Richard Isadore Evans
Professor Emeritus (University of Houston)
Ph.D., Michigan State University
B.A., University of Pittsburgh
efore completing his undergraduate degree, Richard Evans enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to General George S. Patton’s Third Army. He was later wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and earned a Purple Heart. During his recovery, Evans decided to pursue psychology as a result of encouragement from those who cared for him in the hospital.
Evans found a home in social psychology and developed the social inoculation prevention model that addressed the problems of why children and adolescents began smoking, despite obvious dangers to their health.
After conducting interviews with hundreds of junior high school students and studying how they resisted pressures to smoke, he and his colleagues gained insight as to how peer pressure influenced them. Ultimately, He authored a U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking in Children and Adolescents, and what began as research targeting tobacco use expanded to address other addictions such as drug abuse, alcoholism and gambling. The initial research was done in collaboration with renowned heart surgeon Dr. Michael E. DeBakey and Baylor College of Medicine. Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Evans developed several strategies to get the message through to young people, with just one of the various resistance skills being “just say no.” He never imagined that this one phrase would become a powerful campaign promoted by First Lady Nancy Reagan to discourage children from using recreational drugs.
In the 1960s Evans serendipitously coined the term “workaholic,” which is still widely used today. In an interview, Evans described the circumstances,
“While employed as a consultant with Esso, now ExxonMobil, I’d been asked to discuss the problem of how to handle employees who had a tendency of overworking to the point of becoming less productive… I explained that it was a phenomenon similar to other addictions of excess, such as alcoholism, and basically made an off-the-cuff comment that perhaps we should refer to those employees as ‘workaholics.’ My comments were included in the company’s magazine, which was widely distributed through the world, and a notable syndicated columnist – James Kilpatrick – picked up on it. He included the word in one of his columns, describing it as a useful new term.”
Fueled by an avid interest in theater, Evans achieved another milestone when he interviewed playwright Arthur Miller to discuss the inherent psychological insights in Miller’s plays. The resulting 1969 video and book, funded by the National Science Foundation, inspired Evans to explore the psychology of humor with such notables as Joan Rivers, Buddy Hackett and many others.
In 1957 Evans traveled to Switzerland with a grant from the Ford Foundation to complete the only filmed interview with Carl Jung. Evans turned the treasured four hours spent with the father of analytical psychology into a book and video series. Additionally, Evans went on to film other legendary figures of psychology including B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget, Nobel Laureate Konrad Lorenz, and Erik Erikson.
As word spread about his book on Jung, Evans was invited to appear as a guest on The Tonight Show several times. Those interviews led to appearances on The Today Show, Dick Cavett and Merv Griffin. Evans later became the first professor in the nation to teach a university course on public television – KUHT.
In addition to publishing 20 books and more than 300 research papers and professional articles, Evans’ extensive funding history includes being among the upper 5 percent of total grant amounts funded by the NIH during the last 25 years.
Among the numerous awards Evans received during the course of his lifetime, he says he is particularly proud of being recognized as a Phi Kappa Phi Distinguished Scholar and for receiving the Esther Farfel Award, which is the highest distinction bestowed upon faculty by the University of Houston.
Bringing psychology to both academic and mainstream audiences, Evans is a pioneer in behavioral medicine and health psychology.