Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a Temple psychology professor, has been awarded the first-ever Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize by the Zurich, Switzerland-based Jacobs Foundation.
The Jacobs Foundation supports the education of young people all over the world. According to its Web site, the foundation’s aim is “to unlock young peoples’ potential and help them to be come productive and socially productive members of society.”
Steinberg spent years on his research in adolescent developmental psychology, becoming an internationally recognized authority on the subject. His research has been used to help shape legislation regarding the treatment of juvenile offenders and has even been quoted in a Supreme Court decision banning the death penalty for minors.
His dedication to this work led the Jacobs Foundation to award him its newest prize, which was named for Founder Klaus J. Jacobs, who passed away in 2008.
In addition to his research on developmental psychology, Steinberg is an author, educator and father. He has had many books published on the topic of parenting and teaches a capstone class in the psychology department at Temple, where his students say his research and experience make an impact.
“Right off the bat, you can tell he’s an expert,” said Amanda Thomas, a senior psychology major who plans to continue on to a Ph.D. program for psychology after graduation. She said Steinberg’s teaching helped her decide what to specialize in when she gets there.
Shawn Washington is a senior psychology major taking Steinberg’s capstone course, but he is also a father of two. He has an 11-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son.
“[Professor Steinberg] has definitely helped me out in my life, in a meaningful way,” Washington said, as he produced a copy of Steinberg’s 1997 book, You and Your Adolescent: A Parent’s Guide for Ages 10-20.
“He’s a pleasure. One of my favorite professors that I’ve had here,” Washington said, adding that he thinks Steinberg is very deserving of the recognition the Jacobs Foundation gave him.
When asked what he plans to do with the $1 million prize, Steinberg said he hasn’t quite figured that out yet. So far, his research in adolescent psychology has covered many topics and taken various forms, from conducting interviews with juvenile offenders, to using videogames to test teens’ decision-making and risk-taking tendencies, to brain scans that reveal how young people react to their peers in different situations. Up to this point, Steinberg explained, all of these studies have been conducted in the U.S., and he hopes to use the money to finance a research project abroad.
“The big question is how much of an adolescents’ psychological development is cultural,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg attended Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he aspired to be a writer. All that changed, however, when he took a psychology course that changed his life. He doesn’t know exactly what changed his mind, he said, but from there, he went to Cornell University and earned his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology.
He then held a number of high-level positions in various psychology organizations, including being a fellow of the American Psychological Association and director of the John D. and Catherine T. MacAruthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice.
In his off time, which Steinberg says is rare, he likes to relax with his wife. His son is grown now, but they still talk frequently about many things, including the Philadelphia Eagles. He likes to read fiction and listens to the real jazz on Temple’s WRTI-FM.
His work is his passion, he said, and his research is conducted in hopes of helping to change the policies that affect young people.
Michael Polinsky can be reached at email@example.com.