Anderson, Norman B. 1955–
Norman B. Anderson 1955–
The career of Dr. Norman B. Anderson has zigzagged across the field of psychology, from professor to researcher, health agency director to professional organization head. He has edited scientific journals, published dozens of academic articles, and penned a book for the general public. He has spoken before Congress and taught psychology to university freshmen. The common thread that has looped through these diverse positions is success. He has received dozens of awards and is a highly sought-after speaker. In an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), Anderson attributed his achievements to a combination of hard work, focus, and passion for what he does. “I stay focused on where I am now. I never predicted the path my career would take. I thought I would be a practitioner. I never thought I would be a professor at Duke or Harvard, nor an associate director of the NIH. I didn’t think I would ever work in government for that matter. I didn’t think I would teach at Harvard or write a book for the public or be the CEO of the American Psychological Association (APA). I don’t look at what is next. I stay focused on where I am.” That focus has propelled Anderson to the forefront of psychology as the CEO of the APA and has positioned him to tackle what he called one of the biggest issues in the field. “We have to be viewed as an integral part of not just mental health, but as part the overall health-care establishment,” he told Monitor on Psychology.
Norman Bruce Anderson was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1955. He and his older brother were raised in the comforting embrace of a close-knit Baptist church where their parents, Charles W. and Lois J. Anderson, ministered. “My father was the original pastor of United Institutional Baptist Church and he made my mother co-pastor,” Anderson told CBB. “They led the church almost 50 years.” While his brother eventually followed his parents into the ministry, Anderson was led to a different calling—psychology. “I went into the field because, being involved in a large church, you are exposed to all types of people, and I became fascinated by human behavior and emotion,” he told CBB. “I really became interested in what motivated people. What made people tick.” Anderson recalled to Monitor on Psychology, “… when I became a psychologist, [my mother would] introduce me to her friends saying,’ His ministry is psychology.’”
Anderson enrolled in historically black North Carolina Central University where he achieved early success on the court, not in the class. As a starting guard for the school’s Fighting Eagles basketball team, Anderson was offered an athletic scholarship, “but my parents didn’t want me to take it,” he told CBB. “They didn’t want me to be obligated to basketball. They had saved for my college education and wanted to pay for it. They were like that. They preferred to pay the bills.” It was a fortuitous move by his parents. In his sophomore year, Anderson took his first psychology course and was hooked. “I became so fascinated with psychology that it was all I wanted to do. And I knew that if I wanted to be in psychology and have a position, I had to get a
At a Glance…
Born in 1955 in Greensboro, NC; married P. Elizabeth Anderson, 1986. Education: North Carolina Central University, BA, psychology, 1976; University of North Carolina at Greensboro, MA, clinical psychology, 1979; PhD, clinical psychology, 1983.
Career: Duke University, Durham, NC, associate professor, 1991-99; National Institutes of Health, Washington, DC, and NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, associate and founding director, 1995-2000; Harvard University School of Public Health, Cambridge, MA, professor, 2000-02; American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, CEO and executive vice president, 2002-.
Selected memberships: National Research Council Panel on Ethnicity and Health in Late Life, chair; The Starbright Foundation, Los Angeles, CA, board of directors and former president; The Advertising Council, New York, member of the Advisory Committee; Society of Behavioral Medicine, president, 1998-99; Presidential Task Force on Emerging Opportunities in Science, 2001.
Selected awards: American Association of Applied and Prevention Psychology, Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Psychological Study of Diversity, 1996; Third National Multicultural Conference and Summit, Dalmas Taylor Award, 2003; Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, Career Service Award, 2003; Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Honorary Doctorate of Psychology, 2003; Lonnie Mitchell Annual Conference on Race, Ethnicity, and Substance Abuse, Award for Enduring Contributions in the Interest of Science, 2004.
Addresses: Office— American Psychological Association, 750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242.
Ph.D., so I quit basketball and devoted all my time to my studies,” he told CBB.
Anderson earned his undergraduate degree in psychology in 1976. He then moved to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he earned a master’s degree in 1979 and—after a yearlong internship at Brown University—a doctorate in 1983, both in clinical psychology. He has called his Ph.D. experience the greatest accomplishment of his life. “I really think it overshadows everything else because of how far I had to come academically in order to earn it,” Anderson told Monitor on Psychology. “The rigor of the program that I was in stretched me beyond what I perceived to be my limits. Nothing else has done that to the same extent.” Anderson told CBB that he relished the challenge. “I enjoy testing my own abilities, really pushing myself.”
Anderson continued his education with a two-year post-doctoral fellowship in psychophysiology and aging at Duke University Medical Center located in Durham, North Carolina. He then stayed on with the university from 1985 to 1995 in a variety of academic and research posts, including eight years as an associate professor of psychology. He specialized in the links between race and mental and physical health, with a particular focus on the aged. In 1991 he became the founding director of the school’s program on Health, Behavior, and Aging in Black Americans, a position he held until 1999, long after he left the university. He also served as a senior fellow of the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development and as a research psychologist with the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center. He was also tapped by the university to be the founding director of its Exploratory Center for Research on Health Promotion in Older Minorities, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded project.
Anderson received several prestigious awards for his research at Duke, including the New Investigator Award from the Society of Behavioral Medicine, the Award for Outstanding Contributions to Health Psychology from the APA, and a Research Scientist Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. Despite his busy research and teaching schedules, Anderson found time to woo and marry P. Elizabeth Anderson, a health and fitness writer, in 1986. Balancing a busy workload with a social life has always been a priority for Anderson. “You have to try and live a balanced life,” he told CBB. “To strike a balance between hard work, recreation, family, friends, is very important.”
