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Michael Rutter

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Michael Rutter
Michael Llewellyn Rutter

(1933-08-15)15 August 1933
Died23 October 2021(2021-10-23) (aged 88)
Alma materUniversity of Birmingham Medical School
AwardsJoseph Zubin Award (2003)
Scientific career
FieldsChild psychiatry
Thesis Illness in parents and children  (1963)
WebsiteOfficial website

Sir Michael Llewellyn Rutter CBE FRS[1] FRCP FRCPsych FMedSci (15 August 1933 – 23 October 2021) was the first person to be appointed professor of child psychiatry in the United Kingdom. He has been described as the "father of child psychiatry".[2]

Rutter was professor of developmental psychopathology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, and consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital, a post he held from 1966 until retiring in July 2021.

A survey published in Review of General Psychology in 2002 ranked Rutter as the 68th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[3]

He died of cancer on 23 October 2021, aged 88.[4]

Early life


Rutter was the oldest child born to Winifred (née Barber) and Llewellyn Rutter. He was born in Lebanon where his father was a doctor, and was bilingual in English and Arabic by the age of 3. The family moved back to England when he was 4 years old. In 1940, at the age of 7, Rutter was evacuated, with his younger sister, to North America amid fears of a German invasion.[5] They were sent to different households, and he had a much happier time than his sister Priscilla. They both returned to their family in 1944 [4]



Rutter attended the Moorestown Friends School in New Jersey, USA. Later he attended Wolverhampton Grammar School and then Bootham School in York.[6][7] Here a physics teacher encouraged him to read works of Freud, and he trained himself to wake up and write down his dreams. This marked the beginning of his journey into psychology. He continued his studies at the University of Birmingham Medical School, originally intending to become a GP and join his father in his practice. However, he became more interested in the relationship between the brain, mind and neurosurgery, and went into post-graduate training in neurology and paediatrics. [4][8]

He was mentored by Sir Aubrey Lewis at the Maudsley Hospital in South London, who guided him towards becoming a child psychiatrist. Rutter had not realised before this point that this was a profession that would suit him well. [4]



Rutter set up the Medical Research Council (UK) Child Psychiatry Research Unit in 1984 and the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre ten years later,[9] being Honorary Director of both until October 1998. He was Deputy Chairman of the Wellcome Trust from 1999 to 2004, and was a Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation from 1992 to 2008.[10]

Rutter's work includes: early epidemiological studies (Isle of Wight and Inner London); studies of autism involving a wide range of scientific techniques and disciplines, including DNA study and neuroimaging; links between research and practice; deprivation; influences of families and schools; genetics; reading disorders; biological and social, protective and risk factors; interactions of biological and social factors; stress; longitudinal as well as epidemiologic studies, including childhood and adult experiences and conditions; and continuities and discontinuities in normal and pathological development. The British Journal of Psychiatry credits him with a number of "breakthroughs"[11] in these areas. Rutter is also recognized as contributing centrally to the establishment of child psychiatry as a medical and biopsychosocial specialty with a solid scientific base.[12]

He published over 400 scientific papers and chapters and some 40 books.[13][8][14] He was the European Editor for the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders between 1974 and 1994.[15]

In 1972, Rutter published 'Maternal Deprivation Reassessed',[16] which New Society describes as "a classic in the field of child care" in which he evaluated the maternal deprivation hypothesis propounded by Dr John Bowlby in 1951.[17] Bowlby had proposed that “the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment” and that not to do so may have significant and irreversible mental health consequences. This theory was both influential and controversial. Rutter made a significant contribution, his 1981 monograph and other papers (Rutter 1972; Rutter 1979) constituting the definitive empirical evaluation and update of Bowlby's early work on maternal deprivation. He amassed further evidence, addressed the many different underlying social and psychological mechanisms and showed that Bowlby was only partially right and often for the wrong reasons. Rutter highlighted the other forms of deprivation found in institutional care, the complexity of separation distress and suggested that anti-social behaviour was not linked to maternal deprivation as such but to family discord. The importance of these refinements of the maternal deprivation hypothesis was to reposition it as a "vulnerability factor" rather than a causative agent, with a number of varied influences determining which path a child will take.[16][18]

