A mental health pioneer who explored the basis of schizophrenia and the way mental disorders are classified has won the 2013 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.
Irving Gottesman, the retired Irving and Dorothy Bernstein professor of adult psychiatry and current senior psychology fellow at the University of Minnesota, was named for the prize. He also is Sherrell J. Aston professor of psychology emeritus at the University of Virginia.
Working with researcher James Shields, Gottesman developed a model accounting for the genetic and environmental factors that can affect the risk of developing schizophrenia over time – defying prevailing scientific beliefs that only heredity or environment can account for the condition.
The two worked in London in the 1960s on a twin study of schizophrenia at the Medical Research Council Psychiatric Genetics Unit at Maudsley Hospital. Shields died in 1978.
Their model gave rise to the concept of "endophenotypes," or measurable traits in people without discernible mental health disorders who could be at risk of developing them. Experts have said the concept could lead to a better classification system for psychiatric disorders than the one used for more than a century.
Over time, researchers have expanded Gottesman's work to explain degrees of other psychiatric conditions, including autism, alcohol dependence and bipolar disorders.
"Gottesman's idea has transformed our assumptions about the origins of psychological disease and wellness and, in turn, has helped to shape our contemporary understanding of the complexities of human nature," his nominator wrote.