Caryl Rusbult, 57, a Professor in the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology at the VU University, passed away peacefully on January 27, 2010, from uterine cancer. Trained as an experimental social psychologist, Caryl Rusbult was a dynamic and creative thinker, a generative and rigorous theorist, and a committed and energetic researcher. She dedicated her professional career to the study of interdependence processes, especially as they apply to close relationships. Caryl made numerous important theoretical contributions to the literature and was also an exceptional teacher and a beloved mentor. She conveyed her passion for theory and research to students with warmth and dedication.
Caryl Rusbult received her B.A. in Sociology from UCLA and her PhD in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1978. Caryl began her professional career at Franklin and Marshall College, but soon moved to the University of Kentucky. In 1986, she returned to the University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill was the scene of her most important theoretical contributions, including the investment model of commitment processes, a theoretical model of accommodation processes, and, most recently, the Michelangelo effect (the manner in which close partners “sculpt” each other in ways that help them attain valued goals). In 2004, she and her husband, Professor David Lowery, moved to the Netherlands, where she became Professor and Chair in Social Psychology. There, Caryl expanded her interdependence theoretical orientation, developed new lines of research, and served as an important source of inspiration to students.
Caryl Rusbult’s Investment Model of Commitment Processes is one of the most well-known and influential theoretical frameworks in the area of close relationships. This exceptionally generative model explains how committed partners maintain and promote their relationships by transforming personal motives to take into account the necessity of coordinating and getting along with partners. Caryl was inspired by Kelley and Thibaut’s Interdependence Theory, especially its rigorous mathematical-theoretical approach to understanding social interaction, and became a major figure in that theory’s advancement. Among several important writings on the topic, she was a major contributor to the Atlas of Interpersonal Situations (Cambridge, 2003). A year later, with Harry Reis she published Key Readings on Close Relationships (Sage, 2004). Caryl served as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1990 to 1994) and the Encyclopedia of Psychology (1996 to 2000), and was elected to the boards of several national and international organizations (e.g., Society of Experimental Social Psychologists, International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships).
Caryl Rusbult regarded “the social” and the “relationships between People” as the central root of human cognition, feelings, and behavior, and was very strongly committed to pursuing that mission. The enormous impact of her theory, research, and teaching was recognized by several major grants and awards, including the Mentoring Award (2002) and Distinguished Career Award (2008) from the International Association for Relationships Research, the New Contribution Award (1991/1992) from the International Society for the Study of Personal Relationships, the Reuben Hill Award from the National Council on Family Relations (1991), and the J. Ross MacDonald Chair (1997-2002) and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of North Carolina (2009).
Caryl Rusbult was a generous scholar who was equally committed to good theory and research, and to the students and colleagues with whom she worked and lived. She genuinely enjoyed sharing and giving, in the form of committed mentorship, unflagging emotional support, and deep friendship. Caryl made an exceptionally strong impression on those who knew her. She knew how to bring out the best in others, and did so often. Her genuine love for others, her constructive friendship and mentorship, and her immense ability to care for others is part of the collective memories of many friends, faculty and students, all over the world.