Lykken, David Thoreson 1928-2006

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Lykken, David Thoreson 1928-2006

OBITUARY NOTICE—

See index for CA sketch: Born June 18, 1928, in Minneapolis, MN; died of heart failure, September 15, 2006, in Minneapolis, MN. Psychologist, educator, and author. A University of Minnesota professor, Lykken was most renowned for his studies on twins who had been raised separately yet developed similar personality traits. He joined the U.S. Navy at the age of seventeen, and after his service attended the University of Minnesota for both undergraduate and graduate studies. He completed a Ph.D. there in 1955 and then worked briefly as a clinical psychologist for Minnesota General Hospital. In 1957, he joined the University of Minnesota faculty as an assistant professor, and was tenured in 1965. He would spend the rest of his years as a teacher at his alma mater. As a psychologist, Lykken focused his early work on studies in the criminal field. He debunked stereotypes of many hardened criminals as psychopaths, showing that what differentiated them from other people was a tendency to act more impulsively and with less fear of consequences. Even more significantly, Lykken refuted the accuracy of polygraph tests, asserting that they did not measure guilt so much as heightened emotional states. Such states could be initiated by other emotions that had nothing to do with lying. Because of his work, laws were changed concerning the admissibility of lie detector tests in U.S. courts. Lykken wrote about his findings in A Tremor in the Blood: Uses and Abuses of the Lie Detector (1981). More recently, Lykken became involved with what has been labeled the Minnesota Twin Study. Working with Auke Tellegen and Thomas Bouchard in the 1980s, the psychologists located twins who had been raised by different families, knew nothing of the other's existence, and sometimes lived in separate countries. Of the 130 twins they studied, they found that each twin shared many personality traits, including political and religious beliefs, intelligence, fears, skills, and sometimes even jobs. In one case, two male twins even adopted the same breed of dog as a pet and gave it the same name. The study demonstrated that genetics has an even more powerful role in personality than previously believed. Nevertheless, Lykken would hold that the study was not entirely conclusive and that more research was needed. Lykken wrote about the twin study in his Happiness: What Studies on Twins Show Us about Nature, Nurture, and the Happiness Set-Points (1999). He also authored The Antisocial Personalities (1995).

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New York Times, September 20, 2006, p. C13.