Silvan S. Tomkins, PhD, (1911-1991) was one of the most influential theorists of 20th-century psychology and is generally considered the founder of modern affective science. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied psychology and playwriting as an undergraduate, then philosophy as a graduate student. In 1937, while attending Harvard University on a post-doctoral fellowship, he met Professor Henry A. Murray, the prominent personality theorist and then director of Harvard's Psychological Clinic. Under Murray's influence, Tomkins dedicated his professional career to studying personality, motivation, and emotion.
From 1947 until his retirement in the 1975, Tomkins taught at Princeton University, The CUNY Graduate Center, and Rutgers University. According to a paper he published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1981, he claimed that the question that guided his professional career was "what do human beings really want?" In addition to a Career Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health, Tomkins received the Bruno Klopfer Distinguished Contribution Award of the Society for Personality Assessment, The Distinguished Contribution Award from Division 12 of the American Psychological Association (APA), and the Henry A. Murray Award of APA's Division 8. In the August 5, 2002 edition of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell published "The Naked Face" -- an article about Tomkins's influential work on nonverbal behavior and deception. The article was later reproduced in Gladwell's best selling book Blink, which sold over 1 million copies in 2005 and introduced Tomkins's ideas to a new generation of social and behavioral scientists.