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Subject: Donald Fiske, 86, Psychologist and Prolific Writer

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Date Posted: April 13, 2003 1:45:14 EDT

Dr. Donald W. Fiske, a psychologist who helped establish the multiple-method approach to social science research and challenged the idea that personalities could be defined with traits that were consistent through time and across situations, died on April 5 at his home in Chicago. He was 86.

The cause was a heart attack, said William Harms, a spokesman at the University of Chicago, where Dr. Fiske was a professor.

Dr. Fiske, a prolific writer, was most famous for a classic paper on methods in social science research, written with Dr. Donald Campbell. The paper, "Convergent and Discriminant Validation by the Multitrait-Multimethod Matrix," helped establish the principle that researchers should always use at least two methods when studying social science phenomena.

Dr. Fiske maintained that a scientist investigating aggressive behavior, for example, would get different results depending on whether he relied on videotapes of his subjects' behavior or on their answers to questionnaires, a theory known as method variance.

Relying on only one method, he contended, produces misleading results.

"He tried to set up objective standards to ensure that scientists would make accurate, reliable measurements of what the world is really like," said Dr. Richard Shweder, a professor of human development at the University of Chicago who edited the book "Metatheory in Social Science" (1986) with Dr. Fiske. "His name is associated with the idea of method variance and the discovery that in social science research, findings are often artifacts of the methods used to study the world."

He added, "This article he and Dr. Campbell published was one of the single most important methodological papers ever written in the social sciences."

Dr. Fiske also wrote extensively about a theory he disagreed with, the five-factor model, which said that personalities could be summarized in a handful of traits. He was a critic of the notion that personalities could be neatly defined with simple, diametrically opposed terms, like extroverted or introverted and agreeable or disagreeable.

His book "Strategies for Personality Research: The Observation Versus Interpretation of Behavior" (1978) also argues that personality traits are abstractions, and that it is impossible to characterize the way a person behaves over time and in different situations. A person who takes risks with finances, for example, may behave more conservatively in the social realm.

Born in in Lincoln, N.H., Donald Winslow Fiske earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

He taught at Harvard and Wellesley before arriving at Chicago in 1948, where he spent the rest of his career. He led the psychology department from 1982 to 1985 and retired in 1986.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Page Fiske; a son, Alan, of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.; a daughter, Susan T. Fiske of Princeton; three grandchildren; and two stepgrandchildren.

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