Sandra Scarr

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Sandra Wood Scarr
Born August 1936 (age 78–79)
Citizenship American
Fields Developmental psychology, Behavioral genetics
Alma mater Harvard University
Known for Heritability of IQ, Race and intelligence

Sandra Wood Scarr (born August 1936) is an American psychology professor. The first female Full Professor in Psychology in the history of Yale University. She established core resources for the study of development, including the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study and the Minnesota Adolescent Adoption Study. She served as President of multiple societies including the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and was honoured with multiple awards including the APS James McKeen Cattell Award. She was also active in the development of commercial childcare. Her work with twins in the 1960s revealed strong genetic influences on intellectual development. One of her key findings was that this differed with race and SES, with poor and non-white children showing less genetic influence on their IQ and more environmental influence. She demonstrated a successful intervention in premature infants, showing that stimulation improved their health and developmental outcomes.

At Minnesota she and Richard A. Weinberg found that black and interracial children adopted early into white homes initially had outcomes more similar to the white average, suggesting a role of family environment early in life. By their teens, adoptees with two black birth parents achieved lower scores than did adoptees with one or no black birth parents, suggesting a genetic component to race differences in IQ.

Along with the Scarr-Rowe effect of SES on the heritability of intelligence, another key intellectual landmark established by Scarr was that "Rather than the home environment having a cumulative impact across development, its influence wanes from early childhood to adolescence."[1] She sought also to advance scientific psychology, and in 1991 co-founded Current Directions In Psychological Science.[1] She retired to, and continues to thrive in, Hawaii.


Sandra was the child of school teacher Jane Powell Wood and of John Ruxton Wood, a US Army physician, who in 1942 was appointed director of Army Research Laboratories at Edgewood Arsenal and who in 1950 headed the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.[1] Sandra spent most of her childhood in the Chesapeake Bay area and went to the Bryn Mawr School for Girls and the National Cathedral School. After completing her undergraduate studies at Vassar College in 1958, where she was involved in undergraduate research with Harriet Zuckerman, Sandra worked for a couple of years first at a family and child service and then at National Institute of Mental Health as a research assistant. In 1960 she enrolled at Harvard University, from where she earned her Ph.D. in psychology in 1965, specializing in developmental psychology and behavioural genetics. During graduate school, she married fellow sociology student Harry Scarr with whom she gave birth to a son Phillip in 1962.[1]

Though she initially had a difficult time finding a job because she had a child[citation needed], she eventually taught at the University of Maryland, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Minnesota, and Yale University. She was the first woman Full Professor in Psychology in the history of Yale University. In 1983 she accepted a position as Commonwealth Professor and chair of the psychology department at the University of Virginia, where she remained until retirement.[1]

In 1990, Scarr was invited to join the Board of the KinderCare Learning Centers, the nation's largest child care company. In 1993, she was elected Chairman of the Board and in 1995 became the CEO and Chairman of KinderCare. While at KinderCare, Scarr instituted NAEYC accreditation for the centers and worked to improve the wages and working conditions of center staffs. In 1997, KinderCare was bought by Kohlberg, Kravitz, and Roberts Investments, and Scarr retired.

In the 1960s, Scarr studied identical and fraternal twins' aptitude and school achievement scores. The study revealed that intellectual development was heavily influenced by genetic ability, especially among more advantaged children. It also showed that on average, black children demonstrated less genetic and more environmental influence on their intelligence than white children. Scarr also collaborated with Margaret Williams on a clinical study which demonstrated that premature birth infants who receive stimulation gain weight faster and recover faster than babies left in isolation (the practice at that time).

In 1972 she married fellow researcher Philip Salapatek, with whom she also coauthored papers. They had a daughter, Stephanie, born in November 1973.[1] They moved to Minnesota, where Scarr also started working with Richard A. Weinberg, on the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study. This study concluded that black and interracial children adopted early into white homes had IQ and school achievement scores that averaged similar to those of white children, and far above the average scores of black children in the same area of the country. In the follow-up study, when the adoptees were in their teens, children with two black birth parents did not achieve as well, on average, as adopted children with one or no black birth parent, although the numbers were too small to draw a strong conclusion.

In another adoption study, Minnesota Adolescent Adoption Study, Scarr & Weinberg showed that adolescents, adopted in the first few months of life, did not resemble their adoptive parents or other children adopted into the same family. In Scarr's words: "Rather than the home environment having a cumulative impact across development, its influence wanes from early childhood to adolescence." (emphasis in original)[1] As of 1995, the study was among the largest of its kind in the United States, together with the Colorado Adoption Project and the Texas Adoption Project;[2] its results had seen some replication.[3] Both studies of Scarr are cited in debates about race and intelligence.

Scarr served as President of the Society for Research in Child Development, the Association for Psychological Science, the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology, and the Behavior Genetics Association. She was elected to the American Psychological Association's Board of Directors in 1988, but resigned in 1990. Scarr was also a founding member of the American Psychological Society (now the Association for Psychological Science) and was chief executive officer of KinderCare Learning Centers from 1995 to 1997.[1]

Scarr was honored by her colleagues with research awards: Distinguished Contributions to Research on Public Policy (American Psychological Association), James McKeen Cattell Award (Association for Psychological Science), and the Dobzhansky Award for Lifetime Achievement (Behavior Genetics Association). She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other scientific societies.

