Daniel G. Freedman, 1927-2008

Daniel G. Freedman, a psychologist at the University of Chicago who pioneered the perspective that both biological and evolutionary viewpoints are required for full understanding of the complex diversity of human behavior, died Tuesday, June 10 at his home in Ribera, New Mexico. 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 L. Segal, a Professor of Psychology at the 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 at the University of Chicago.

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 some of 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 the Department of Comparative Human Development.

His work looked at the broad issues of the human experience. In Human Sociobiology, for instance, 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 the reasons why men have beards. Beards, he said increase women’s attraction to men, he contended, as the 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. Dan's life was an expression of self-actualization," said Raymond Fogelson, Professor of Anthropology and Comparative Human Development.

"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: a B.A. in 1949 from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in 1953 from the University of Colorado, and a Ph.D. in 1957 from Brandeis University.

He was a research fellow at Jackson Memorial Laboratories, Division of Behavioral Studies, Bar Harbor, Maine from 1955 to 1957, 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 at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatry Institute, in San Francisco from 1957 to 1959, 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 1963-1964. He was then appointed an Assistant Professor in Biology at the University of Chicago, 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 of Chicago as a Professor of 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, and the Institute for Juvenile Research, in Chicago, and Nankai University of Tianjin, China. He was also associated with the Center for Family Studies, at Chicago’s Northwestern University.

These 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 was also one of the first human ethologists, collecting data on 16 mm. film.

In his later years, Freedman moved to Ribera, New Mexico, 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 this topic at the 2008 meeting of the International Society for Human Ethology in Bologna, Italy, where he was also to be honored as one of the great founders of the field.

He is survived by his wife, Jane Gorman of Ribera, New Mexico; former wife Nina Chinn; and sons, Tony and Greg; and a granddaughter, Natalie.

Memorials may be made to an animal rescue group of a donor’s choice.