Psychology Professor Michael McCullough to Receive Honorary Degree from Catholic University of Leuven

Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven (UCL) will bestow an honorary doctoral degree (Docteur honoris causa) upon Professor of Psychology Michael McCullough.

McCullough directs the Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory in the UM College of Arts & Sciences. His research focuses on the evolved psychological mechanisms that regulate humans’ abilities to form and maintain relationships with other people. In his experimental work, he has focused heavily on anger, revenge, forgiveness, gratitude, and self-control. He has also devoted much time and energy to the study of humans’ religious tendencies.  

“When I received the news that UCL wanted to give me an honorary doctorate, I was flabbergasted,” McCullough said. “It’s just not the kind of e-mail you expect to get while walking around the Build-a-Bear Store at the shopping mall with your daughter.”

He added, “Every academic worries about slaving away for an entire career without making any noticeable difference in how people think about the world or about themselves, so this award is a really pleasant surprise and a great shot in the arm. The fact that it is being conferred by one of the great European universities makes it an even greater honor.”

UCL Rector Vincent Blondel praised McCullough’s contributions to the psychology of religion, psychology’s understandings of humans’ emotions and social lives, and the interdisciplinary, boundary-crossing nature of his research and writing.

“Your interests, research and publications also distinguish themselves by their highly interdisciplinary nature, both in theory and in methodology,” Blondel wrote. “The very significant impact of your publications demonstrates the originality, the quality and the appeal of your research.”

McCullough’s most recent book, Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, was cited in a February 7, 2015 article in The New York Times; “The Futility of Vengeance” included McCullough’s work on institutionalized revenge.

In July of 2014, his study, “Conciliatory gestures promote human forgiveness and reduce anger,” was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It found that peacemaking efforts – such as apologies, offers of compensation, and owning up to one’s responsibilities – increase forgiveness and reduce anger. They do so by showing the victim that the aggressor is a valuable relationship partner, leading the victim to feel less risk of getting hurt again by the same person.

UCL is Belgium’s largest French-speaking university, offering studies in law, economics, business, arts and literature, psychology, education, medicine, dentistry, public health, engineering, architecture, and more. Initially founded in in 1425, UCL was re-founded in 1834 following a 37-year closure during the Napoleonic era.

McCullough will receive his honorary degree at a special ceremony in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, on April 30.

He joined the UM Department of Psychology in 2002. McCullough previously taught at Southern Methodist and Louisiana Tech universities. He earned his Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a B.S. in psychology from the University of Florida.

February 17, 2015