AUSTIN, Texas—Dr. John Cook Wright, senior lecturer and senior research scientist in the department of human ecology at The University of Texas at Austin, was killed in a two-car accident Monday (July 9) near Brainerd, Minn.
Wright and his wife, Dr. Aletha Huston, were pioneering researchers on the effects of television on children. Huston, also a faculty member at UT Austin, was not among the passengers involved in the accident.
Wright, 68, focused his research on the effects of television viewing on social and cognitive development in children; the design and evaluation of educational programs for children; and the development of attention, search and other information-gathering skills.
He held a one-third-time appointment in the department of radio, television and film (two-thirds in the division of human development and family sciences) and was the director of The Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Children (CRITC).
"John was highly regarded by his colleagues and students for his selfless service and mentoring, always putting their interests before his own," Dr. Jack Gilbert, interim chair of the human ecology department, said of Wright’s death. "He was sought after by faculty and students alike for his wise counsel and set standards for fairness, cooperation and equity that are a model for all of us. John was on the faculty here at UT Austin for only a relatively brief time, but his impact on the program in human development and family sciences will be long-lasting."
Dr. Sheldon Ekland-Olson, UT Austin provost, said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with Aletha and her family. It is a tragic loss. John brought much strength to the University and will be sorely missed."
According to police and wire service reports, a Ford F-150 and a Suburu Outback wagon driven by Wright collided head-on Monday afternoon on Highway 18, nine miles east of Brainerd.
The drivers of both vehicles, Wright and Gradon Ellsworth Hines, 48, of Brainerd, were pronounced dead at the scene. Two others, Paul Jefferson, 41, Lawrence, Kan., a passenger in Wright’s car, and Ruth Hines, 46, Brainerd, a passenger in Gradon Hines’ truck, were injured. Both weretransported to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd. Jefferson was discharged. Hines was listed in fair condition this morning.
Formerly chair of the Basic Behavioral Sciences Research Review Committee of the National Institute of Mental Health and member of the Governing Council of the Society for Research in Child Development, Wright has published in child development, developmental psychology and related journals. In 1990, he received the Special Recognition Award of the American Alliance for Theater and Education. Considered an excellent mentor of graduate students, Wright chaired 37 dissertation committees. In 1993, he received the Outstanding Mentor Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas. He earned a doctorate degree from Stanford University in 1960.
Provost David Shulenburger, chief academic officer on the University of Kansas’ Lawrence campus, issued the following statement after learning of Wright’s death:
"John Wright was a distinguished member of the KU community for many years. His friends and colleagues here are stunned and saddened by news of his death. We grieve, as well, for Professor Aletha Huston, who was John’s partner in every respect, and whose loss is so great."
Wright spent 28 years at the University of Kansas, while Huston worked there for 20 years, before they both were recruited to come to UT Austin in 1996.
CRITC, the Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Children, was founded in 1976 by Wright and Huston at the University of Kansas to study the impact of various kinds of television viewing on children’s behavior and development.
In 1996, it moved with its founders to the division of child development and family relationships in the department of human ecology at UT Austin.
Grounded in developmental psychology and communication research, it has conducted laboratory studies of how children decode the medium of television; how they understand its forms and formats, as well as its content. Visual attention to experimental TV segments, and recall of their messages, is one common focus of such studies.
CRITC’s research has been funded by more than $4 million in grants from both private foundations and the federal government. Sources include the Spencer Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Markle Foundation, as well as the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. CRITC’s work has been disseminated in more than 120 publications and presentations at scientific and professional meetings and conferences.
Huston specializes in understanding the effects of poverty on children and the influence early intervention programs have on these effects. She is a principal investigator in the New HopeProject, a study of the effects on children and families of parents’ participation in a work-based program to reduce poverty.