Photo of Shelley Taylor

Shelley Taylor

  • National Medal of Science
  • Behavioral And Social Science

For groundbreaking research into mental health and the power of human connection. Her work showed that optimism, self-esteem, and strong relationships improve the health of people with cancer, diabetes, and other diseases, helping establish the fields of social cognition, health psychology, and social neuroscience, and increasing our Nation’s wellbeing.

Shelley Elizabeth Taylor is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She developed her love for psychology while attending Connecticut College working on a research project as an undergraduate. After receiving her doctoral degree from Yale University in 1972, Taylor joined the faculty at Harvard University’s then Department of Psychology and Social Relations, where she pursued research in social psychology, specifically social cognition. Taylor’s findings showed that self and social knowledge begins to develop in infancy, grows cumulatively across the lifespan, and guides our self-conceptions, our beliefs about others, and our social behavior.

Taylor moved to the UCLA in 1979. In 1981, armed with a 10-year Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health, she began to explore how beliefs and behavior affect physical health with the goal of identifying pathways whereby a stressful life, especially in early life, can affect health and risk for illness across the lifespan. Taylor has been a leading figure in social psychology, contributed several prominent theories, and was at the forefront of many areas of research—including the development of the robust subfields of social cognition and health psychology.

Taylor is the recipient of numerous awards, most notably election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She received the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution of Psychology Award, the William James Fellow Award of the Association Psychological Science, the Donald Campbell Award in Social Psychology, a 10-year Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institutes of Health, the Outstanding Scientific Contribution Award in Healthy Psychology, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association. She is the author of more than 350 publications in journals and numerous books including Social Cognition, Positive Illusions, The Tending Instinct, and Health Psychology.