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Dr. Laurence Steinberg
News and Opinion

A Win for Temple U’s Dr. Laurence Steinberg
Awarded Jacobs $1 Million Prize for Research.

-- Bonnie Squires

If someone were to ask the question of academics, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", they might see Dr. Laurence Steinberg, the Distinguished University Professor and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University, raise his hand. Not that he initiated the prize. He didn't even get to respond to the question, "Is this your final answer?" Instead, the psychology department, and a psychology association which he once served as president, nominated him for the inaugural Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize for Productive Youth Development. The prize is worth one million dollars.

Jacobs was one of the wealthiest men in Europe, having made his fortune with coffee and chocolate. At his death a year ago, his family decided to memorialize him with the special prize.

Steinberg has authored dozens of books and articles about juvenile development, particularly in the field of juvenile justice. His research was cited in several landmark Supreme Court decisions, including the 2005 decision which prohibits the death penalty for teenagers who commit major crimes. His studies have found that young brains continue to grow and change, and that the majority of cases he has studied prove that the juvenile offender does not become an inveterate criminal.

Steinberg is very excited about the million-dollar prize, which was not tied to any particular research project, but was granted for the body of work he has done during his career studying juvenile development and working to achieve fair and evidence-based public policy.

Steinberg has always thought outside the box. He went to Vassar College, for example, a male in the first co-ed class, Class of 1974, at what had formerly been a women's college.

One of Steinberg's colleagues in the Psychology Department, Dr. Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, said of him, "Few scientists perfectly balance cutting-edge research with application and policy. Larry is well known as a pioneer in adolescent behavior and brain research, as a leading voice in parenting and schooling, and as driving force on legal and social policy for juvenile offenders. And to think that on top of this he has time to be a wonderful colleague and a good friend!"

Dr. Steinberg discusses his work on juvenile development.

Dr. Marsha Weinraub, chair of Temple’s Psychology Department, said, "Larry is a leader in the field of Developmental Psychology. His work studying neurological change in adolescence and his consideration of the implications of these changes for teens' risk-taking behavior and social-emotional decision-making are ground-breaking. In addition to his contributions to our science, Larry is also an award-winning Great Teacher, a thoughtful collaborator, and an excellent Departmental citizen. It was not at all surprising to us that Larry was chosen as the first recipient of this very important award that publicly recognizes his contributions to our understanding of adolescent development."

Steinberg and his entire family will travel to Zurich, Switzerland, in early December for the award ceremony. The check, by the way, goes to Temple University, to allow him to expand his adolescent brain and behavior research to countries outside the United States.

Steinberg points to the film, "Sleepers," as an example of juveniles doing something impulsive and stupid that has tragic consequences. The recent scandal in Pennsylvania's Luzerne County courts, where two judges were paid to sentence hundreds of juveniles to private detention centers, is the tip of the iceberg. Steinberg says terrible things are done to juvenile offenders all across the country, and he hopes his research will reverse the situation.

He has co-authored with law professor Elizabeth Scott, the book Rethinking Juvenile Justice published by Harvard University press.

Although he took off some time to do interviews, Steinberg is back at work doing research on young offenders and hoping to impact public policy.

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