Suniya S. Luthar, Ph.D.
Suniya Luthar is Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University and Professor Emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College. After receiving her Ph.D. from Yale University in 1990, she served on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and the Child Study Center at Yale. Between 1997 and 2013, she was at Columbia University’s Teachers College, where she also served as Senior Advisor to the Provost (2011-2013).
Dr. Luthar's research involves vulnerability and resilience among various populations including youth in poverty, children in families affected by mental illness, and teens in upper-middle class families (who reflect high rates of symptoms relative to national norms). A mother of two grown children herself, her recent scientific focus has been on motherhood; studies aim to illuminate what best helps women negotiate the challenges of this life-transforming role, and to apply these insights in interventions toward fostering their resilience.
BS Child Development (Honors), Lady Irwin College, Delhi University, India, 1978
MS Child Development, Lady Irwin College, Delhi University, India, 1980
PhD (Distinction) Developmental/Clinical Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, 1990
Honors and Awards
Luther's early scientific contributions were recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) in the form of a Dissertation Award in 1990 (Division 37; Child, Youth, & Family Services), and the Boyd McCandless Young Scientist Award in 1998 (Division 7; Developmental Psychology). In 2006, she was named Member of the New York Academy of Sciences, and named Fellow of the American Association for Psychological Science in recognition of her distinguished contributions to science. In September, 2015, Luthar was named Fellow of the American Psychological Association's Divisions 7 and 37 (Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice). Other awards include a Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (1993), an American Mensa Education and Research Foundation Award for Excellence in Research on Intelligence (1995), and an award for Integrity and Mentorship from the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD)'s Asian Caucus in 2009. Luthar has served as chair of a grant peer review committee at the National Institutes of Health's Center for Scientific Review (2002–04), was elected member of the Governing Council of SRCD (2006–09), and chair of SRCD's Asian Caucus (2008–09). She served on the APA's Committee on Socioeconomic Status (2007–08), was elected to APA's Council of Representatives (Division 7) Developmental Psychology; 2013-16, and in Jan 2017, was elected to be President Elect of APA's Division 7.
(For complete list and links to articles, please see cv)
Research (for copies of research articles, click here)
Luthar, S.S., Curlee, A., Tye, S.J., Engelman, J.C., &. Stonnington, C. M. (2017). Fostering resilience among mothers under stress: “Authentic Connections Groups” for medical professionals. Women’s Health Issues. Online first, DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.whi.2017.02.007
Luthar, S.S., & Eisenberg, N. (2017). Resilient adaptation among at-risk children: Harnessing science toward maximizing salutary environments. Child Development. Online first, DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12737
Ciciolla, L., Curlee, A., Karageorge, J., & Luthar, S. S. (2016). When mothers and fathers are seen as disproportionately valuing achievements: Implications for adjustment among upper middle class youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Online first, OI: 10.1007/s10964-016-0596-x
Infurna, F. J., & Luthar, S. S. (2017). Parent’s adjustment following the death of their child: Resilience is multidimensional and differs across outcomes examined. Journal of Personality. Online first, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2017.04.004
Infurna, F.J. & Luthar, S. S. (2017). The multidimensional nature of resilience to spousal loss. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Online first, DOI: 10.1037/pspp0000095
Infurna, F.J., & Luthar, S.S. (2016a). Resilience to major life stressors is not as common as thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11, 175 –194. DOI: 10.1177/1745691615621271
Infurna, F.J., & Luthar, S.S. (2016b). Resilience has been and will always be, but rates declared are inevitably suspect: Reply to Galatzer-Levy and Bonanno. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11, 199 –201. DOI: 10.1177/1745691615621281
Luthar, S.S. (2015). Mothering mothers. Research in Human Development. 12, 295–303. doi: 10.1080/15427609.2015.1068045
Luthar, S. S., Crossman, E. J., & Small, P. J. (2015). Resilience and adversity. In R.M. Lerner and M. E. Lamb (Eds.). Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science (7th Edition, Vol. III, pp. 247-286). New York: Wiley.
