E. Mavis Hetherington

Fellowship Recognizes Psychology Pioneer E. Mavis Hetherington

E. Mavis Hetherington, a pioneer in the field of developmental psychology, has been honored by colleagues, alumni and friends with the creation of a graduate fellowship in her name. The E. Mavis Hetherington Graduate Fellowship was awarded for the first time in 2008 to a graduate student in psychology who is conducting research on family issues.

Ms. Hetherington also is supporting the fellowship personally in recognition of the many contributions graduate students made to her work. “My research was personnel-intensive and I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.

Ms. Hetherington believes the University of Virginia needs to do more overall to support graduate students who help with teaching and research. “We don’t waive tuition and fees for our graduate students and a lot of graduate students have trouble making ends meet,” she said.

Ms. Hetherington joined the University faculty in 1971 and spent 29 years there, much of it as the James M. Page Professor of Psychology. As head of the Department of Psychology from 1980 to 1984, she elevated the status of the department to one of national distinction. By the time she retired in 1999, U.S. News & World Report ranked the department 17th in the country and the graduate program in developmental psychology 2nd.

Beloved as a teacher and sought after as a graduate student advisor, Ms. Hetherington is an expert in family relationships and in the social development of children. She revolutionized the profession’s approach to family research, said Donna Hearn, associate chair of the Department of Psychology.

Declining to rely on theory alone to address the questions that interested her, Ms. Hetherington developed a new research methodology that relied on observation and analysis. For more than 30 years, she sent researchers directly into families’ homes, schools and communities to videotape them. The tapes of more than 2,000 families were analyzed, coded and stored in searchable databanks that continue to be used by scholars.

Her publications include dozens of articles and major books in the field, including: For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, co-written with John Kelly, which reexamines accepted myths about divorce, including the assumption that divorce is always bad for children; and Child Psychology: A Contemporary Viewpoint, a widely used college textbook now in its fifth edition, co-written with Ross D. Parke and Virginia Otis Locke.

Ms. Hetherington believes her research findings are useful to families, teachers, social workers, policy makers and others seeking to understand family interactions and the best ways to rear healthy, happy children. While the field of psychology likely views her research methodology and results as her greatest contributions to the field, Ms. Hetherington said she also has enjoyed working with students. “I liked seeing students coming in to my lab apprehensive and not knowing how to ask a testable question, and then, four or five years later, going out as sophisticated scientists,” she said. “This fellowship is another way of doing that.”