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Faculty & Research

Robert L. Selman

Roy Edward Larsen Professor of Education and Human Development
Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry Dept., Harvard Medical School

Robert L. Selman

Degree:  Ph.D., Boston University, (1969)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.495.3038
Fax:  617.384.8117
Personal Site:   Link to Site
Vitae/CV:   Robert L. Selman.pdf
Office:  Larsen 416
Office Hours Contact:  Email the Faculty Member and cc the Faculty Assistant
Faculty Assistant:  Joelle Mottola


Robert Selman served as chair of the Human Development and Psychology area from 2000 to 2004. He is the founder within this area of the Prevention Science and Practice Program in 1992 and served as its first director through 1999. At the Harvard Medical School, he was a professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry, where he served as a senior associate at the Judge Baker Children's Center and at the Department of Psychiatry at Children's Hospital Boston. Selman has engaged in research and practice focused on how to help children develop social awareness and engagement competencies as a way to reduce risks to their health and to promote their social relationships as well as their academic performance. He did practice-based research, studying interpersonal and intergroup development across the age range from preschool through high school. His work on the promotion of children's understanding of ways to get along with others from different backgrounds was conducted in the context of literacy and language arts curricula at the elementary level; in school-based programs designed to coordinate support and prevention services for students at the middle grade level in public schools; and in the social studies, literature, and history curricula at the high school level. Past work focused on the treatment of psychological disorders of youth in day school and residential treatment and the prevention of these disorders in children and adolescents placed at risk.

Click here to see a full list of Robert Selman's courses.

Areas of Expertise

The Triple E Initiative
Research on the curricular and instructional implementation of two Educator Resources developed for fictional young adult stories, The Giver and The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963, adapted for film) These resources integrate Education, Ethics, and Entertainment (Triple E + Engagement), both for families, and in ELA and social studies at the middle school level (with Walden Media/ The Weinstein Company).

Page to Script to Stage Project
With Watertown Children’s Theater (with D. Lane, Director, Board of Trustees) Performances of young adult story narratives through the dramatic arts.

(Word Generation, with C. Snow) Outreach to public schools in Massachusetts and Baltimore on discipline centered (social studies and history) reading for understanding (deep comprehension). Focus on educators’ skills to promote social perspective taking skills in their students. The development of tools for the assessment and evaluation of social competencies.

Social Media Lab
A Prevention Science and Practice Partnership with MIT Media Lab (Joiche Ito, Director) and MTv/Viacom to understand the stressors and stresses of the digital world inhabited by youth today and tomorrow.

Spencer Foundation-funded New Civic Early Career Scholars Program
Support for doctoral students doing research on social media, resilience of youth at risk, civic engagement and education, civic disengagement, and bullying.

The China Youth Lab
Research on Youth Civic Consciousness, Moral Development and Culture in China. Organization of an international conference, Cultivating Civic Consciousness in China, Harvard Shanghai Center, or December 2014 (with Helen Haste and Xu Zhao).

Current Research
Selman’s research builds upon the developmental and cultural antecedents of our human capacity to form and maintain positive social relationships, and the application of these capacities to the prevention of negative psychological, social, and health outcomes for youth. Selman’s research into the development of social awareness is related to educational achievement, ethical development, and youth participation in old and new media.


Russell Sage Fellow,(1999)

Fulbright Fellow,(1997)

Fulbright Fellow,(1993)

Fellow, American Psychological Society,(1990)

Fellow, Child and Youth Services, American Psychological Association,(1980)

Fellow, Developmental Psychology, American Psychological Association,(1974)

Sponsored Projects


Stories of Courage, Compassion and Character (CCC) 'Read' Cross-Media: The Promotion of Adolescents' Educational Skills and Ethical Values through Engagement with Entertainment (2016-2017)
Anschutz Foundation

We are developing and evaluating a “cross-media based” curricular and instructional materials to be used in conjunction with stories that focus on the development of character, courage, and compassion (CCC). Our plan is grounded in the following two premises: 1) When purposefully synchronized with one another across multiple forms of media (“cross-media”), children’s and adolescents’ exposure to high quality youth-oriented social and ethical story content, i.e. stories of substance specifically about character development, compassion, and courage (CCC), is a powerful way to promote youth academic achievement and ethical values; 2) Especially if these stories, told and “read” across media, in their various genres (human interest, biography, history and historical fiction, civic engagement, coming of age, social change, spiritual awakening, moral issues, etc.), are “taught” by “educators” (broadly defined) using an `evidence-based’ pedagogy that A) makes use of peer to peer, and adult facilitated group discussion and debate as a primary form of instruction, and B) takes advantage of access to the texts of the story that are made available cross-media (narratives, scripts, videos, etc.) to foster students’ critical thinking and ethical reflection skills.


Selman, R.L. and Watanabe, Y. Voices literature and writing (VLW). In K. Yamakazi, Y. Toda, & Y. Watanabe (Eds.)Prevention education at schools in the world: The actions of each country for children’s health and adjustment. Tokyo: Kanekoshobo (In Japanese),(2015)

Barr, D., Boulay, B., Selman, R.L., McCormick, R., Lowenstein, E., Gamse, B., Fine, M. and Leonard, B. A randomized controlled trial of professional development for interdisciplinary civic education: Impacts on Humanities teachers and their students. Teachers College Record, 117(4).,(2015)

Selman, R.L., and Kwok, J. Counting hearts and eye-balls: How to help adolescents make better decisions using entertainment and new media (and know that you have succeeded). Mind, work, and life: A Festschrift on the occasion of Howard Gardner's 70th birthday (Vol. Two, pp. 372-398). Cambridge, MA: The Offices of Howard Gardner.,(2014)

Diazgranados, S. and Selman, R.L. How students’ perceptions of the school climate influence their choice to upstand, bystand, or join perpetrators of bullying. Harvard Education Review, Summer 2014.,(2014)

Zhao, X. and Selman, R.L. Combating academic stress in Chinese schools.,(2014)

Selman, R.L. and Elizabeth, T. The Educator Resource for: The Giver. Walden Media.,(2014)

Dinakar, K., Weinstein, E., Lieberman, H., and Selman, R.L. Stacked generalization learning to analyze teenage distress. Conference Proceeding: Eighth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Osical Media (ICWSM).,(2014)

Selman, R.L. and Elizabeth, T. The Educator Resource for: Watsons go to Birmingham, 1963. Zaner Bloser.,(2013)

Diazgranados, S., Selman, R.L., and Feigenberg, L. Rules of the culture and personal needs: Witnesses’ decision-making processes to deal with situations of bullying in middle school. Harvard Educational Review, 82(4), 445-470.,(2012)

Bellino and Selman, R.L. The intersection of historical understanding and ethical reflection during early adolescence: A place where time is squared. In Carreto, M. (Ed.) History Education and the Construction of National Identities. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.,(2012)

Elizabeth, T., Ross Anderson, T., Snow, E., & Selman, R.L. Academic discussions: An analysis of instructional discourse and an argument for an integrative assessment framework. American Educational Research Journal, 49(6) 1214-1250.,(2012)

Selman, R.L.The Promotion of Social Awareness: Powerful Lessons from the Partnership of Developmental Theory and Classroom Practice. New York: Russell Sage. (Outstanding Book Award, American Educational Research Association Section on Moral Development and Education.),(2007)


Editorial Board, Journal of Applied Developmental Science,(1995-present)

Board Member, Association for Moral Education

Former Board of Directors, Jean Piaget Society

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