APA presented its highest honor, the Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology, to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American and the first and only PhD-level psychologist to win a Nobel Prize (for economics in 2002). However, the night's top winner used his time in the limelight to downplay his own role in the ground-breaking research he conducted on human judgment and decision-making to win the prize.
"Although I owe a great debt to my mother, and a great debt to my late collaborator and friend Amos Tversky, my debt to pure blind luck is surely the greatest of all," Kahneman mused.
The research was so well-received, he said, because topics such as judgment, choice and risk-aversion lend themselves to studies that are easy for people to relate to.
"The readers were subjects," he explained. "They could recognize to a significant extent that what we were talking about applied not to some disembodied typical sophomore; it applied to them and the way that their minds worked."
It was also through "an important bit of luck" that a 1974 Science article he and Tversky wrote on heuristics of judgment became viewed by the scientific community as a major contribution to the study of rationality-even though it was not intended as such.
"We didn't think we were studying rationality," he said. "If we had known we were studying rationality, we would have felt duly bound to do what you do when you study rationality. We would have defined it and done all sorts of things that nobody would have been interested in."
As he tipped his hat to Tversky, who died in 1994, Kahneman acknowledged his own final bit of luck for being around to accept the honor on their behalf. "The work that brought me here is essentially the work that we did together," said Kahneman.