 847-491-7700
office: 315 Swift Hall


B.A. Pomona College 1961-1965
Ph.D. University of Michigan, 1968-1973


Scientific interests

The study of personality is the last refuge of the generalist in psychology. As such, my interests in personality theory include the biological basis of personality and motivation, psychometric theory, the structure of daily mood and models of attention and memory.

Recent work in the Personality, Motivation, and Cognition Laboratory has focused on the interactive effects of personality (e.g., impulsivity, trait anxiety) and situational determinants of motivation (e.g., time-of-day, caffeine, films, monetary incentives, exercise) as they combine to influence motivational states (energetic and tense arousal), and how these motivational states in turn affect cognitive processes (sustained attention, working-memory capacity, long-term memory) to determine cognitive performance. The long term goal is to develop a better understanding of how individual differences interact with situational moderators to affect efficient information processing.

Additional work in personality theory has focused on the personality characteristics associated with differential sensitivities to cues for reward and punishment. Current work is being done on the personality and situational determinants of affective state and dimensional analyses of affect.

Another continuing project is refining Synthetic Aperture Personality Assessment (SAPA) methodology. SAPA takes advantage of the web to administer small subsets of personality and ability items to different participants responding over the web. By appropriate design considerations, it is possible to synthetically combine these small subsets into very large correlation matrices suitable for psychometric analysis. This is an ongoing project that has collected data from somewhat more than 120,000 participants on about 400 different items. Examples of this work include an analysis of the structure of trust as well as the relationship between personality and cognition.

I am also working on the Personality Project , an attempt to bring information about current personality theory and research to the readers of the World Wide Web. Suggestions for additions to this project are very welcome.

Although for many years I have released program to research community by sharing Fortran (for mainframes) or Pascal(for Macs) code, I now am doing all my programming in R. Earlier computer programs that have been developed for research in personality and measurement were written in Pascal (using Lightspeed Pascal for MacIntosh computers) and were meant for ease of modification and use a set of standard units that have been found useful in the PMC lab. Source code as well as stand alone applications are still available by ftp.

More recently, I have become interested in using the statistical analysis package, R, as a powerful descriptive and analytical tool. As have many others faced with the problem of learning R, I have developed a short tutorial to help others. A shorter form of this tutorial is devoted to basic statistical procedures for doing personality research. I have converted many of my older programs into R and am now working on developing new techniques. Earlier programs now completely rewritten in R include ICLUST and VSS (Very Simple Structure). Newer programs include estimating omega, and convenient functions for working with Synthetic Aperture Personality Assessment (SAPA) data. The most recent version of my psych package may be downloaded from the depository at the personality-project, or the general CRAN repository at

Recent publications

Educational Activities

Professional societies

Personal and other interests

Although a long time resident of Evanston, I was raised in La Jolla where I tended to spend too much time on the beach or racing Flying Dutchmen. I now like to sail Lasers and Laser IIs on (and sometime in) Lake Michigan as well as kayak along the Lake Michigan shore. Eleanor and I have just finished a house on Lakeside Court to capture the feeling of water that we had associated with California and to demonstrate the possibilities of building an energy efficient house. I have been known to visit the occasional Ultimate Frisbee match when it is convenient.

I also spend some time browsing the The Source, the San Diego Daily Transcript's information source of San Diego and the world. I am interested in exploring the ways that the web can increase citizen participation by increasing public access to information using projects such as that of the League of Women Voters or the Federation of American Scientists, or the Borneo Project, which is affiliated with the Friends of Malaysia, an organization of Returned Peace Corp Volunteers. For a discussion of the way that the web can used for informing the public, see the Cyberstrategy[tm] discussion by John Pike, formerly of the FAS. Other examples of use of the web for encouraging active citizen involvement are also available. (Note that some of these are very ancient pages that are kept mainly to remind us all how far the web has progressed since 1995.)

Another use of the web is in linking distant relatives together through genealogical research.

Last update May, 2009.