Eliot Smith studied at Harvard University, receiving his BA in 1971 and his PhD in Social Psychology in 1975. After appointments at the University of California and Purdue University, he came to IU in 2003 and was named Chancellor's Professor in 2008. Smith served as a Special Chair in the Department of Social Psychology of Free University Amsterdam, and is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"A superb empirical scientist and a deep theoretical thinker" who has been "at the forefront of importing cutting-edge basic memory models into social psychology," Smith is a social psychologist who studies how emotional and cognitive processes are shaped by social factors. Recognized nationally and internationally, his "prominent role in current social psychology goes well beyond the boundaries of the United States." One line of his work examines the idea of group emotions; how people feel, affected by their group associations, or memberships. "A novel and creative one…this has now become an important area of work that has been adopted by many others in the field. Eliot and his collaborators developed the theoretical conceptualization surrounding group emotions." Smith's work also examines socially situated cognition, studying how interpersonal relationships interact with attitude change and individual perception processes. His research "has contributed major theoretical and empirical work in this area." His work has been recognized with the Theoretical Innovation Prize of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology. When the "social cognition revolution" began in the 1970s-1980s, Smith was a "major figure in the direction of social psychology. His work was groundbreaking…the constructs were new, the theories were new, the methods were new, and the analytic approaches were new." He was among the first social psychologists to "employ process measures, to use connectionist modeling" and while many others contributed, "Eliot's work is one of the major reasons for the current approaches and directions of social psychology." Professor Smith has "greatly influenced the field by introducing new ways of conceptualizing the phenomena under investigation and by creating bridge between previously unrelated lines of research." Not to be mistaken for theoretical "ivory tower research," Smith's work more importantly has "immense applied value; his work is of great practical importance to society."
Smith is ranked #2 in citations among all papers published in Personality and Social Psychology Review and is ranked #6 among personality-social psychologists in number of publications in three top-ranked journals. He is the author of over 50 publications that have over 50 citations each and he has received the Gordon Allport Prize, the Best Paper Award from the International Social Cognition Network, and the Thomas M. Ostrom award for outstanding career contributions to the field of social cognition. The recipient of over $3.5 million in external grant support by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, and others, Smith has "literally changed the direction that research and theory have taken in the field of social psychology."
Professor Smith retired in January 2019 with the titles Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Chancellor Professor Emeritus. Smith received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of his distinguished contributions to Indiana University.