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Bruce Ellis

As an iconoclast in my youth, and someone who was always attracted to big ideas, I developed a strong interest in evolutionary psychology—the idea that Darwin’s great theory could help explain human psychology and behavior.  I knew that I was on to something when I gave my very first classroom presentation on this topic (in an undergraduate Sociology of Sex Roles class at Cal Poly); it caused such a stir that the professor went in for 3 hours of Gestalt Therapy afterwards.  Now I always tell my students that if they can so fundamentally challenge their professors’ ideas that it sends them into therapy, then they are doing their jobs as creative thinkers and learners.  

After graduating from Cal Poly, I pursued doctoral training in evolutionary and personality psychology at the University of Michigan, where I studied the mating behavior of college students.  This early work, however, largely ignored developmental processes. I eventually became dissatisfied with this approach, underwent three years of postdoctoral training in developmental psychopathology at Vanderbilt University, and shifted from studying adult behavior to child and adolescent development.

In both my teaching and research, I emphasize biospsychosocial processes in fathers, parenting, and family stress and their effects on development and health. As the Norton Chair, my goal is collaboration and advancement of knowledge around a set of shared research questions in this area. To make sense of it all, I rely on evolutionary-developmental theory, which guides how I form hypotheses, aids in recognizing and integrating significant observations, and suggests lines of research to pursue (and avoid).