Psychological Theorizing is Focus of Upcoming Schmitt Russell Lecture

Dr. Peter Molenaar, professor of human development and psychology, will present the 2011 Schmitt Russell Research Lecture. His lecture, “The Armchair in Psychological Theorizing,” will be given at 4:00 p.m., Wednesday, April 6, 2011, in the Bennett Pierce Living Center, 110 Henderson Building. The event, sponsored by the College of Health and Human Development, is free and open to the public.

Pattishall Lecture flyer

Dr. Peter Molennar will present the 2011 Schmitt Russell Research Lecture, title “The Armchair in Psychological Theorizing,” at 4:00 p.m., Wednesday, April 6, 2011, in the Bennett Pierce Living Center, 110 Henderson Building

Molenaar has developed statistical methods to examine issues that span a variety of fields, including psychology, neuroscience, genetics, and human development.  His primary research focus is finding ways to apply mathematical theories to solve psychological issues. By studying large data sets that track individual patterns in people, Molenaar is able to see how behaviors change and when it would be appropriate to intervene. For example, he has used predictive modeling to study changes in blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes and risks for attacks or decreased lung capacity in individuals with asthma.

Molenaar’s lecture will discuss issues in psychological science that cannot be solved by empirical means and how mathematical (i.e., “armchair”) reasoning has allowed researchers to examine these issues. This “armchair” reasoning, for example, allowed researchers to show that stagewise developmental theories are explanatory (rather than descriptive) theories, and also to challenge the assumption that pooling empirical data of large numbers of subjects results in reliable information about their psychological functioning.

Molenaar received five degrees from the University of Utrecht (the Netherlands): two B.A. degrees, one in psychology and one in philosophical logic; 2 M.A. degrees, one in mathematical psychology and one in psychophysiology; and a Ph.D. in social sciences. He has been a member of the Penn State faculty since 2005.

The Schmitt Russell Research Lecture is delivered each year by the most recent recipient of the Pauline Schmitt Russell Distinguished Research Achievement Award, which recognizes the career-long research contributions of a distinguished faculty member whose research has had a profound impact on an identified field of study. The award was established by Leo P. Russell, a 1941 industrial engineering graduate, to honor his late wife, Pauline Schmitt Russell, who received her home economics degree from Penn State in 1948.


Peter Molenaar can be reached at

Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or