Amos Tversky was born on March 16th, 1937 in Israel, into a half-Polish and half-Russian family who had immigrated to Israel.6 At a young age, Tversky became interested in literary criticism, already paving the way for his against-the-grain career. However, before beginning his higher education, Tversky had to serve in the military, as is obligatory in Israel, despite the fact that he had gotten involved with a youth movement that fought obligatory military service.7 Even if Tversky approached the military with apprehension, once a soldier, he exhibited exceptional bravery. At 19 he saved the life of another soldier by pushing him to safety right before an explosion, which earned him Israel’s highest military honor. He went on to become a captain and served in three wars.6
After his time in the military, Tversky began to pursue higher education. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Hebrew University in 1961 before moving to the U.S. to complete his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. He completed his doctorate in 1965, where he met his wife, Barbara, who was also a cognitive psychology student.6
Tversky began teaching at Michigan, before moving to Harvard and then returning to his roots in Israel to be a guest-speaker in Daniel Kahneman’s class, “Applications of Psychology”.8 Although they collaborated for most of their career, the first time the pair appeared to be working together came as quite a surprise – Tversky’s work was highly theoretical, whereas Kahneman’s focused on real-world problems. At the time, Tversky was thought of as a mathematical psychologist, detached from real-life and more focused on models and equations. He was in the midst of publishing a three-volume textbook Foundations of Measurement full of proofs and axioms. It was perhaps his complete contrast to Kahneman, in both their work and their personalities, that made the unlikely pair such a force to be reckoned with as they both took up full-time posts at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Tversky’s wife described their relationship as “more intense than a marriage” as they began to spend most of their time together, conducting ground-breaking studies that would forever change the face of economics and psychology.8 They were perhaps the strongest behavioral science duo to ever exist.
Tversky later moved to teach at Stanford in 1978 which would be his final post. Throughout his academic career, he received various awards and honors. One of the most notable was his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1980, an academy dedicated to honoring the most brilliant minds across disciplines.6 Despite his math-focused start, Tversky’s insights were accessible and relevant to the layman. That might be why when he won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1984, he claimed that what he had studied was common knowledge for “advertisers and used car salesmen.” 9
Unfortunately, Tversky died at only the age of 59 in 1996 from skin cancer. This was six years before Kahneman received the Nobel Prize in economics. However, in his acceptance speech, Kahneman was sure to give his late friend the credit he deserved and informed the public that the work that had earned him the prestigious award was “done jointly with Amos Tversky during a long and unusually close collaboration. Together, we explored the psychology of intuitive beliefs and choices and examined their bounded rationality”.7