In Memoriam: Daniel Kahneman (1934-2024)

In Memoriam: Daniel Kahneman (1934-2024)

The International Union of Psychological Science and the psychological community at large deeply mourn the loss of Daniel Kahneman, who passed away March 27, 2024, aged 90.

Kahneman has long been acknowledged as an eminent figure in cognitive psychology. He developed original and fruitful connections with the field of economics, for which he was honored with a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002, the first such Prize ever delivered to a psychologist.

Born in Tel Aviv in what was then the British Protectorate of Palestine, Kahneman was raised in Paris where his father was a senior researcher in the cosmetics industry. He and his family went through the hardship of the Second World War and found refuge in the south of France, where his father died just a few weeks before D-Day. After the war, he moved with his mother and sister to what soon became the state of Israel, where he graduated in psychology and mathematics from Hebrew University in 1954.

Kahneman then moved to the United States where he received a doctorate in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1961. He returned to Hebrew University as a lecturer, where he met Amos Tversky, another brilliant and promising psychologist. Kahneman and Tversky shared the same interest in the cognitive biases that make humans poor as intuitive statisticians. This was the starting point of what Kahneman characterized as a “magical collaboration for twelve years”, which ended with the untimely death of Tversky in 1996. When Kahneman received the Nobel Prize in Stockholm six years later, he stated that Tversky fully deserved to share with him the merit of this prestigious scientific recognition.

Kahneman held professorships in psychology at the University of British Columbia, then at the University of California at Berkeley. He joined Princeton in 1993.

The research about human reasoning developed by Kahneman and Tversky first aimed at challenging established beliefs. They found that when people have to make decisions under uncertainty, most of them – ordinary people, but also experts – tend to bypass rational analysis of available data; instead, they spontaneously rely on intellectual shortcuts based on intuitive or emotional mechanisms.

This approach contributed to establishing the field of behavioral economics. It documented and accounted for the cognitive biases that affect microeconomic decisions when people have to make individual choices. This led to the development of the theory that mental activity depends on two modes of thought. One functions almost automatically with low mental effort, relying on intuition and acting quickly, while the other calls for rational and analytical processes, involving a mental cost. The approach was further articulated and developed in the book that Kahneman published in 2011, Thinking, fast and slow, which greatly influenced new generations of psychologists. The further step of his research consisted in documenting the effects of various forms of “noise” that affect the quality of human reasoning, and in proposing a “hygiene” of human judgment at the service of Cartesian reasoning.

Kahneman served as member of several scientific societies and organizations and received honorary degrees from numerous universities across the world. He was also the recipient of many awards. In addition to the Nobel recognition, he was honored with a Lifetime Contribution Award by the American Psychological Association in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he received from President Obama in 2013.

The international psychology and economics communities have lost a highly respected scientist. Kahneman was a longstanding friend of the International Union of Psychological Science. He kindly accepted the Union’s invitation to serve as the Keynote speaker for the Opening Plenary session at the International Congress of Psychology held in Beijing in 2004 where he was widely acclaimed for his exceptional contribution to the discipline.

Michel Denis

Former President of the IUPsyS (2000-2004)