Photo of Bernice Lott

Bernice Lott





Training Location(s):

PhD, University of California, Los Angeles (1953)

BS, University of California, Los Angeles (1950)

Primary Affiliation(s):

University of Rhode Island (1970-present)

University of California, Riverside

University of Kentucky

Kentucky State College

University of Colorado

Psychology’s Feminist Voices Oral History Interview:

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Professional Website

Bernice Lott

Career Focus:

Applied social psychology; attitudes; culture and ethnicity; gender; prejudice and stereotyping; social class.


Bernice Lott was born on March 31, 1930 and grew up in a working-class community in Brooklyn, New York. She was the youngest of three daughters of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Starting her undergraduate education at Brooklyn College just after the war in 1946, Lott's interest in social problems and social justice were inchoate and difficult to trace to a single event or time. When asked "where did your interest in social issues and social justice come from?" Lott replied, "It came from the world in which I grew up."

The climate at Brooklyn College in the late 1940s was "exciting and energetic." As Lott recalls, it was an environment filled with "student-driven free expression." Civil rights, war and peace, domestic agendas, and international issues were all part of the mix. Lott was politically active, joining a variety of student groups that addressed social issues. As an undergraduate she initially declared sociology as her major; however, after taking her first class in experimental psychology she decided to use the methods of psychology to answer questions she had initially encountered in sociology. Lott was interested in the kinds of attitudes people have towards one another, in prejudice, and in war and peace. She felt that questions on these topics could be answered through the use of empirical methods and chose to major in social psychology.

Lott had studied at Brooklyn College for three years when she married at the age of 19. Her husband, who was also a psychology student at Brooklyn, entered graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Lott transferred there to finish her degree, obtaining her Bachelor of Science from UCLA in 1950. She then entered the graduate program and earned her doctorate by the time she was 23. Her dissertation was on the formation of attitudes using a learning model, and as she described, "I was, and still am, actually, a weird meld or mixture. I'm a Lewinian, behaviorist, social psychologist." Lott recalls that this strange mixture was a result of her work as a graduate student with Franklin Fearing, who was a proponent of Lewin's field theory and Gestalt psychology (and a founding member of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues), as well as working with behaviorist Irving Maltzman who had studied with Kenneth Spence at Iowa.

Before Lott completed her PhD, her husband procured a faculty position at a new University of California campus in Riverside. When she was finished at UCLA, Lott moved to Riverside and began teaching extension courses while looking for a more stable position. She managed to secure a position at Riverside Junior High School working with developmentally delayed adolescents. She recalls working with these teenagers as one of the greatest experiences of her life. She discovered that diagnoses based on the psychological tests used at this time were horrendous. For example, of the 12 students she taught, 2 or 3 had severe hearing problems, 3 or 4 simply spoke more Spanish than English, and many of the children had behavior problems or just didn't do well on tests rather than suffering from any severe learning deficits. During this time, Lott also conducted research comparing the 'mentally-retarded' with the 'normal', and published on the many similarities, as well as some differences, in the learning capacities of these adolescents.

Lott left Riverside in the late 50s. Recently divorced and embarking on a new chapter in her life, she started to reconnect with contacts made during graduate school and worked at the American Psychological Association convention looking for potential employment prospects. She accepted a teaching job at the University of Colorado from 1956-1958, whereupon she remarried. In 1958, she and her husband Al Lott moved to Kentucky. Kentucky was still completely segregated and while her husband worked at the 'all White' University, Lott took a position at the 'all Black' school, Kentucky State College. Interestingly, Lott recalls that she was the "radical white peasant woman" amidst the black bourgeoisie, and there was a huge social class and political chasm within the school. At Kentucky State, class was the issue rather than skin color. During her time at Kentucky State, Lott had three children, and she and her husband became active in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Lexington. She was actively involved in the integration movement in the city, participating in sit-ins and helping to integrate the movie-house and the hotel.

Lott became a member of the Association for Women in Psychology and also Division 35 (Psychology of Women) of the American Psychological Association in the early 1970's. In 1969, she moved to Rhode Island where she began teaching in the College of Continuing Education. In 1972, Lott became Dean of the new University College. In 1971, she taught the first psychology of women classes at the University, and while Dean she continued to teach at least one psychology course each year. She also supervised many graduate students. With a group of female faculty members from a variety of disciplines, Lott developed the university's Women's Studies Program. Later becoming Professor Emerita of Psychology and Women's Studies. According to Lott, "Feminism was alive and well in Rhode Island all during the '70s, and still is."

The evolution of Lott's career has been shaped by the view that psychology is "supposed to be interested in advancing human welfare." She reports that although some work in psychology has opened up issues around race, ethnicity, and gender, she is adamant that attention needs to be brought to bear on problems of social class and poverty. Thus, true to her earliest of interests, Lott continued to ask questions around social justice, class, privilege, access to resources, and the role that these social forces play in human functioning. Dr. Bernice Lott died, as she lived, on her own terms at the age of 92 surrounded by her loving family.

by Marissa Barnes (2010) (Updated 2022)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

Lott, B. (2010). Multiculturalism and diversity: A social psychological perspective. UK: Wiley.

Lott, B., & Bullock, H. E. (2007). Psychology and economic injustice: Personal, professional, and political intersections. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Vasquez, M. J. T., Lott, B. et al. (2006). Personal reflections: Barriers and strategies in increasing diversity in psychology. American Psychologist, 61, 157-172.

Lott, B., & Webster, K. (2006). Carry the banner where it can be seen: Small wins for social justice. Social Justice Research, 19, 123-134.

Lott, B. (2002). Cognitive and behavioral distancing from the poor. American Psychologist, 57, 100-110.

Lott, B., & Bullock, H. E. (Eds.). (2001). Listening to the voices of poor women. Journal of Social Issues, 57(2).

Lott, B. (1997). The personal and social correlates of a gender difference ideology. Journal of Social Issues, 53(2), 279-298.

Lott, B. (1996). Politics or science? The question of gender sameness/difference. American Psychologist, 51, 155-156.

Lott, B., & Maluso, D. (Eds.). (1995). The social psychology of interpersonal discrimination. New York: Guilford Publications.

Lott, B., & Reilly, M. E. (Eds.). (1995). Combating sexual harassment in higher education. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Lott, B. (1993). Women's lives: Themes and variations in gender learning (2nd ed.). Brooks/Cole.

About Bernice Lott

(2012). Bernice Lott: Award for Distinguished Seinior Career Contribution to Psychology in the Public Interest. American Psychologist, 67(8), 648-650.

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