Luthar, S.S., & Ciciolla, L. (2015). What it feels like to be a mother: Variations by children’s developmental stages. Developmental Psychology, 52, 143-154. http://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/dev0000062
Luthar, S.S., & Ciciolla, L. (2016). Who mothers Mommy? Factors that contribute to mothers’ well-being. Developmental Psychology, 51, 1812-1823. http://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/dev0000051
Coren, S. A., & Luthar, S. S. (2014). Pursuing perfection: Distress and interpersonal functioning among adolescent boys in single-sex and co-educational independent schools. Journal of School Psychology, 51, 931-946. PMCID: PMC4225622
Lyman, E. & Luthar, S. S. (2014). Further evidence on the “Costs of Privilege”: Perfectionism in high-achieving youth at socioeconomic extremes. Journal of School Psychology, 51, 913-930. PMCID: PMC4559285
Luthar, S. S., Barkin, S. H., & Crossman, E. J. (2013). “I can, therefore I must”: Fragility in the upper-middle classes. Development and Psychopathology, 25th Anniversary Special Issue, 25, 1529-1549. PMCID: PMC4215566
The Atlantic, April 19, 2017. How big people shape little kids in big little lies.
Science Newsline, April 12. Mayo, ASU program helps mothers in medical professions lower stress.
Camden Wealth, UK, Feb 24. Poor little rich kids: How mental health is affecting next generation.
Science Daily, Feb 21, 2017. Family focused interventions for at risk children and youth.
PsychCentral.com, Feb 5, 2017. Experts recommend more interventions for at-risk youth.
ScienceDaily.com, Feb 1, 2017. Experts recommend shift in national priorities... youth disorders.
The Times, UK, Jan 29, 2017. Puttnam: Elite kids as deprived as the poorest.
Daily Mail, UK, Jan 29, 2017. Children of the super-rich are 'as disadvantaged' as poorest.
The Pool, UK, Jan 23, 2017. The middle years of child-rearing are the toughest.
The Independent, UK, Jan 17, 2017. Why parenting tweenage children is more stressful..
KJZZ Public Radio, Jan 17, 2017. Families should spend more time teaching kids kindness.
VoiceAmerica.com (podcast), Jan 12, 2017. Middle school moms --The most stressed of all.
Southern California Public Radio (podcast), Jan 11, 2017. Moms of middle schoolers have it hardest.
Slate.com (podcast - @12:45 minutes in), Jan 5, 2017. Mom and dad are fighting: The Hardest Age.
NPR, Dec 29, 2016. Being mom to a middle schooler can be the toughest gig. (2nd, "Best of NPR")
Arizona Republic, Dec 2, 2016. Pushy parents who prioritize GPA are actually hurting their kids.
Times of India, Dec 1, 2016. Why you should stop pressuring kids over grades.
PsychCentral, Dec 1, 2016. Parents should not put too much pressure on kids.
Bloomberg Businessweek. Nov. 21. Affluenza Anonymous: Rehab for the young, rich, and addicted.
Wilton Bulletin, Oct 9, 2016. The serious risks affluent teens face.
The New York Times, Sept. 26, 2016. When a spouse dies, resilience can be uneven.
KJZZ Public Radio (podcast), Sept. 20, 2016. Why our resilience may rely more on relationships...
El Confidencial, Spain, Sept. 15, 2016 'Affluenza', la polémica enfermedad…
Global News, Canada, Sept. 9, 2016. Extra-curricular activities vs. play: which is better for kids?
ASU News, Aug 25, 2016. Military moms sought for special ASU groups.
Wall Street Journal, Aug 24, 2016. When to let children quit.
Psychology Today, Aug 16, 2016. Is empty nest a myth?
612 ABC Brisbane, Australia (podcast), July 29, 2016. Money, wealth, and expectation.
The Academic Minute (podcast), July 15, 2016. Mothers of Tweens.
NPR, June 6, 2016. Think mothering young kids is hard? Get ready for even tougher times.
Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2016. Moms’ middle-school blues.
Washington Post, March 25, 2016. Researchers have a new theory about how tragedies affect us.
Science Daily, March 19, 2016. Natural resilience to life stressors is not as common as thought.
The Times, UK, March 19, 2016. Stressed, depressed, lonely and anxious. Is your teenager OK,
CNN, Jan 27, 2016. Middle school: The new high school for moms.
The Washington Post, Jan 7, 2016. No such thing as 'affluenza'? Not so fast.
