2002 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award

Sheldon Cohen

Carnegie Mellon University

Sheldon Cohen is recognized for his groundbreaking scientific contributions toward understanding the behavioral, cognitive, and physiological effects of social and environmental stress on human behavior and health. The depth and breadth of his empirical work and analytic reviews, and his masterful talent for blending laboratory and field approaches, have had lasting influences on the fields of health, social, and clinical psychology and on the field of behavioral medicine.

Early in his career, Dr. Cohen established his reputation as one of the major figures in environmental psychology, conducting groundbreaking field and laboratory studies of the effects of traffic noise on reading ability and the effects of noise on cognitive function and health in children. His theoretical work on stress and environmental attention helped bridge the gap between environmental and cognitive psychology. Dr. Cohen’s early work also established his signature research style-combining masterful field studies to assess relationships among key variables and then using lab research to study mechanisms and establish causal relationships.

Dr. Cohen has also made major contributions toward understanding and conceptualizing relationships between social support and health. His theoretical analyses and reviews have had a major impact on applied social and clinical psychology and behavioral medicine fields, since they helped conceptualize the conditions necessary for social support and social interaction to be beneficial in helping relationships and support groups. Here, he also developed important research instruments to assess and characterize levels of social support and perceived stress, and made important contributions to knowledge regarding the role of social support and social networks in smoking cessation and relapse, and among patients coping with cancer.

Sheldon Cohen’s seminal studies of social interaction, stress, and the common cold convincingly demonstrated that stress and social interaction can not only result in immune changes- which may or may not have health effects-but also to important infectious disease outcomes, such as susceptibility to common cold viruses. His work on stress, social support, and susceptibility to infectious disease again displays his signature trademark of masterfully employing both laboratory (experimental) and field studies, and are among the most convincing demonstrations of the interplay of behavior and the immune system in behavioral medicine.

Despite the wide breadth of his research efforts on stress and human health and on other applied human problems, Dr. Cohen’s contributions have left a lasting and sustained impact on each of the research domains he has touched. Equally important, he is a beacon of integrity and high standards in our field, who is a generous contributor to the overall well-being of psychology and behavioral medicine. He is also a consummate graduate and postdoctoral mentor and educator, and a generous friend to his many colleagues and collaborators in the field. His many contributions to knowledge regarding important societal and health problems have helped build enduring bridges between the behavioral sciences and medicine.