William Damon is Professor of Education at Stanford University, Director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, and Senior Fellow, by courtesy, at the Hoover Institution. He is one of the world's leading researchers on human development across the lifespan, and he has pioneered the scientific study of purpose in life. Damon is author of The Path to Purpose; Greater Expectations (winner of the Parent's Choice Book Award); Some Do Care: Lives of Moral Commitment (with Anne Colby); Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet (with Howard Gardner and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi); and A Round of Golf with my Father: The New Psychology of Exploring your Past to Make Peace with your Present. Damon’s work in recent years includes a study of the development of purpose in adulthood and a study of purpose in American higher education. Damon has been elected to membership in the National Academy of Education and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Academic Appointments

Administrative Appointments

  • Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace (1999 - Present)
  • Professor of Education, Stanford Graduate School of Education (1997 - Present)
  • Director, Stanford Center on Adolescence (1997 - Present)

Honors & Awards

  • Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2015 -)
  • Fellow, American Educational Research Association (2007 -)
  • Member, National Academy of Education (2004 -)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations

  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2014 - Present)
  • Elected Member, National Academy of Education (2000 - Present)
  • University Professor, Brown University (1996 - 1998)
  • The Mittlemann Family Director, Center for the Study of Human Development (1992 - 1998)
  • Professor of Education, Brown University (1989 - 1998)
  • Chair of Education, Brown University (1989 - 1992)
  • Chair of Education, Clark University (1988 - 1989)
  • Dean of the Graduate School, Clark University (1983 - 1987)
  • Professor of Psychology, Clark University (1982 - 1989)
  • Associate Professor of Psychology, Clark University (1978 - 1982)
  • Assistant Professor of Psychology, Clark University (1973 - 1978)

Professional Education

  • PhD, University of California, Berkeley, Developmental Psychology (1973)
  • BA, Harvard University (1967)

Research Interests

  • Higher Education
  • Lifelong Learning
  • Motivation
  • Professional Development
  • Psychology

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

Dr. Damon studies the development of purpose throughout the lifespan. Recently he has conducted a study on the development of purpose during the college years. In addition, he has conducted research on how professionals can do work that is at the same time masterful and highly purposeful. Damon has written several books on purpose and character development, and he has been the editor-in-chief of New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development and The Handbook of Child Psychology. Damon's research has led to widely-recognized educational methods at the secondary, higher-education, and professional levels.


  • Handbook of Child Psychology, 1998, 2006 editions

    Editor-in-Chief, Handbook of Child Psychology, 1998, 2006 editions.


    United States

  • The Thriving Indicators Project, The John Templeton Foundation

    Advisory Boards, Positive Coaching Alliance, The Thriving Indicators Project.


    United States

2023-24 Courses

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • Family purpose: an empirical investigation of collective purpose (SEPT, 10.1080/17439760.2023.2254738, 2023) JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY Bronk, K., Liechtenstein, H., El Sehity, T., Mitchell, C., Postlewaite, E., Colby, A., Damon, W., Swanson, Z. 2024
  • Scientific and Ethical Mandates in the Study of Purpose HUMAN DEVELOPMENT Bronk, K., Damon, W. 2022; 66 (3): 219-221

    View details for DOI 10.1159/000524601

    View details for Web of Science ID 000924476500006

  • They do care: An interview with William Damon and Anne Colby on moral development JOURNAL OF MORAL EDUCATION Damon, W., Colby, A., King, P. 2018; 47 (4): 383–96
  • Purpose and Character Development in Early Adolescence. Journal of youth and adolescence Malin, H., Liauw, I., Damon, W. 2017


    Character development in adolescence is of growing interest among psychology researchers and educators, yet there is little consensus about how character should be defined and studied among developmental scientists. In particular, there is no fully developed framework for investigating the developmental relationships among different character strengths. This study examines the developmental relations between purpose and three other key character strengths that emerge during early adolescence: gratitude, compassion, and grit. We analyzed survey (n = 1005, 50.1% female, 24.1% Caucasian, 43.6% African American, 18.9% Hispanic, 11.9% Asian American) and interview (n = 98) data from a longitudinal study of character development among middle school students from the United States. Data were collected over the course of 2 years, with surveys conducted four times at 6-month intervals and interviews conducted twice at 12-month intervals. Data analyses showed small but significant correlations between purpose and each of the other three character strengths under investigation. Interview data revealed patterns in ways that adolescents acted on their purposeful aspirations; and interview analyses identified qualitative differences in expressions of gratitude and compassion between adolescents who were fully purposeful and those who were not. The findings suggest that character development can be better understood by investigating the multidirectional developmental relationships among different character strengths.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s10964-017-0642-3

