Our History

Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world’s largest and oldest academic survey research organizations, and a leader in the development and application of social science methods and education.

With researchers from a broad range of academic disciplines, ISR serves as a national laboratory for the social sciences, advancing public understanding of human behavior through empirical research of extraordinary depth and breadth.

Among our accomplishments:

  • ISR founding director Rensis Likert developed the elegant “Likert Scale,” the most widely used measure of attitudes and opinions in academic, government, and private sector research today.
  • ISR pioneered survey sampling theories and methods that resulted in the only correct prediction of the 1948 U.S. presidential election and that still form the basis of scientifically valid surveys, market research, and public opinion polling.
  • ISR fielded the 1954 double-blind experimental trials for the Salk polio vaccine on a national sample of U.S. schoolchildren, revealing that the vaccine was both safe and effective, and ending the polio epidemic that terrorized a generation.
  • ISR started the field of organizational behavior, developing T-groups and sensitivity training.
  • ISR discovered the high turnover in the poverty population, countering widespread misconceptions that the same people remain mired in a culture of poverty year after year.
  • ISR established that behavior is at least as important as biology in determining health and longevity.

Interactive Timeline

ISR celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2008 and created an interactive timeline of important milestones in our history.  Hover over an image to learn about individual events or click on any image to view the full timeline.

Hover over an image for the description. Click on any image to view the full timeline.

From the Archive

Public Awareness of Atomic Energy in the ’50s

Question #12 from the Survey.

Question from the AEC Survey

When “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima, the world was dramatically introduced to the Atomic Age and by 1950 there were seven major laboratories in the United States conducting research on the peacetime uses of atomic energy. Nothing was known about the public’s awareness of atomic energy or their response to living near these installations. It behooved the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), “the new Promethei” , to learn more if they wanted to make good administrative decisions concerning the development of the new field. Therefore, in 1950 they hired the SRC to conduct a survey. Read more.

More information

To learn more about ISR’s history, download a PDF of “Social Science in the Public Interest: A Fiftieth-Year History of the Institute for Social Research,” published in 1998.