A Brief History of ORI - Six Decades of Research


Paul HoffmanIn 1960, Paul J. Hoffman founded Oregon Research Institute as a center dedicated to basic research in the behavioral sciences. Offering unprecedented research freedom, the center attracted top scientists in the areas of judgment and decision-making. Many important life-long collaborations began at ORI during this decade. In 1965, the builders of the World Trade Center in New York City hired ORI to determine the amount of building sway a person could withstand. 1967 saw the beginning of the 8-year NIMH-funded “Program in Personality Assessment,” with Lew Goldberg as the Principal Investigator and all other ORI scientists as co-investigators.


study participant

Research on the measurement of personality traits shared the spotlight with studies of judgment, decision-making, and social learning theory in the early 1970’s. Several renowned scientists made seminal contributions to their fields while at ORI. Of particular note were Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who in 1971 brought their entire families to Eugene for a sabbatical. The work they did while at ORI contributed to a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. Jerry Patterson and John Reid added a clinical dimension to ORI’s portfolio with seminal work on the study and treatment of aggressive children. In the late 1970s, three new research institutes (still active and successful today) were created as spinoffs when a group of researchers left ORI. By decade’s end, Hy Hops, Tony Biglan, Herb Severson, and Ed Lichtenstein had emigrated from the UO and received NIH funding at ORI to study teen social behavior and the prevention of smoking, and children’s social skills.


groupThe ‘80s saw a new emphasis on applied research and a broadened research scope to include teens’ use of alcohol & illegal drugs, individuals with disabilities, longitudinal studies, and with the addition of UO researcher Pete Lewinsohn, the study and treatment of adolescent depression. Russ Glasgow and Deborah Toobert also joined ORI as scientists, bringing their work on diabetes and chronic illness. ORI’s reputation as an expert in the field of tobacco cessation had its beginnings in the ‘80s. Personality research continued strong at ORI with Sarah Hampson joining the research team. In 1985, ORI consolidated its Eugene operations into a new 25,300 square-foot office building. That same year, ORI reorganized its governance structure to the present democratically managed system of Committees, Councils, and Board. The motto “Work Hard, Play Hard” came from this decade.


Franklin BuildingThe 1990s was a decade of rapid growth and expansion, with ORI outgrowing its new building after a few short years. Research interests broadened to include social science methodology and physical activity, and two important longitudinal projects continued as researchers studied adolescent depression, substance use, and social interactions. ORI launched an initiative to recruit early-career scientists from across the country and four new researchers joined the institute, bringing additional focus on parenting interventions, depression, and physical activity. Scientists developed an effective screening method to identify children’s behavior problems, and several large trials were funded during this decade to test school- and community-based interventions to prevent youth problembehaviors. ORI scientists were among the first in the nation to be funded to study the Internet as a tool to promote behavior change. The personality team advanced and refined the Big Five model of personality factors, and initiated a longitudinal study of early personality predictors of health outcomes in later life. Due to funding challenges, the scientists studying intellectual and developmental disabilities and special education left ORI to form their own center(s). Despite the loss of these colleagues, by 1994 ORI had outgrown its new building and moved into (yet another) new building. 


Fuzhong LiThe new millennium found ORI continuing to uphold the values of scientific excellence, scientific freedom, participatory governance, and workplace fun. ORI now had an office in Portland and gained an office in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2002 when researchers from the University of New Mexico joined ORI and added treatment of youth substance abuse to our research portfolio. In 2003, ORI began the annual Research to Practice conference to share the latest applied research with community leaders, practitioners, and policy-makers. Research areas expanded to include the study of eating behavior and the prevention and treatment of eating disorders, and the effects of Tai Chi training on balance, physical functioning, and risk of falls in older adults. In addition, ORI’s funding from the U.S. Department of Education increased as scientists focused their attention on improving children’s literacy and math skills and their social competencies, and improving classroom management.


ORI building

The decade of 2010-2020 has been marked by continued expansion of our research areas and adapting to a changing and challenging funding environment for research. ORI expanded its work in developing and testing the range of Internet- and technology-based approaches to promoting behavior change in the areas of parenting, teaching, mental health, physical health, and effective English language instruction. Treatment programs for high-risk justice-involved youth, long-term follow-up of early childhood interventions, aging and cognitive decline, and the genetics of addiction were added to ORI’s research portfolio, and our long-time history of research on tobacco use shifted to a focus on vaping and e-cigarettes. Scientists increasingly focused on studying the implementation of evidence-based practices in applied settings, such as schools, health care clinics, and community agencies. ORI once again consolidated its operations into a single, newly constructed building. This decade also saw new innovations and strategic directions for ORI in the founding and growth of organizational partner Influents Innovations to create and disseminate research-based products, and the continued partnership with ORI Community and Evaluation Services to offer program evaluation, program implementation, and other related services to the community.