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Sandra Wood Scarr (born August 1936) is an American psychology professor.


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 led by 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, she eventually taught at the University of Maryland, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Minnesota, and Yale University. In 1983 she accepted a position as chair of the psychology department at the University of Virginia, where she remained until retirement.[1]

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 similar to those of white children, and far above those of black children in the same area of the country. In the follow-up 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 and was chief executive officer of KinderCare Learning Centers from 1994 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 Charles R. 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 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. According to Scarr: "Eventually, Needleman was found guilty of misrepresentation and had to retract research reports in the journals that published them."[1] According to environmental psychology professor Colleen F. Moore, Scarr and Ernhart "found a published graph that was slightly in error, and Needleman eventually published a correction".[7] The lawsuit and subsequent academic investigation of Needleman for scientific misconduct remain controversial; according to philosopher of science Clark N. Glymour, "Scarr and Ernhart are sometimes dismissed as tools of the lead industry, but I know of no evidence that they were other than sincere." Glymour however thinks that Scarr and Ernhart were wrong on their methodological findings.[8]

Scarr retired to Hawaii where she started scuba diving, even obtaining a Rescue Diver certification. She also traveled "a lot, especially on cruise ships".[1]


  • 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


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 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.
  3. S. Scarr and K. Deater-Deckard (1997). Suniya S. Luthar, Jacob A. Burack, Dante Cicchetti, and John R. Weisz Developmental Psychopathology: Perspectives on Adjustment, Risk, and Disorder, Cambridge University Press.
  4. Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). Mainstream Science on Intelligence. Wall Street Journal, p A18.
  5. Scarr's review of The Bell Curve
  6. S. A. Barnett (1988). Biology and Freedom: An Essay on the Implications of Human Ethology, 160–161, Cambridge University Press.
  7. Colleen F. Moore (2009). Children and Pollution: Why Scientists Disagree, Oxford University Press.
  8. Clark N. Glymour (2010). Galileo in Pittsburgh, 56–63, Harvard University Press.

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