After the end of Nicolae Ceauşescu's regime in Romania in 1989, Rutter led the English and Romanian Adoptees Study Team, following many of the orphans adopted into Western families into their teens in a series of substantial studies on the effects of early privation and deprivation across multiple domains affecting child development including attachment and the development of new relationships. The results yielded some reason for optimism.[19]

In June 2014, Rutter was the guest on the BBC Radio 4 programme The Life Scientific, in which he described himself as a Nontheist Quaker, as well as revealing that, at the age of 80, he still worked each day "from about half past eight until about four".[20]

Rutter was professor of developmental psychopathology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London and consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital, a post he held since 1966, until retiring in July 2021.[21] A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Rutter as the 68th most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[22] He has been described as the "father of child psychology".[23]

Rutter was the first to recognise the contributions that children themselves could make to the research into child psychology. Previously their voices had not been deemed as important, though he insisted that their viewpoints did matter and that they should be listened to.[4]

Attachment theory


Among Rutter's research topics was his extended interest in maternal attachment theory as studied in his 1974 book The Qualities of Mothering. In this book, Rutter studies the emergence of several disorders in growing children including antisocial personality disorder and affectionless psychopathology. Rutter's concentration is often reflected in his comments dealing with deprived learning environments and deprived emotional environment as these affect the child's growth. One of the principal distinctions which Rutter makes throughout his book titled The Qualities of Mothering is the difference between intellectual retardation in the child and the impairment of the emotional growth of the child as the non-development of healthy emotional growth.[24][25]

Awards and honours


Rutter had honorary degrees from the universities of Leiden, Amsterdam (University of Amsterdam UvA), Louvain, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Chicago, Minnesota, Ghent, Jyväskylä, Warwick, East Anglia, Cambridge and Yale.

Rutter was an honorary fellow of the British Academy and an elected Fellow of the Royal Society.[26][27] He was a Founding Fellow of the Academia Europaea and the Academy of Medical Sciences and was knighted in the 1992 New Year Honours.[28][29][14] The Michael Rutter Centre for Children and Adolescents, based at Maudsley Hospital, London, is named after him.

In 1983 he gave the annual Swarthmore Lecture to a large gathering of British Quakers, attending their Yearly Meeting, later published as A Measure of Our Values: goals and dilemmas in the upbringing of children.[30]

In 2004 he was awarded the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology Distinguished Career Award. [31]

Personal life and death


Rutter married Marjorie Heys, a nurse, on 27 December 1958. The couple had three children.[32] His interests included fell walking, tennis, wine tasting and theatre.[4] Rutter died at home on 23 October 2021, aged 88.[33][34][29][35]

