James Davis received his B.S. degree from the University of Illinois in 1954. He majored in Psychology and minored in Chemistry and Sociology. Davis served in the U.S. Army from 1954-1956. He then attended Michigan State University, where he received his M.A. in 1958 and completed his Ph.D. in Personality and Social Psychology in 1961. That fall, he moved to Miami University, Oxford Ohio where he was Assistant Professor of Psychology from 1961 to 1965 where he then received tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor. In 1966, he was a Visiting Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale University and then came to the University of Illinois in 1967 until he retired as Professor Emeritus in 1997.
The life work of James H. Davis has revolved around answering a single, deceptively simple question: How do small groups of people reach decisions? In the process of doing so, he has influenced business practices and Supreme Court decisions, reinvented the field of group decision making, and earned the honor of being considered the greatest social psychologist of his generation. Group decision making is the study of the choices and judgments people make as a group. During Davis’s forty years in this field, he has analyzed the process these often disparate groups go through in reaching consensus and how different combinations of talents and interests influence their performance. What has set his work apart from others is his systematic and exacting approaches. His data are the basis of a sophisticated mathematical and computational model that may one day predict a group’s problem-solving potential.