Falls Church resident Dr. Leo Paul Crespi, a longtime Director of Research with the United States Information Agency, passed away on July 8, 2008 at the Capital Hospice Center in Arlington, Virginia. He was 91 years old.
Dr. Crespi was born in Aurora, Illinois on July 23, 1916, and grew up in Los Angeles, California. He graduated summa cum laude from UCLA in 1937, and then went on to earn a Ph.D. degree from Princeton University in 1940 in the field of comparative psychology. It was during his time as a graduate student at Princeton that Dr. Crespi discovered what has come to be known as the “Crespi Effect.” While experimenting with running rats through laboratory mazes he observed the occurrence of the interesting phenomenon that when the attractiveness of a reward is suddenly changed, an unexpected elation or depression effect results, temporarily influencing performance more than one would expect from the size of the change in the reward. The Crespi Effect has since been cited in numerous psychology journals.
After his graduation Dr. Crespi taught on the faculty at Princeton for eight years before leaving to head up the U.S. Government’s program of surveying European public opinion that was based in postwar Germany. During this time abroad he was elected President of the World Association of Public Opinion Research. He returned to Washington in 1954 to head the USIA’s worldwide program of opinion surveys. In 1962, he received a Superior Service Award from USIA Director Edward R. Murrow for “making a unique and original contribution to the conduct of United States foreign information activities by his pioneering use of surveys.” He retired from the USIA in 1986. One of Dr. Crespi’s confidential government papers received possibly the widest attention of any opinion survey in history when it leaked out to the public domain and led to the state of U.S. prestige abroad becoming a central issue in the 1960 presidential campaign. The report was reproduced in its entirety in the New York Times just before the election (October 27, 1960), and was deemed by some to have tipped an extremely close presidential race in favor of John F. Kennedy.
A resident of Falls Church, Virginia since 1962, Dr. Crespi was married to the former Virginia Marie Anderson of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for almost fifty-one years. She passed away in 1993. Dr. Crespi is survived by his sister; Angie Bowen, of Los Angeles; his three sons; Gregory, of Dallas, Texas, Todd, of Falls Church, and Jeffrey, of Huntingtown, Maryland; his daughter-in-law Jan and grandson Scott, of Dallas; and his daughter-in-law Kathryn, of Huntingtown.
Funeral arrangements are being made by the Cunningham Funeral Home in Alexandria, Virginia.