Dr. Peter L. Benson


Benson-Peter-distinguished-visiting-scholar-Thrive-Center-for-Human-Development-Fuller-Graduate-School-of-PsychologyPeter L. Benson (1946–2011) was president of Search Institute (1985–2011), a research and policy center focusing on child and adolescent development and the processes of community and social change for maximizing successful development. He held an MA and a PhD in experimental social psychology, with a concentration in child development, from the University of Denver. He also earned an MA at Yale in the scientific study of religion. Prior to joining Search Institute as a research scientist in 1978, he was the chair of the psychology department at Earlham College and cofounder of the Program in Human Development and Social Relations, an interdisciplinary major modeled after Harvard’s program.

Benson served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Community Psychology and New Directions for Youth Development. He was the editor-in-chief of a book series for Springer titled the Search Institute Series on Developmentally-Attentive Community and Society. He also served as a columnist for Youth Today.

He was the author of more than 100 articles and chapters in scientific journals and edited books. He published in Developmental PsychologyThe Journal of Experimental Social PsychologyThe Journal of Adolescence, The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, The Journal of Community PsychologyThe Journal of Social IssuesThe Journal of Primary Prevention, and Applied Developmental Science. He was the lead author on the first-ever chapter on youth development in the prestigious Handbook of Child Psychology (6th edition, 2006). He served as guest editor of the July 2008 edition of New Directions for Youth Development. With Peter Scales, he authored a major article on the theory and measurement of adolescent thriving for The Journal of Positive Psychology (2009).

Benson served as principal investigator on more than thirty research projects funded by HHS, NIMH, the US Department of Education, the Lilly Endowment, Thrive Foundation for Youth, and the John Templeton, Ford, Kellogg, W.T. Grant, McKnight, Case Family, Colorado Trust, Kansas Health, Seattle, Minneapolis, Cargill, 3M, Best Buy, and AOL Time Warner Foundations. He served on numerous boards and commissions, including America’s Promise and the John Templeton Foundation.

He was the author or editor of 15 books published by Jossey-Bass, Harper Collins, Springer, Kluwer, and Sage. His What Kids Need to Succeed has sold more than 800,000 copies. All Kids Are Our Kids (Jossey-Bass), now in its second edition, establishes the scientific base for the taxonomy of developmental assets. His book on adolescent thriving, Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers, was published in October 2008 by Jossey-Bass. Vision was published in May 2009 by the Templeton Foundation Press. Benson’s latest book, Parent, Teacher, Mentor, Friend: How Every Adult Can Change Kids’ Lives, came out in October 2010.

Benson was elected a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in 1990. In 1989, he received the prestigious William James Award from Division 36 for career contributions to the scientific study of religion. In 2004, he was selected as the Distinguished Youth Development Scholar by Tufts University, Boston.

The Peter L. Benson Chair

In 2010 Peter Benson was asked to join the Thrive Center for Human Development as distinguished visiting scholar. He died prematurely at 65 because of cancer. In honor of Benson’s legacy and underscoring their commitment to increasing thriving among young people, Robert and Dorothy King established the Peter L. Benson Chair of Applied Developmental Science. The chair was established to improve the lives of children and adolescents nationally and internationally through scholarship in positive youth development. This addition to the School of Psychology of Fuller Seminary highlights the importance of an interdisciplinary approach that integrates theological and psychological underpinnings of youth thriving.

The research and scholarship generated from this chair is intended to focus on innovative research and teaching that covers the social, cultural, biological, and spiritual factors affecting a young person’s ability to thrive. Importantly, the chair was established to bridge the disciplines of research and practice in ways that are directly relevant to families and practitioners working with young people; to mentor new generations of psychologists who are equipped to facilitate the positive development of young people; and to enable the Thrive Center to be a leading voice in the field of positive youth development.

See Pamela Ebstyne King’s 2012 tribute to Dr. Benson: Peter L. Benson: Human exemplar and uncommon scientist, Applied Developmental Science, 16(1), 42–44, doi:10.1080/10888691.2012.642782