Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Psychology in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, died on October 9, 2012, in Ann Arbor, MI. He was 62. A native of Chicago, Dr. Peterson received his B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He joined the University of Michigan in 1986.

Dr. Peterson was a pioneer in two main research areas in clinical and personality psychology. His work on explanatory styles found that the way people explain events predict a variety of outcomes such as health and achievement. Later in his career, Dr. Peterson was a leader in the field of positive psychology, the scientific study of character strengths and human thriving. His work led to interventions used in clinical settings, schools, communities, and organizations to boost mental health. During his career, Dr. Peterson published more than 350 scholarly works. In 2011, he was placed as one of the most Highly Cited Researchers over the prior 30 years, placing him among the top 0.5% of publishing researchers worldwide.

Dr. Peterson was likely the most public intellectual in the Psychology Department during his tenure here. His work was featured broadly in the public media, from the New York Times to Good Morning America to National Public Radio. Dr. Peterson also gave many lectures and workshops for physicians, social workers, teachers, and business leaders worldwide.

Dr. Peterson is perhaps most well known as a legendary educator who taught thousands of students in some of the largest courses at UM, such as Introductory Psychology. Dr. Peterson’s skills in the classroom earned him an Arthur F. Thurnau Professorship and the Golden Apple Award, the only teaching award given by UM students. Dr. Peterson is one of the very few faculty members at UM to have garnered both honors. His mentoring of graduate and undergraduate students was unparalleled; during his time at Michigan, he served on the committees of over 130 completed Ph.D. dissertations and 70 undergraduate honors theses. Dr. Peterson also wrote four undergraduate psychology textbooks used by students around the country and the world. In 2012, Dr. Peterson received the Toy Caldwell-Colbert Award for a Distinguished Educator in Clinical Psychology from the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Peterson was as a leader in the Department of Psychology, serving in the department’s executive committee more than any other faculty member. He also served on many other important departmental, college, university, and professional committees over the years. In 2010, Dr. Peterson directed a theme semester “What Makes Life Worth Living?”, organizing more than 100 talks, workshops, and exercises on campus.

Dr. Peterson is survived by his parents and a brother. Dr. Peterson was known for his devotion to his numerous students, collaborators, and good friends, who will forever remember his wisdom, wit, and warmth.

In memory of Dr. Peterson, the Psychology Department initiated the Chris Peterson Memorial Lecture and the Chris Peterson Staff Excellence Award.

Chris Peterson Memorial Lectures

2018 - Barry Schwartz, Emeritus Professor at Swarthmore College, Visiting Professor at Berkeley Haas
2016 - Dacher Keltner, Professor of Psychology, University of California Berkeley
2014 - Martin Seligman, Zellerbach Family professor of psychology and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania
2012 - Barbara Frederickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina

Chris Peterson Staff Excellence Award

The staff award is presented by the faculty and graduate students in recognition of outstanding service by living Chris’s motto “Other people matter. Period.


2022 - Megan Wolgast
2021 - Chris Buck, Jaime Howe, Keith Wiley, Jeremy Wilson
2020 - Brian Wallace
2019 - Shamilya Williams
2018 - Linda Anderson
2017 - Tim Keeler
2016 - Anna Caruso
2015 - Bakari Wooten
2014 - Mary Mohrbach
2013 - Laurie Brannan