He did his undergraduate work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Doctor of Philosophy in psychology at Princeton University"s Department of Psychology under John Tukey and Silvan Tomkins.
From Princeton, Abelson went to Yale, where he stayed for the subsequent five decades of his career. Arriving during the Yale Communication Project, Abelson contributed to the foundation of attitudes studies as co-author of Attitude Organization and Change: An Analysis of Consistency Among Attitude Component, (1960, with Rosenberg, Hovland, McGuire, & Brehm). With Milton J. Rosenberg, he developed the notion of “symbolic psycho-logic," an early attempt, using an idiosyncratic kind of adjacency matrix of a signed graph, at a descriptive (rather than prescriptive) psychological organization of attitudes and attitude consistency, which was key to the development of the field of social cognition.
The notion that beliefs, attitudes, and ideology were deeply connected knowledge structures was contained in Scripts, Plans, Goals, and Understanding (1977, with Roger Schank), a work that has collected several thousand citations, and led to the first interdisciplinary graduate program in cognitive science at Yale.
He was a co-author of several other books in psychology, statistics, and political science. In 1959, Abelson published a paper to elucidate different ways in which an individual tends to resolve his "belief dilemmas" (Abelson «Modes of Resolution of Belief Dilemmas» Journal of conflict Resolution 1959).
He died of complications of Parkinson"s disease.
His work on voting behavior in the 1960 and 1964 elections, and the creation of a computer program modeling ideology (the “Goldwater machine”) helped define and build the field of political psychology. He was the author of Statistics As Principled Argument which is not only a cogent review of how statistical analysis should proceed, but also a hands-on description of what statistical analysis is, why we should do it, and how to differentiate good from bad statistical arguments.
American Academy of Arts and Sciences.