In 1995 Anderson beat out 90 other applicants to become an associate director at NIH and the founding director of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR). The office was created by Congress to help coordinate behavioral and social science research among all of NIH’s centers. Before that time, mental health and psychology were not regarded as important issues within the NIH’s physical health focus. Anderson changed that. He developed long-term goals for OBSSR and strategies to achieve them. “I tried to keep in mind a revised version of John F. Kennedy’s famous quote,” he told Monitor on Psychology. “‘Ask not what NIH can do for behavioral and social science, ask what behavioral and social science can do for NIH.’”
Anderson pressed the question with five years of pavement pounding and boardroom preaching. He was a regular face at NIH meetings nationwide and spoke before Congressional hearings. Everywhere he went he advocated the need to integrate behavioral and social science into an overall health and medical science. His efforts paid off. Anderson secured funding for several research initiatives totaling over $90 million. He also helped to establish five mind/body centers nationwide whose job was to research the interaction of social, behavioral, psychological, and biological processes. As a result of his success and persistence, Congress tripled OBSSR’s operating budget from an initial $3 million to nearly $10 million. Reflecting on his work, Anderson told Monitor on Psychology, “The office is now viewed both within and outside NIH as doing work that is important to the overall goals of health science. Within NIH, the office is a vital part of the scientific and intellectual mission of the institution.”
After five years with NIH, Anderson decided to step down. Explaining his decision, he told Monitor on Psychology, “…it is because things are going so well that I felt now would be a good time for a new OBSSR director to come in.” Plus, Anderson was looking forward to his next challenge-a professorship at the Harvard University School of Public Health. “The work will allow me to fulfill several of my intellectual, leadership, and administrative needs at once,” he told Monitor on Psychology. “It should be a lot of fun.”
At Harvard, Anderson focused his research on health disparities among different social and cultural groups, particularly African Americans. He also researched mass media approaches to public health. In addition to teaching and researching, Anderson sat on faculty recruitment, scholarship funding, and graduate school admissions boards. He also partnered with his wife to write a book for the general public. Released in 2003, Emotional Longevity: What Really Determines How Long You Live explores how biological, psychological, behavioral, economic, religious/spiritual, and emotional factors impact our physical health. Writing the book was another challenge that Anderson met head on. “My doctorate was the hardest thing [I’ve done], but the book is right up there,” he told CBB.
When the American Psychological Association announced that its CEO was retiring and a replacement was being sought, Anderson found his next calling. “The opportunity to serve all of psychology, and to work closely with the many constituencies of the field, provides a perfect match with my interests and talents,” he told Monitor on Psychology. One of 98 applicants for the job, Anderson was unanimously selected by APA’s board. Outgoing CEO Raymond Fowler praised Anderson’s appointment. “I believe his broad experience has prepared him well to be APA’s CEO and to understand and support APA’s many constituencies and agendas,” Fowler told Monitor on Psychology. “Speaking personally, I have found him to be warm, sensitive and a quick learner.”
When Anderson became APA’s CEO—the first African American to do so—on January 1, 2003, he assumed responsibility for 150,000 members and 500 full-time employees. He also took over one of the largest scientific publishing operations in the world. The APA produces several distinguished journals as well as psychological books and texts. According to Monitor on Psychology, Anderson set as his first goal, “[to] make being a member of APA something that psychologists believe they simply cannot do without.” He also pledged to provide membership benefits that truly enhance the professional lives of APA’s members, to work to increase the number of minorities in the field of psychology, and to raise public awareness of the use of psychology. Anderson explained to CBB that this last point includes many things from “[removing] the stigma associated with mental illness” to “[persuading] insurance companies to pay for mental illness the same way they pay for other illnesses.”
Those may be tall orders but those who know Anderson had confidence in his ability to accomplish them. “His greatest strengths are his renaissance qualities as an educator-scientist with clinical credentials and a public interest orientation,” APA president Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo told Monitor on Psychology. “His enormous energy and expansive vision will increase the impact of psychology for decades to come.” Anderson’s own philosophy also pointed to a strong probability of success. “Once you find that job that is consistent with your passion, you have to make it your priority to be the best you can be at that job,” he told CBB. “There is no substitution for dedication and hard work.”
(With P. Elizabeth Anderson) Emotional Longevity: What Really Determines How Long You Live, Viking, 2003.
(Co-editor), Expanding the Boundaries of Health and Social Sciences, Oxford University Press, 2003.
(Editor-in-chief), The Encyclopedia of Health and Behavior, Sage Publishers, 2004.
“A Conversation with Norman Anderson,” Monitor on Psychology, www.apa.org/monitor/oct02/conver-sation.html (April 1, 2004).
“Norman Anderson Steps Down,” Monitor on Psychology, www.apa.org/monitor/feb00/anderson.html (April 1,2004).
“Norman B. Anderson is APA’s New Chief,” Monitor on Psychology, www.apa.org/monitor/oct02/anderson.html (April 1, 2004).
“Norman B. Anderson Named Next CEO of the American Psychological Association,” American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/releases/anderson.html (April 1, 2004).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Dr. Anderson on April 26, 2004, and through a CV and biography provided by the American Psychological Association.
"Anderson, Norman B. 1955–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 14, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/anderson-norman-b-1955
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