The Dallas Observer, Jan 7, 2016. Affluenza is a big surprise..are you kidding me?
NPR To the Point, Dec 28, 2015. Students and the pressure to perform.
The Times of India, Nov 22, 2015. The poor, little rich kids of Silicon Valley schools.
The Atlantic, Nov 17, 2015. The Silicon Valley suicides.
WebMD Radio, Nov 10, 2015. Being a Mother: Who takes care of the caregiver?
KInstantly U, Nov 2, 2015. This study struck a chord with moms,
Science Daily, Oct 29, 2015. Who mothers Mommy?,
Huffington Post, July 7, 2015. Is it possible to raise happy kids in affluence?
CNN, Jan 8, 2015. Believe it or not, there are challenges to growing up wealthy,
Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, April 9, 2015 (Open Session video). Fragility in affluent families and implications for parenting research and practice.
Conducted within a developmental psychopathology framework, research by our group revolves around the construct of resilience and positive youth development (Luthar, 2003; Luthar, 2006; Luthar & Brown, 2007; Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000; Luthar & Eisenberg, 2017). Core questions of interest are: What are the processes that help some children and adults do well in spite of diverse stressors in their lives? Across various spheres of development — psychological, emotional, interpersonal, and academic -- how can we help to maximize their potentials and achieve competent, productive trajectories over time?
Currently, we are focused on four major programs of research, each described more in detail below. The first involves middle- and high-school students at highly achieving schools; across diverse samples, these youth have shown greater substance use and distress relative to national norms. The second area encompasses prevention trials to foster resilience among adults in high stress settings via a manualized group intervention, Authentic Connections Groups. In the third group of studies, we are attempting to understand what the experience of motherhood means from a developmental perspective. The final area of our work involves longitudinal follow-up of children of women with major psychiatric illnesses, to understand salient pathways to resilience and vulnerability.
Youth in high achieving schools
Research has shown that students growing up in highly achieving schools represent an "at-risk" group: Across diverse samples, they have shown significantly greater substance use and distress relative to national norms. These findings have been replicated across diverse settings -- in public and private schools, in cities and in suburbs, and in different parts of the country. Over time, these high levels of stress and distress can have serious consequences, including self-harm and addiction (Luthar, Barkin, & Crossman, 2013; Luthar & Latendresse, 2005; Luthar, Small, & Ciciolla, in press).
Currently, this programmatic research is focused on understanding how salient aspects of school climate, and of parent-child relationships, can best be modified in order to maximize the well-being of youth and of the adults who care for them. This work involves ongoing collaborations with high-achieving day and boarding schools across the country.
If you would like to donate funds to support this program of research,
please email Suniya Luthar at AC@AuthenticConnectionsGroups.org
Fostering resilience in the workplace
In collaboration with the Mayo Clinic, AZ , we examined the effectiveness of a relationally-based intervention for a group of mothers at high risk: Medical care providers with young children. Between 30% and 40% of US physicians reportedly experience professional burnout, with women at significantly greater risk than their male counterparts. The Authentic Connections Groups (ACG) intervention is aimed at the development and crystallization of close, supportive, and dependable relationships for these women, both at work and in their everyday lives.
Results of the intervention were positive at several levels. Across the 12 weeks of the groups, there were zero dropouts. After the program, analyses of covariance showed significantly greater improvements for mothers in the Authentic Connections Groups than control condition for depression and global symptoms. By 3 months follow-up, significant differences were seen for these two dimensions and almost all other central variables, including self-compassion, feeling loved, physical affection received, and parenting stress, with moderate effect sizes; participants also showed significant reductions in cortisol levels at both after the intervention and follow-up.
Since completion of this project, we have successfully completed groups for various other groups experiencing high everyday stress, including military mothers, graduate students, and women in STEM disciplines. Most recent efforts involve counselors, advisors, and administrators at high-achieving schools, such as those in the programmatic work described earlier. For further details on ACG groups, please click here.
