J. Frank Yates

The study of decision-making is one of the most lively and far-reaching areas of contemporary cognitive science, and among its pioneers is the late J. Frank Yates, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Professor Emeritus of Business Administration at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Professor Yates (who spent more than 50 years as a member of the Michigan community, and passed away in 2020) made ground-breaking contributions to the study of judgment and decision-making and its applications to a variety of real-life settings, including business, marketing, marriage, law, transportation, and health care.

The Weinberg Institute would like to honor Professor Yates’ memory by highlighting some of his accomplishments in the field of cognitive science as well as his visionary work in pursuit of racial equality, particularly for Black students and scholars, at the University of Michigan and beyond.

Professor Yates’ scholarship helped to both define the field of judgment and decision making, and to push it in important new directions.  His popular 1990 textbook Judgment and Decision Making helped to train thousands of students in the social sciences at Michigan and around the world.  But Professor Yates may be best known for his work in moving the field to grapple with the complexities of real-world decision making.  He was especially concerned with characterizing the nature of cognitive and institutional processes and contexts that lead to good decisions---thus laying the foundations of an applied cognitive science of decision making. His influential 2003 book, Decision Management, drew from decades of research in psychology, economics, statistics, medicine, and more to explain the fundamental nature of real-world decisions across cultures, in business, and in health care contexts. This model, known as the Cardinal Issue Perspective, breaks decision-making down into various processing elements that universally occur in a well-made decision. 

Professor Yates was widely recognized as an excellent, innovative teacher. He taught popular undergraduate and graduate courses on decision-making here at the University of Michigan, including PSYCH 449: Decision Processes, a core class for Cognitive Science majors on the Decision & Cognition track.  

Beyond his scholarship, Professor Yates worked tirelessly and selflessly throughout his career to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.  Along the way, he left behind a truly remarkable institutional legacy that has served as a model beyond the University of Michigan.  In 1967, as a UM graduate student, he was instrumental in forming the Association of Black Psychologists. Then, in 1969, he co-founded the national Black Students Psychological Association (BSPA), the longest standing association for Black graduate students in psychology, as well as the University of Michigan BPSA chapter. 

Around the same time, he spearheaded the establishment of a Black Studies center at the University of Michigan, which ultimately became the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. In addition, he created a program to enhance Black students’ academic success, which later became the Comprehensive Studies Program (CSP). CSP provides mentoring and academic support to students of all backgrounds, but in particular to first-generation and minoritized college students. Professor Yates’s work with the CSP also led to the creation of Michigan Learning Communities, which bring faculty and students together.  

In 2005, Professor Yates founded and directed the Ross Business School’s Preparation Initiative, a learning community designed to foster the success of undergraduate business students from economically under-resourced backgrounds, or from racial or ethnic groups that historically have been underrepresented in business leadership. 

In recognition of these tremendous contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion at UM, Professor Yates received the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award in 2019.   You can learn more about him and his remarkable career by exploring some of the links below:

Department of Psychology Faculty Memorial

Professor Yates’ Website and Publications

Ross Business School Memorial Page

MLive Obituary

Academic Study on the Impact of the Ross Preparation Initiative

Although Black History Month is coming to a close, the Weinberg Institute will continue to honor Black cognitive scientists year round! Please keep an eye on our website for further articles highlighting the work of Black and African American scholars. You can also check out this previous article about academic organizations dedicated to uplifting Black scholars in cognitive science.