July 17, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 19

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    Professor Emeritus Freedman was pioneer in psychology

    Daniel G. Freedman, a pioneering psychologist whose research established that both biological and evolutionary viewpoints are required to fully understand the complexity of human behavior, died Tuesday, June 10 at his home in Ribera, N.M. He was 81.

    “Dr. Freedman was a distinguished psychologist whose contributions to child development, behavioral genetics, human ethology and evolutionary psychology inspired colleagues and students, both in the United States and abroad,” said former student Nancy Segal, professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton. “These multiple perspectives are now being increasingly embraced by researchers in psychology and related fields.”

    “He loved to be provocative, and with a grin and twinkling blue eyes, passionately challenged anyone foolhardy enough to separate culture and mind from biology,” said Martha McClintock, the David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology.

    Freedman, Professor Emeritus in Comparative Human Development, was ahead of his time in research and thinking about genes and behavior. His articles and books anticipated many current scholarly themes in the behavioral sciences, Segal said. His work looked at questions of difference in human development and explored the cultural and biological basis for those differences.

    He was the author of two books, Human Infancy: An Evolutionary Perspective (1974), and Human Sociobiology: A Holistic Approach (1980) and a co-author with D.B. Omark and F.F. Strayer of Dominance Relations (1980).

    “Dan brought a distinctive vision to social science. That approach galvanized many students to think in more comprehensive ways,” said Richard Taub, Chair of Comparative Human Development.

    His work looked at the broad issues of the human experience. In Human Sociobiology, he looked at male-female interactions, status hierarchies, infants and the philosophy of science. His research looked at topics such as how children develop smiles and why men have beards. Beards, he said, increase women’s attraction to men, he contended, because facial hair makes them look masculine and mature.

    “Dan was revered by his students. He had a sharp wit and was influenced by Abraham Maslow, the psychologist who emphasized self-actualization,” said Raymond Fogelson, Professor in Anthropology and the College. “Dan’s life was an expression of self-actualization.”

    “Another influence was Gregory Bateson, who helped Dan think about biological models and apply them cross-culturally. Dan and Bateson took a trip with the International School of America, in which they took college students around the world on a ship to experience different cultures, stopping at ports of call.”

    Freedman received three degrees in psychology: an A.B. in 1949 from the University of California, Berkeley, an A.M. in 1953 from the University of Colorado, and a Ph.D. in 1957 from Brandeis University.

    He was a research fellow from 1955 to 1957 at Jackson Memorial Laboratories, Division of Behavioral Studies, Bar Harbor, Maine, where he collected data on four breeds of dogs to learn more about the differences in temperaments among breeds.

    He held a U.S. Public Health Service Fellowship from 1957 to 1959 at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatry Institute in San Francisco, where he was principal investigator on a longitudinal study of infant twins. He received a National Institute of Mental Health Special Fellowship for study at the Institute for Medical Genetics, in Uppsala, Sweden, where he studied from 1963 to 1964. He was then appointed Assistant Professor in Biology at the University, a position he held until 1968.

    He then co-led an observational study of different cultures, in conjunction with the International School of America and rejoined the University as Professor in Human Development in 1977.

    After his appointment at Chicago, he also was a visiting faculty member at the Australian National University in Canberra, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Institute for Juvenile Research in Chicago, and Nankai University of Tianjin, China. He was also associated with the Center for Family Studies at Northwestern University.

    Those intellectual excursions were opportunities to study cross-cultural consistencies in behavior, as well as cultural and individual variability. His studies of behavioral variations in different dog breeds, personality development in infant twins and male-female differences in behavior not only were groundbreaking at the time, but also are relevant to current intellectual questions, Segal said. He also was one of the first human ethologists, collecting data on 16-millimeter film.

    In his later years, Freedman moved to Ribera, N.M., where he pursued a number of interests. He was very concerned with the unity of biology and culture. He also provided foster care for scores of homeless puppies.

    He was scheduled to read a paper on the topic at the 2008 meeting of the International Society for Human Ethology in Bologna, Italy, where he also would be honored as one of the great founders of the field.

    Surviving Freedman are his wife Jane Gorman of Ribera, N.M., former wife Nina Chinn, sons Tony and Greg, and granddaughter Natalie. Memorials may be made to an animal rescue group of a donor’s choice.