June 2018 Researchers Window: Dr. Toni Antonucci

Taking closer look at research and experiences of SSHD members

Researcher’s Window

This month we are getting better acquainted with the research of Toni Antonucci, Program Director and Research Professor in the Life Course Development Program of the Institute for Social Research, and the Elizabeth M. Douvan Collegiate Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan.

  1. What drew you to do work in human development?

I was always intrigued as a young person when people said 'psychologically speaking' even when I was too young to know what it really meant.  In the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I took a non-matriculated course in psychology at a local college.  Fortunately, I grew up in Brooklyn (NY) so that any university was only a train ride away.  After that course, I was definitely hooked. Early on, I became interested in a new field called 'life span developmental psychology'.  I did my masters' thesis on older men, so it seemed natural to do my dissertation on infants.  I thought that would show real commitment to life span human development.

  1. Did you have any mentor or a researcherwho had substantial influence in your path or work? Is there a significant moment or story that capsulizes the nature of that influence on your scholarship or professional journey?

In graduate school I had two mentors, Robert Kastenbaum and Carolyn Shantz.  One was a pioneer in the field of aging, the other a classic Piagetian.  They were both important and very positive influences on me.  Kastenbaum was a brilliant and unusual scholar who took a winding path to academia.  Shantz was among the few successful female academics and willingly took me on as a Ph.D. student even though my topic area, infancy, wasn't really her field.  Turns out I was her first Ph.D. student.  We both learned a lot.

Regarding moments in my professional journey.  Bob included Death and Dying in his research portfolio - and once was featured in The Enquirer.  He laughed it off and never thought much about it.  That taught me, not to sweat the small stuff….and years later when I was quoted in the Enquirer (a fact one of my mother’s neighbors pointed out), I did the same thing.

Carolyn helped me through some trying times - especially in how to navigate in the male world of academia.

  1. You have a range of important work, select 1-2 findings that you feel are key contributions to human development and describe those in brief. 

One of my favorite papers is our first paper on the Convoy Model with Robert Kahn. In reflecting on it, I benefitted from Bob’s background in social and organizational psychology and I believe he felt the same about my background in lifespan developmental psychology. The Convoy Model benefits from both perspectives and, in my opinion, is better for it.

Another paper that I am fond of is a paper with Kristine Ajrouch and Mary Janevic examining the association between Social Relations and Health.  There is a well-known finding in the field that people with higher socioeconomic status have better health. Using wave 1 data from our Detroit area study, we were able to demonstrate that middle-aged men who were not highly educated (a proxy for socioeconomic status) but had children with whom they could confide were as healthy as highly educated men of the same age.

a. Your current project and/or key projects?

We now have a third wave of the Detroit area Social Relations, Age and Health (SRS) SRS which is a community based, life-span study of people from 8 to 93, and additional waves about to be collected of specific subgroups being collected now and in the near future.

We are proposing another wave on the original complete sample with the addition of a new parallel sample.  We are expanding our research to include cognitive functioning so that we can examine how social relations both cross-sectionally and longitudinally are associated with AD risk and resilience.  This is a new direction for me and I am very excited about.

We are also just completing an examination of race and ethnic differences in Forgiveness, Humility and Health which has yielded some intriguing findings.

b. Contributions of your projects/research to the study of human development.

It is my hope that my work contributes to our understanding of social relations and how social relations influence other aspects of life. The finding I noted above about how low educated middle-aged men who can confide in their child have the same level of health as higher educated peers is a case in point.

  1. Your one wish for the study of human development

a. If you had just one wish for the study of human development, what would it be?

For the one wish volume I wished for respectful interdisciplinary team science.

I still believe this is important but given recent events I would also add a wish that human development perspectives be recognized as fundamental across the life span and that there be norms of reasonable, kind and caring behavior.

b. How would it advance the field? 

As we care for others, we care for ourselves.  This makes us better people and creates a better world.

  1. A mentoring statement or quote you find most meaningful or life-changing.

Seek advice from those close and far and always try to include people you know disagree with you.


About the researcher

Toni Antonucci has a Ph.D. in life-span developmental psychology.  She is Program Director and Research Professor in the Life Course Development Program of the Institute for Social Research, and the Elizabeth M. Douvan Collegiate Professor of Psychology all at the University of Michigan.  She has been the recipient of a Research Career Development Award from the National Institute on Aging as well as several research awards from the National Institutes of Health and private foundations. She has been President of the  Society for the Study of Human Development and Gerontological Society of America.  She’s also been President of the American Psychological Association’s Division 20 on Adult Development and Aging and is Past Program Chair for Division 9, Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.  She is Past-Editor of the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Associate Editor for Developmental Psychology.  She served as Chair of the Board of Scientific Affairs, Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest and the Committee on Aging-  all of APA, and is currently Secretary-General (Vice President) of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics and is President-Elect of the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development.  She is an elected fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Science and Phi Kappa Phi. And finally, she has mentored undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral scholars at the University of Michigan, received the APA Division 20 Master Mentoring award, an APA Presidential Citation in recognition of her mentoring and is currently the Director of the ISSBD\Jacob Foundation International Mentored Fellowship Program which includes fellows from the developed and developing world.

Edited and launched by Deborah J. Johnson & Yoko Yamamoto

SSHD Publicity Committee

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