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Dr. Arnold Sameroff

Professor Emeritus Arnold Sameroff and his wife Dr. Susan McDonough Endow a Lecture Series

Professor Emeritus Arnold Sameroff

Through a series of generous contributions to the Department of Psychology, Dr. Arnold Sameroff (Professor Emeritus of Psychology) and Dr. Susan McDonough (Research Associate Professor Emerita of Social Work) help the psychology community stay abreast of the latest theoretical advances in developmental psychology, the field in which Sameroff’s work has been tremendously significant. 

Sameroff, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Research Professor Emeritus of the former 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 biennial Sameroff Lecture Series in 2015, with an initial gift of $15,000 to support 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.” In 2020, Sameroff and McDonough gifted an additional $60,000 to endow the lectureship into the future. 

Dr. Susan Gelman, chair of the U-M Developmental Psychology area, noted, "We are all immensely grateful to Arnold and Susan for their generous gift. The Arnold Sameroff Lecture Series in Developmental Theory is the most important event in our area, and we are thrilled that it will continue in perpetuity. Now more than ever, this series enriches our intellectual and interpersonal community, bringing us together to reflect on theoretical questions that unify the study of human development. We are so proud that Michigan will have the opportunity to continue to offer this important event that benefits students and faculty alike, and reminds us of the big picture perspective that motivates all our work.”

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. McDonough, his wife, received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and also worked as faculty member at Brown University before retiring from the School of Social Work at U-M, where she also had had a position at the Center for Human Growth and Development.

Sameroff’s research focused on factors that contribute to mental health and psychopathology. Through longitudinal projects with infants, school-age children, and adolescents, he examined the effects of parent, family, community, school, and peer groups on social-emotional and academic success. 

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.

Sameroff created his eponymous 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 prominent. Most investigators, especially graduate students, are committed to making important advances in empirical research, which frequently allows little time to step back and speculate on the big picture and ask questions about what all of this means. I wanted the lectureship to encourage more comprehensive thinking.”

Before the pandemic interrupted the series, there were two lectures: Jay Belsky (Robert M. and Natalie Reid Dorn Professor of Human Development at UC Davis) in 2016, and Alison Gopnik (Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley) in 2018. Each presented on theoretical approaches to understanding human development that had both integrative and controversial aspects. The series also features social events that give students exciting opportunities to interact directly with the speakers and other colleagues. We highly anticipate the continuation of the series, once it is again safe to convene in person.