Aaron Perry


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  • Episode 109 – Dr. Robert Cloninger, MD, PhD, Genetics & Psychology of Stewardship, Happiness, & Hope
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Stewardship & Sustainability Series
Episode 109 - Dr. Robert Cloninger, MD, PhD, Genetics & Psychology of Stewardship, Happiness, & Hope

In this important episode, Dr. Robert Cloninger, MD, PhD, discusses the key psychological drivers of personality that distinguish “post materialist cultural creatives” from “traditionalists” and “materialistic and individualistic modernists”. Drawing on substantial data as well as cutting edge genetic research, Dr. Cloninger, one of the most cited scientists in the world (top 0.01%), has identified three key personality traits that elucidate the different personality expressions: self-directedness, cooperativeness, and self-transcendence. In general, the first two are well developed among traditional corporate and political leaders (cooperativeness too often being limited to an immediate sphere of mutually-beneficial influence, but not necessarily for the greater good). But the third tends to be under-developed among world leaders. It is exactly this, the self-transcendence of creative characters, which “facilitates flexible and resilient adaptation in harmony with other people and nature” (MSM, “What Makes People Healthy, Happy, And Fulfilled In The Face Of Current World Challenges?” p.18 – see PDF link below). Those of us in the regenerative, stewardship, and sustainability movement would do well to understand this framework, and to do what we can to improve in all three categories. When all three are strong, tremendous leadership and positive impact is made possible.

Dr. Cloninger not only walks us through the data, science, and framework in a clear, cogent, and easy-to-understand manner, he also offers insights and suggestions as to how we can each improve our own traits. Thank goodness for neuroplasticity (!) suggests Dr. Cloninger, as he describes why he is hopeful and optimistic about human beings’ potential for growth, change, and psycho-spiritual evolution. Along with the interview, we encourage you to read the short paper, “What Makes People Healthy, Happy, And Fulfilled In The Face Of Current World Challenges?”, which succinctly outlines and explains all of this in a manner accessible to non-technical, non-scientific readers. “Well-being,” writes Cloninger, “depends on functioning with foresight, plasticity, and virtue,” and, he continues, “The development of self-transcendence has a radical transformative impact on self-directedness and cooperativeness. The purposeful striving of self-directedness is transformed into hope and letting go of fighting and worry…” and an “outlook that leads to love, hope, and humility…” (Op. cit. p.21-22).

Dr. C. Robert Cloninger, MD, PhD is Director of the Anthropedia Institute and Professor Emeritus at Washington University in St. Louis.  He was Wallace Renard Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Genetics, Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Director of the Sansone Family Center for Well-Being at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis until July 2019. The Anthropedia Institute is the research and advisory component of the Anthropedia Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to development of human well-being through initiatives in health care and education.  He is widely cited and honored for his innovative biopsychosocial research that spans the genetics, neurobiology, development, psychology, brain imaging, and assessment of personality and psychopathology. His personality inventories have been used in more than 6000 peer-reviewed publications around the world and he is one of the most highly cited scientists in the world across all fields (top 0.01 percentile).

He received his B.A. with High Honors and Special Honors in Philosophy, Psychology, and Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, 1966. He received his M.D. from Washington University in 1970, and Honorary Doctorates from the University of Umea in 1983 (MD in Genetics) and University of Gothenburg in 2012 (PhD in Psychology).

Dr. Cloninger has published ten books and over 600 articles in psychiatry, psychology, and genetics.   His recent books include Feeling Good: The Science of Well-Being by Oxford University Press, Origins of Altruism and Cooperation by Springer, and Personality and Psychopathology by American Psychiatric Press.  Among his many awards, Dr. Cloninger has received the American Psychiatric Association’s Adolf Meyer Award (1993) and Judd Marmor Award (2009), and lifetime achievement awards from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (2000) and the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics (2003). He received the Oskar Pfister Award in 2014 from the American Association of Professional Chaplains and the American Psychiatric Association for his contributions to dialogue between psychiatry, religion, and spirituality.  He is a fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and of the National Academy of Medicine in the USA. 


Anthropedia Foundation: https://anthropedia.org

Zwir I, et al. Three genetic-environmental networks for human personality. Mol. Psychiatry, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-019-0579-x (2019).

Cloninger CR, Cloninger KM, Zwir I, Keltigangas-Jarvinen L. The complex genetics and biology of human temperament: a review of traditional concepts in relation to new molecular findings. Trans Psychiatry. 2019.  https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0621-4

Cloninger CR. “What Makes People Healthy, Happy, And Fulfilled In The Face Of Current World Challenges?” Mens Sana Monographs 2013; 11:16-24. (Click following link to download PDF, published with permission of the author).

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  1. Well done. This is so wonderful to hear this described cogently and based on such long study and contemplation. Thank you Professor Cloninger for your work and Aaron Perry for this really interesting interview. Well done

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