Matthew Nock Appointed Professor of Psychology

Clinical psychologist noted for studies of self-injury and suicidal behavior in young adults

Matthew K. Nock

Matthew Nock, previously Loeb associate professor of the social sciences, has been granted tenure and is now professor of psychology. Nock, whose study of suicidal children was featured in the 2009 Harvard Magazine article "Helping Those Most in Need," first came to Harvard as an assistant professor in 2003, and has since won numerous teaching awards, including the Petra T. Shattuck Excellence in Teaching Award. The text of the press release from the Harvard Public Affairs and Communications office is below.   



CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 10, 2010 -- Clinical psychologist Matthew K. Nock, renowned for his research on self-injury and suicidal behavior in adolescents and adults, has been named professor of psychology at Harvard University.

Nock was previously John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard, where he has been a member of the faculty since 2003.

"Few researchers have addressed the psychology of life and death more creatively than Professor Nock," says Stephen Kosslyn, dean of social science in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "His scientific record is astonishing, distinguished by both its quality and its quantity. He has made several field-transforming discoveries that promise not only to deepen our understanding of self-destructive behavior, but also to save the lives of suicidal people. He has also earned a reputation as one of Harvard's finest teachers, winning numerous teaching awards."

Nock's research examines why people harm themselves, helping explain why those suffering from severe emotional distress may opt to engage in evolutionarily paradoxical behaviors like cutting or burning themselves. Studies have found that such non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) affects about 4 percent of American adults and up to 21 percent of adolescents, suggesting the behavior may be increasing in frequency among young people.

Among other key findings, Nock has shown that while depression correlates with thoughts about suicide, it does not predict suicide plans or attempts. Rather, he reported in 2009, intense agitation or anxiety and poor impulse control are better predictors of suicide attempts. This surprising finding has reworked psychologists' understanding of the relationship between depression and suicidal behavior, indicating that anxiety and impaired impulse control are the factors most likely to foreshadow suicide attempts.

Nock has developed or refined several key methods of studying suicide and NSSI. The Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behavior Interview (SITBI) that he pioneered has provided new insights into patients' motives, methods, and frequency of suicidal behavior and NSSI.

Nock has been the Principal Investigator (P.I.) on three National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) grants, and co-P.I. on four NIMH and National Institutes of Health grants. Most recently, he is a co-P.I. on a five-year study funded by the U.S. Army and NIMH to identify risk and protective factors for suicidal behavior among soldiers. He also chairs the World Health Organization World Mental Health Initiative's Suicide Workgroup, a committee of mental health experts from 28 nations.

Nock holds a B.A. in psychology from Boston University, awarded in 1995; an M.S. and M.Phil. in psychology from Yale University, awarded in 2000 and 2001, respectively; and a Ph.D. in psychology from Yale, awarded in 2003. He completed a clinical internship at New York University and the Bellevue Hospital Center in 2003. He joined Harvard as an assistant professor in 2003, becoming the John L. Loeb Associate Professor in 2007. He has also been a research scientist at Harvard Medical School's Judge Baker Children's Center since 2007.

Nock has won numerous teaching and mentoring awards at Harvard, including the Roslyn Abramson Teaching Award in 2005 and the Petra T. Shattuck Excellence in Teaching Award in 2009. He also was nominated by his department’s graduate students for the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award each year from 2006 to 2009.

The American Psychological Association has honored Nock with its David Shakow Early Career Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Clinical Psychology in 2009 and Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology (Psychopathology) in 2010. He also won this year's Edwin S. Shneidman Award from the American Association of Suicidology.

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