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Psychologist Darcia Narvaez named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Author: Josh Weinhold

Darcia Narvaez
Darcia Narvaez

Darcia Narvaez, a Notre Dame professor emerita in the Department of Psychology, has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest international body of professional scientists in the world and publisher of the prestigious journal Science.

Narvaez is being honored for her distinguished contributions illuminating typical and atypical development in terms of well-being, morality and sustainable wisdom. Narvaez examines how early life experience — the “evolved nest” — influences moral functioning and well-being in children and adults. She integrates evolutionary, anthropological, neurobiological, clinical, developmental and education sciences in her work.

The election of AAAS fellows is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers. Two other Notre Dame faculty were also named fellows this year — Patricia L. Clark, the Rev. John Cardinal O’Hara, C.S.C., Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, associate vice president for research, and director of the Biophysics Instrumentation Core Facility; and Michael Pfrender, professor of evolutionary and ecological genomics and director of the Genomics and Bioinformatics Core Facility

Narvaez, Clark, and Pfrender join the 36 other Notre Dame faculty members who are current AAAS fellows.

Previous honors for Narvaez include winning the William James Book Award from the American Psychological Association and the inaugural Expanded Reason Award for research for her book Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture, and Wisdom. In 2008, she was named a fellow of the American Psychological Association, and in 2016, she was named a fellow of the American Educational Research Association.

“I am so grateful to Notre Dame’s interdisciplinary collegiality, its inspiring faculty and ISLA’s funding for supporting me on this journey of revelation and accomplishment. As a social scientist, it’s a thrill for my transdisciplinary research to be recognized by AAAS.”

For the first portion of her career, Narvaez said, she investigated moral psychology and moral development in typical ways — through studying reason, cognition, and education. But several years ago, through cross-disciplinary faculty reading groups sponsored by the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts that included philosophers, biologists, and anthropologists, she grew deeply interested in evolutionary issues. As she read deeper into neuro- and clinical sciences, she began to see all sorts of connections that sparked further research.

“I realized that all these fields bore on moral development. I was awakened to the fact that human beings are a particular species with particular needs that, especially in early life, need to be fulfilled in order to construct an individual’s sociality and compassionate morality,” she said. “The key insight was realizing that our species’ evolved nest is vital for fostering our cooperative human nature. When the evolved nest is degraded, as it is in industrialized countries, it can impair capacities for cooperation and compassion because early stress is toxic to species-typical neurobiological function.”

Her empirical, theoretical, and applied research now focuses on the kinds of characteristics notable in communities that provide the evolved nest to children from conception, societies that demonstrate wellbeing, heart-minded morality, and communal imagination. 

“I am so grateful to Notre Dame’s interdisciplinary collegiality, its inspiring faculty and ISLA’s funding for supporting me on this journey of revelation and accomplishment,” she said. “As a social scientist, it’s a thrill for my transdisciplinary research to be recognized by AAAS.”