Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Psychology Department members cite research against family separations

By Ann Kring

Sign: stop the inhumanity of separating families 

The Department of Psychology created a “Positive Action Team” during the 2017-2018 year to create public facing statements affirming our Department’s mission and values. In response to the ongoing crises with family separations, the team drafted the following open letter which is also posted on our Department website. See here.

UC Berkeley Department of Psychology Statement on Family Separations

Faculty, staff, and graduate students from the UC Berkeley Department of Psychology add our voice to the American Psychological Association, The American Psychiatric Association,The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the American College of Physicians, the Society for Research in Child Development, international attachment researchers, and the American College of Nurse Midwives in condemning in the strongest possible terms the Trump Administration’s policy of detaining, separating and/or keeping separated families attempting to enter the US on our southern border. With the aforementioned groups, our department considers this policy to be irresponsibly and unnecessarily harmful and cruel, completely unjustifiable, and utterly contrary to the moral values of our nation.

Psychological research indicates that forced separation of families, especially the separation of young children from their primary caregivers, carries enormous risks of severe and potentially irreparable harm. Forced separation may lead to acute trauma, which can trigger increased vulnerability to mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder, and can impair children’s neurological, social, and cognitive development. Long-term outcomes known to be associated with childhood trauma include substance misuse, depression, suicide, and poor physical health. These kinds of impacts are likely to be especially severe for families already dealing with the considerable stress of fleeing war, violence, and instability in their home countries. Resilience is certainly possible for children undergoing extreme stressors and family separations. That is, children experiencing the kinds of trauma just noted can avoid lasting negative effects, with the right, timely interventions. Yet adding to such severe stress with family separation is not a humane or scientifically defensible strategy. It is morally abhorrent to deliberately and callously inflict such harms on innocent children for any purpose. We call on the Trump Administration, Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately reunite families who have been separated and end this shameful chapter in this nation’s history.


Karen De Valois, Emeritus Professor

Stephen Palmer, Emeritus Professor

Ervin Hafter, Emeritus Professor

Philip Cowan, Emeritus Professor

Dan Slobin, Emeritus Professor

Carolyn Cowan, Emeritus Professor

Donald A. Riley, Emeritus Professor

Eric Hesse, Adjunct Professor

Mary Main, Professor

Allison Harvey, Professor

Robert Knight, Professor

Lance Kriegsfeld, Professor

Iris Mauss, Professor

Sheri Johnson, Professor

Dacher Keltner, Professor

Lucia Jacobs, Professor

Ozlem Ayduk, Professor

Frederic Theunissen, Professor

Stephen Hinshaw, Professor

Ann Kring, Professor

Aaron Fisher, Assistant Professor

Mahesh Srinivasan, Assistant Professor

Mark Ho, Postdoc

Sarah Metz, Postdoc

Christine Mullarkey, Staff member

John Schindel, Staff member

Cynthia Baker-Smith, Staff member

Arlene Diaz, Staff member

R. Harumi Quinones, Staff member

Vivian Hoang, Staff member

Elizabeth Peele, Staff member

Jennifer Pearlstein, Graduate student

Catherine Berner, Staff member

Isaac Mirzadegan, Staff member

Paul Connor, Graduate student

Peter Soyster, Graduate student

Daniel Stancato, Graduate student

Stephen Antonoplis, Graduate student

Shoshana Jarvis, Graduate student

Amanda Perez, Graduate student

Devon Sandel, Graduate student

Daniel Lurie, Graduate student

Frances Nkara, Graduate student

Alice Hua, Graduate student

Arianna Benedetti, Graduate student

Kaley Curtis, Graduate student

Susan Mauskopf, Graduate student

Samy Abdel-Ghaffar, Graduate student

Catherine Anicama, Graduate student


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