March 03, 2006 08:50 ET

Irving E. Sigel, Psychologist and Expert on Childhood Learning

PRINCETON, NJ -- (MARKET WIRE) -- March 3, 2006 -- Irving E. Sigel, a distinguished developmental psychologist, passed away on Sunday, Feb. 26, at the University Medical Center at Princeton. He was 84. His death was due to complications from heart disease.

Sigel was an internationally known expert on children's cognitive development. Based on his theory of "psychological distancing," Sigel's research focused on the capacity of young children for representative or symbolic thought, as well as on the conditions under which that thought develops.

Sigel was a leader in demonstrating how theory and research on child development is relevant to the concerns of practicing educators and parents. "Irv Sigel was a pioneer. He saw earlier than most the importance of doing well-conceived applied research that would put to the test our knowledge of child development for helping children and parents," says Frances Degen Horowitz, president emerita of the Graduate Center at the City University of New York and past president of the Society for Research in Child Development. "As the founding editor of the 'Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology,' he moved our whole field to be serious about applied developmental research."

Sigel also is the author of more than 100 scientific articles, chapters, and books. He was the editor of a series of books on child psychology and co-editor with K. Ann Renninger of Swarthmore College, of the volume, "Child Psychology in Practice," part of the forthcoming 6th edition of the "Handbook of Child Psychology."

Sigel was on the faculties of Smith College, Michigan State University, and the State University of New York at Buffalo. He was director of research at the Merrill-Palmer Institute. He was a distinguished research scientist at the ETS in Princeton, NJ, from 1973 until his retirement in 1990. At ETS, he established a preschool for developing curricula and training teachers on the basis of distancing theory. In recent years, he focused on the implications of his theory for parent-child relationships, and was a frequent consultant to teaching centers and school districts.

For his work on child development, he received many honors and awards, both nationally and internationally, including an honorary degree from his alma mater, Clark University, in Massachusetts. Sigel served as president of the Division of Developmental Psychology of the American Psychological Association and as president of the Jean Piaget Society, from which he received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. His doctorate was from the University of Chicago.

He is survived by his wife of over 60 years, Roberta Schoenland Sigel; two sons, Kenneth George Sigel of Mystic, Conn., and Newton Thomas Sigel of Malibu, Calif., and four grandchildren.

A private funeral was held on March 1. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Irving E. Sigel's name can be sent to the Rock Brook School; 109 Orchard Road; Skillman, NJ, 08558 ( or the Children's Defense Fund; 25 E Street N.W.; Washington, DC, 20001 (

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