In Response to: Effortlessly Perfect?

Roy Heath ’39 documented the “effortless perfection” phenomenon (On the Campus, Dec. 3) but did not give it this name in his study of 36 members of the Class of 1954, whom he followed intensively throughout their undergraduate years. The study was reported in his book The Reasonable Adventurer: A Study of the Development of Thirty-Six Undergraduates at Princeton (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1964). Roy developed a typology placing the participants on scales of temperament and ego-functioning, and called the ideal outcome of the undergraduate experience the “reasonable adventurer.” In comparison with a control group of non-participants, those in the study were markedly more successful both as undergraduates and in their subsequent careers, which was evidence of what is known as a “Hawthorne effect” in social experiments.

He explored this effect when interviewing the participants and members of the control group just before their 25th reunion and reported his findings to the class in “Princeton Retrospectives: Twenty-Fifth-Year Reflections on a College Education.”

Many of them commented on the value of having a sympathetic listener as they struggled with the process of finding their identity and discovering that they were not alone in their struggles. As he wrote in a letter to me, “One of the opportunities Princeton offers is the challenge and the chance to fail. It is truly a shakedown experience for many. Not only does it reveal false and workable personae, but also other talents and resources that were hitherto undeveloped. ... All this points up the importance of not always playing safe with one’s options.” 

Roy was beloved by many more than the participants in the study, and the Class of 1954 dedicated its Nassau Herald to him. Roy died in 1991. He would be gratified to learn of the Princeton Perspective Project.

Alan E. Mayers ’54