If you would like to donate funds to support this program of research,
please email Suniya Luthar at AC@AuthenticConnectionsGroups.org
Motherhood: Developmental phenomenology
In developmental research, women are typically considered in terms of their behaviors as mothers - rarely in terms of their own personhood. In an internet-based survey we have explored how women feel about their different roles -- not only as mothers, but also as spouses, friends, workers (in and out of the home), individuals with various hopes and fears -- and how they cope with the challenge of balancing multiple roles. We obtained data from over 2,200 mothers, with excellent completion rates and high reliability and validity of the data. These data reveal significant risk and protective processes among well-educated, upper-middle class mothers as compared to others.
Early findings based on these data have shown that, as for children, supportive close relationships are critical for the well-being of their mothers (Luthar & Ciciolla, 2015). Analyses showed that four constructs had particularly robust links with mothers’ personal adjustment: their feeling unconditionally loved, feeling comforted when in distress, authenticity in relationships, and satisfaction with friendships. Partner satisfaction had some associations with personal adjustment outcomes, but being married in itself had negligible effects (Luthar & Ciciolla, 2015). In a second study, we examined mothers’ well-being as a function of children’s ages (Luthar & Ciciolla, 2016). In this case, our findings uniformly showed curvilinear patterns by children’s ages, with mothers of middle-schoolers faring the most poorly, and mothers of adult children and infants faring the best.
Children of mothers with major mental illness
Another area long-term, longitudinal study involves resilience and vulnerability among children of mothers with major psychiatric disorders such as drug abuse, and depressive or anxiety disorders (Luthar & Sexton, 2007; McMahon & Luthar, 2007; Yoo, Brown, & Luthar, 2009). At baseline (Time 1), we assessed maladjustment, competence, and risk and protective factors in a sample of 360 eight to eighteen year old children and their mothers; about half of the mothers had diagnoses of cocaine/opioid dependence or abuse. At the first and second follow-ups (T2, T3), offspring were 12-22 and 16-26 years old respectively. Sample retention has been high, at about 80% across three waves. In current longitudinal analyses, we are examining risk and protective indices based on multiple informants and methods, including not only behavioral assessments but also biological and genetic ones (e.g., Barbot, Hunt, Grigororenko, & Luthar, 2012; Bick et al., 2013).
As mentioned above, another extension of our work with at-risk mothers is psychotherapy research. In the mid 1990's, we developed a parenting group intervention for low-income, substance abusing mothers, the Relational Psychotherapy Parenting Group (RPMG). This intervention was based on insight-oriented therapy and reflected specific recognition of the challenges unique to women and mothers. Randomized trials showed that mothers who received RPMG fared significantly better post- intervention than did those who received treatment as usual in their methadone clinics and those who received drug counseling (Luthar & Suchman, 2000; Luthar, Suchman, & Altomare, 2007). While confirming the importance of the supportive interventions for these mothers, findings highlighted the crucial need for continued support for these extremely vulnerable mothers following the active phases of the intervention program.
Luthar, S. S. (2017). Adjustment patterns among youth in high achieving schools. Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, MA, May 11-12.
Luthar, S. S. (2017). Adjustment patterns among youth in high achieving schools. Northfield Mount Herman school, Mount Hermon, MA, March 20.
Luthar, S. S. (2016). A new look at “Affluenza”. Visiting Professor Lecture, Child Mind Institute, New York, NY, Nov. 18.
Luthar, S. S. (2016). Privileged and pressured: The risks of growing up in an affluent community. Wilton, CT, Oct. 21.
Luthar, S. S. (2016). Adjustment patterns among high school students: A report. Skyline High School, Issaquah, WA, Sept 19 and 21.
Luthar, S. S. (2016). Youth in highly achieving schools: Interventions based in developmental science. National Association of Independent Schools, Andover, MA, April 15.
Luthar, S.S. (2016). High achievement and associated stress. Brebeuf Jesuit School, Indianapolis, Jan 26.
Luthar, S.S. (2015). The price of high-octane achievement. Bainbridge Island, WA, October 6.
Luthar, S.S. (2015). Fragility in affluent families and implications for parenting research and practice. Institute of Medicine and National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, Open Session: Supporting the parents of young children. Washington, DC, April 9.
Luthar, S. S. (2015). Pressures in the context of privilege: Implications for resilience-based interventions. Palo Alto, CA, March 20.
Luthar, S. S. (2015). Privileged but pressured: Fragility in the upper middle classes. Lady Irwin College, Delhi University, India, January 5.