Judson Mills; Taught Psychology at U.-Md.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Judson Ridgway Mills, 76, a University of Maryland psychology professor who contributed to the theory of cognitive dissonance, died of a heart arrhythmia May 1 at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham.

Dr. Mills, who was past director of the graduate program in social psychology at Maryland, had taught at College Park since 1971 and was still teaching the week of his death. He was a student of the well-known theorist Leon Festinger and in the 1950s helped him develop the theory of cognitive dissonance -- the discomfort people feel when they believe in mutually exclusive ideas.

Dr. Mills's early research, which became a foundation of dissonance theory, demonstrated that the more severe an initiation one undergoes to join a group, the better the initiated person likes the group.

"It's a very well-known experiment," said his Maryland colleague Hal Sigall. "It was published 50 years ago and people still refer to it."

He also helped develop a theory of interpersonal relations that explained the differences between relationships based on an exchange of benefits, such as business contacts, and communal relations based on meeting each other's needs, such as the parent-child bond.

Forty-five years after the cognitive dissonance theory was introduced, Dr. Mills co-edited "Cognitive Dissonance: Progress on a Pivotal Theory in Social Psychology" (1999), with Eddie Harmon-Jones.

Dr. Mills was born in Chicago and grew up in Milwaukee. He attended Beloit College and graduated from the University of Wisconsin. He did graduate work at the University of Minnesota and received a doctoral degree in social psychology from Stanford University in 1958.

Dr. Mills taught at Syracuse University, the University of Missouri, the London School of Economics and the University of Texas before joining the Maryland faculty. He was known on campus for always wearing shades of blue, the result of colorblindness.

He edited "Experimental Social Psychology" (1969) and published work on attitude change and persuasion, the appeal of tragedy, and social reactions to people with handicaps.

He was a fellow of the American Psychological Association, a charter fellow of the American Psychological Society, a member of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the Society of Experimental Social Psychology.

He enjoyed rooting for Maryland soccer and basketball teams and sailing, and was a competitive badminton player until his death.

His marriage to Carol Bergfield Mills ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 10 years, Lili Mills of New Carrollton; a son from his first marriage, Ridgway Mills of Washington; and a stepson, Ding Feng of Jinhua, China.

-- Patricia Sullivan

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