In 1991, together with Randy Gallistel she co-founded the journal Current Directions In Psychological Science.[1] In 1995, she was a signatory of a collective statement titled "Mainstream Science on Intelligence", written by Linda Gottfredson and published in the Wall Street Journal.[4] Scarr wrote a mixed review of The Bell Curve, agreeing with the general presentation of the data, disagreeing about some specific issues of interpretation, and disapproving of the book's policy recommendations.[5] Scarr also disapproved of Hans Eysenck's book Race, Intelligence and Education, which she described as "generally inflammatory" and insulting to "almost everyone except WASPs and Jews".[6]

In 1991, together with Claire Ernhart, Scarr was involved as an expert witness on behalf of the lead industry in the lawsuit United States v. Sharon Steel Corp., on the opposite side of Herbert Needleman who was testifying for the U.S. Justice Department owing to his research on the relationship between lead exposure and IQ. The federal court asked Scarr and Ernhart to examine the research of Herbert Needleman to determine whether or not it supported his claims. After reviewing his data collection and analyses, Scarr and Ernhart filed charges of scientific misconduct against Needleman with the National Institutes of Health. "Eventually, Needleman was found guilty of misrepresentation and had to retract research reports in the journals that published them,".[1] NIH forward the complaint to the University of Pittsburgh, which found that Needleman didn't "fabricate, falsify or plagiarize"[7] but said it could not exclude the possibility that "misrepresentation" had occurred.[8][9] When the trial was declared open to the public Scarr initially refused to come and later when she was persuaded she constantly refused to answer questions.[10] Sandra Scarr received money from the lead industry for consulting services which creates a conflict of interest.[11]

Scarr retired to Hawaii in 1997, where she learned scuba diving, even obtaining a Rescue Diver certification. She also traveled "a lot, especially on cruise ships".[1] With the freedom that retirement brings, Scarr volunteered her time to several community organizations and became president of the Kona Outdoor Circle, an environmental group.

In 2000, she bought a Kona coffee farm and began to raise Labrador retrievers. Scarr's coffee has won awards, and she has served on the boards of two coffee farmers' organizations and President of the Kona Coffee Council. She sells Kona coffee throughout the world ([1]) and Lab puppies within Hawaii ( In 2009, Standard Poodles were added to the kennel ( Scarr has also served on the Hawaii County Water Board, Governor's Council for West Hawaii, and on the Democratic Party District 5 Council. She continues to thrive in Hawaii.

Publications by Scarr[edit]

  • Scarr S. Understanding Development. Harcourt (1986) ISBN 0-15-592864-3
  • Scarr S. Understanding Psychology. Random House Inc (T); 5th edition (1987). ISBN 0-07-555247-7
  • Scarr S. Socialization (Merrill sociology series). C. E. Merrill Pub. Co (1973). ISBN 0-675-09039-3
  • Lande JS, Scarr S. Caring for Children: Challenge to America. Lea (1989). ISBN 0-8058-0255-X
  • Scarr S. Mother care/other care (A Pelican book). Penguin Books; 2nd ed edition (1987). ISBN 0-14-022760-1
  • Scarr S. Psychology and Children: Current Research and Practice. Amer Psychological Assn; Reprint edition (1979). ISBN 0-912704-59-4
  • Scarr S. Genetic effects on human behavior: Recent family studies (Master lectures on brain-behavior relationships). American Psychological Association (1977). ASIN: B0006Y2RV0
  • Scarr S. Genetics and the development of intelligence. University of Chicago Press (1975). ISBN 0-226-35354-0

Publications about Scarr[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k O'Connell AN (2001).Models of Achievement: Reflections of Eminent Women in Psychology, Vol.3. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 97-112 (Autobiographical Perspectives)
  2. ^ David C. Rowe (1995). The Limits of Family Influence: Genes, Experience, and Behavior. Guilford Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-89862-148-8. 
  3. ^ S. Scarr and K. Deater-Deckard (1997). Suniya S. Luthar, Jacob A. Burack, Dante Cicchetti, and John R. Weisz, ed. Developmental Psychopathology: Perspectives on Adjustment, Risk, and Disorder. Cambridge University Press. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-521-47715-4. 
  4. ^ Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). Mainstream Science on Intelligence. Wall Street Journal, p A18.
  5. ^ Scarr's review of The Bell Curve at the Wayback Machine (archived March 27, 2006)
  6. ^ S. A. Barnett (1988). Biology and Freedom: An Essay on the Implications of Human Ethology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 160–161. ISBN 978-0-521-35316-8. 
  7. ^ Lead, Lies And Data Tape. Newsweek, Mar 15, 1992
  8. ^ Kennedy, Donald. Academic Duty. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA. 1999. p238
  9. ^ Donald Kennedy. Academic Duty. Harvard University Press. Cambridge. 1999. p238
  10. ^ Rosner, David and Markowitz, Gerald. Standing Up to the Lead Industry: An Interview with Herbert Needleman. p335
  11. ^ Cook, Karen S and Hardin, Russell and Levi, Margaret. Cooperation Without Trust? Russell Sage Foundation. 2005. p119

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