See also



  1. ^ Maughan, Barbara; Pickles, Andrew (2023). "Sir Michael Llewellyn Rutter. 15 August 1933—23 October 2021". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 75: 433–454. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2023.0018.
  2. ^ Professor Sir Michael Rutter CBE FRS FRCP FRCPsych, 1933 - 2021". King's College London.
  3. ^ Steven J. Haggbloom et al. "The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century". Review of General Psychology, vol. 6, no. 2: 139-152.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Professor Sir Michael Rutter obituary". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 4 November 2021.
  5. ^ "600th Anniversary Campaign – Alumni and supporters – University of St Andrews". www.st-andrews.ac.uk.
  6. ^ Bootham School Register. York, England: Bootham Old Scholars Association. 2011.
  7. ^ [1] Who's Who. Oxford University Press]
  8. ^ a b "Professor Sir Michael Rutter retires after 55 years at the IoPPN". www.kcl.ac.uk.
  9. ^ Rutter, Michael; Werker, Janet (9 December 2021). "A Conversation with Michael Rutter". Annual Review of Developmental Psychology. 3 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1146/annurev-devpsych-021821-044256. ISSN 2640-7922. S2CID 234889517. Retrieved 25 January 2022.
  10. ^ "Past Trustees and Directors | Nuffield Foundation".
  11. ^ Kolvin, I (1999). "The contribution of Michael Rutter". The British Journal of Psychiatry. 174 (6): 471–5. doi:10.1192/bjp.174.6.471. PMID 10616623.
  12. ^ Hartman, L (2003). Review of Green & Yule, Research and Innovation on the Road to Modern Child Psychiatry. Am J Psychiatry, Jan;160:196–197.[2]
  13. ^ "A digest of the published work of Michael Rutter 1958-2020". 14 September 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Professor Sir Michael Rutter obituary". 28 July 2023 – via www.thetimes.co.uk.
  15. ^ "Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders". Springer.
  16. ^ a b Rutter, M (1981) Maternal Deprivation Reassessed, Second edition, Harmondsworth, Penguin.
  17. ^ Bowlby, J (1951) Maternal Care and Mental Health, World Health Organisation WHO
  18. ^ Holmes J. (1993) John Bowlby & Attachment Theory. Routledge. pp. 49–53. ISBN 0-415-07729-X
  19. ^ Rutter, M. (2002). "Nature, Nurture, and Development: From Evangelism through Science toward Policy and Practice". Child Development. 73 (1): 1–21. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00388. PMID 14717240.
  20. ^ Professor Sir Michael Rutter on The Life Scientific, BBC Radio 4
  21. ^ Rutter, M. (1987). "Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms". American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 57 (3): 316–31. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.1987.tb03541.x. PMID 3303954.
  22. ^ Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Renee; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; Powell III, John L.; Beavers, Jamie; Monte, Emmanuelle (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century". Review of General Psychology. 6 (2): 139–152. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139. S2CID 145668721.
  23. ^ Pearce, J (2005). Eric Taylor: The cheerful pessimist. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Feb;10(1):40–41.[3]
  24. ^ Rutter, Michael (26 October 1972). Maternal deprivation reassessed. [Harmondsworth] Penguin. ISBN 9780140805611 – via Internet Archive.
  25. ^ Nadelson, Carol; Notman, Malkah (1 September 1981). "Child Psychiatry Perspectives: Women, Work, and Children". Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry. 20 (4): 863–875. doi:10.1097/00004583-198102000-00014. PMID 7035527 – via ScienceDirect.
  26. ^ "Sir Michael Rutter Hon FBA". The British Academy.
  27. ^ "Michael Rutter | Royal Society". royalsociety.org.
  28. ^ "Academy of Europe: Rutter Michael". www.ae-info.org.
  29. ^ a b "Professor Sir Michael Rutter 1933 - 2021". www.kcl.ac.uk.
  30. ^ Rutter, Michael (25 October 1983). A Measure of Our Values: Goals and Dilemmas in the Upbringing of Children. Quaker Home Service. ISBN 9780852451700 – via Google Books.
  31. ^ SCCAP Award Winners: Division 53, (Accessed 29 May 2018)
  32. ^ "Professor Sir Michael Rutter obituary". 28 July 2023 – via www.thetimes.co.uk. In 1958 he married Marjorie Heys, a nurse who was the co-author of some of his books including Developing Minds: Challenge and Continuity Across the Life Span (1992). She survives him with three children who lead private lives. He was close to his seven grandchildren, though insisted that he "did not approach them as a scientist or clinician."
  33. ^ "We are very sad to let you know that Professor Sir Michael Rutter passed away peacefully at home on Saturday, 23rd October, surrounded by his family". The Lancet. 25 October 2021. Retrieved 25 October 2021 – via Twitter.
  34. ^ "Michael was a brilliant clinician and researcher and the whole field of child development and mental health would look very different if not for him". The Lancet. 25 October 2021. Retrieved 25 October 2021 – via Twitter.
  35. ^ Hess, Peter (1 November 2021). "Remembering child psychiatrist Michael Rutter". Spectrum. Retrieved 5 November 2021.