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Dr. Arnold Sameroff

Professor Emeritus Arnold Sameroff’s Gift Launches a Lecture Series in His Name


Professor Emeritus Arnold Sameroff

Through a generous gift to the Department of Psychology, Dr. Arnold Sameroff, University of Michigan Professor Emeritus of Psychology, helps the psychology community stay abreast of the latest theoretical advances in developmental psychology, the field in which his impact has been tremendously significant.

Sameroff, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Research Professor Emeritus of the Center for Human Growth and Development (CHGD), was a pioneer in the field of developmental psychopathology and made profound and long-lasting contributions to the understanding of risk processes in human development and behavioral science. He established the Sameroff Lecture Series in 2015, with a gift of $15,000. The fund supports three biennial lectures on theoretical development psychology in order to promote a greater understanding of theory underlying current research in the field and, in Sameroff’s words, “to expose students to the frontiers of developmental thinking.”

After earning his B.S. in psychology at Michigan in 1961 and his Ph.D. from Yale in 1965, Sameroff held faculty positions at the University of Rochester, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Brown University. He joined the Michigan faculty in 1992. As his alma mater, there was an emotional pull to Michigan, but more importantly he was drawn to “the quality of the Psychology Department, especially the developmental area,” as well as the opportunity to work with the Center for Human Growth and Development.

Sameroff’s research focused on factors that contribute to mental health and psychopathology. Thorough longitudinal projects with infants, school-age children, and adolescents, he examined the effects of parent, family, community, school, and peer group on social-emotional and academic success. In 1975, he and colleague Michael Chandler proposed the transactional model of child development, conceptualizing how biological and environmental risk factors operate together as causes of developmental impairments in childhood. Most prior research in this area had been based on reductionist and mechanistic models positing single risk factors as primary causes of developmental impairments.

During the course of his career and the many longitudinal studies with which he was involved, he became increasingly committed to a life span perspective, recognizing not only the importance of understanding the interaction of biological and environmental risk factors at any one point in time but also the potentially devastating impact of accumulated risk.

His work emphasizing the interrelationship between Developmental Psychology and Psychopathology is particularly important in that it emphasized what each has to contribute to and learn from the other. Developmental psychologists can learn about normal development by understanding pathology.  Similarly, psychopathologists have much to learn by understanding normal development.

The Society for Research in Child Development lists the 1975 review article introducing their theory—“Reproductive Risk and the Continuum of Caretaking Casualty”—as one of the most influential contributions to developmental science in the twentieth century, and Sameroff’s work continues to inspire new empirical and theoretical research. He garnered numerous major awards, including the G. Stanley Hall Award for Distinguished Contribution to Developmental Psychology from the American Psychological Association (2001) and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Research in Child Development (2005).

Sameroff created the lecture series because he wanted to “give students exposure to people who were thinking big—whether they were right or wrong.” As he explains, “I grew up in psychology when big theories were the issue. Between Piaget and Freud, many people were thinking in large scale. I was educated that way and continued to think that way. Most investigators are committed to making important advances in research, which takes a lot of time, developing empirical methods, testing them, and frequently does not leave them the luxury of stepping back and saying, what’s the big picture, what does all this mean. I wanted to encourage that.”

The lecture series started in April 2016 with Professor Jay Belsky of the UC Davis Human Development Graduate Group, who spoke on “The Development of Human Reproductive Strategies: Progress and Prospects.” Sameroff called Belsky’s lecture a “good kick off with someone who represents theoretical issues in developmental theory that had both interesting and controversial aspects.”

The second biennial lecture is April 2, 2018, and will feature Alison Gopnik, Professor of Psychology and Affiliate Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.