    View details for PubMedID 28181047

  • Why a True Account of Human Development Requires Exemplar Research EXEMPLAR METHODS AND RESEARCH: STRATEGIES FOR INVESTIGATION Damon, W., Colby, A. 2013; 142: 13-25


    This chapter uses moral psychology to illustrate why exemplar methods are essential for building a valid, complete understanding of key domains of human development. Social psychological, economic, and biological-evolutionary paradigms for studying morality rely on samples drawn from the general population. This research reveals a bleak picture of morality, highlighting its irrational, self-interested, externally controlled aspects. If the subjects in these studies are confused, pliable, or profit-maximizing, these studies conclude that people in general are morally irrational and self-interested. In contrast, studies that investigate morally exceptional individuals reveal a more thoughtful, ideal-driven, self-reflective, creative version of moral functioning. Any account that neglects this high-functioning segment of the range is seriously misleading and cannot provide the basis for aspiration or education.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/cad.20046

    View details for Web of Science ID 000332400800002

  • Family purpose: an empirical investigation of collective purpose JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY Bronk, K., Mitchell, C., Postlewaite, E., Colby, A., Damon, W., Swanson, Z. 2023
  • EDUCATION FOR A PURPOSEFUL LIFE EDUCATION Damon, W., Colby, A., Suarez-Orozco, C., Suarez-Orozco, M. 2022: 181-193
  • Civic Purpose: An Integrated Construct for Understanding Civic Development in Adolescence HUMAN DEVELOPMENT Malin, H., Ballard, P. J., Damon, W. 2015; 58 (2): 103-130

    View details for DOI 10.1159/000381655

    View details for Web of Science ID 000356040900004

  • Motivations for Civic Participation Among Diverse Youth: More Similarities than Differences RESEARCH IN HUMAN DEVELOPMENT Ballard, P. J., Malin, H., Porter, T. J., Colby, A., Damon, W. 2015; 12 (1-2): 63-83
  • Diverse Routes to Civic Participation Across Ages and Cultures: An Introduction INTRODUCTION RESEARCH IN HUMAN DEVELOPMENT Ballard, P. J., Pavlova, M. K., Silbereisen, R. K., Damon, W. 2015; 12 (1-2): 1–9
  • Entrepreneurship in young adults: Initial findings from the young entrepreneurs study JOURNAL OF APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY Geldhof, G. J., Malin, H., Johnson, S. K., Porter, T., Bronk, K. C., Weiner, M. B., Agans, J. P., Mueller, M. K., Hunt, D., Colby, A., Lerner, R. M., Damon, W. 2014; 35 (5): 410-421
  • Fostering Youth Entrepreneurship: Preliminary Findings From the Young Entrepreneurs Study JOURNAL OF RESEARCH ON ADOLESCENCE Geldhof, G. J., Porter, T., Weiner, M. B., Malin, H., Bronk, K. C., Agans, J. P., Mueller, M., Damon, W., Lerner, R. M. 2014; 24 (3): 431-446

    View details for DOI 10.1111/jora.12086

    View details for Web of Science ID 000344789300003

  • Failing Liberty 101 EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP Damon, W. 2012; 69 (7): 22-26
  • Introduction to the Special Issue on American Identity APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE Damon, W. 2011; 15 (2): 51-53
  • The Bridge to Character EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP Damon, W. 2010; 67 (5): 36-39
  • The path to purpose: How young people find their calling in life Damon, W. Simon and Schuster. 2009
  • The why question: Teachers can instill a sense of purpose Education Next Damon, W. 2009; 9 (3): 84-85
  • The moral - How do we help students understand that academic excellence can get them where they want to go? EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP Damon, W. 2008; 66 (2): 8-?
  • Good work: When excellence and ethics meet Gardner, H. E., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Damon, W. Basic Books. 2008
  • Education and the path to purpose Independent School Magazine Damon, W. 2008; 68 (1): 61-64
  • The Moral North Star. Educational Leadership Damon, W. 2008; 66 (2): 8-13
  • Dispositions and teacher assessment the need for a more rigorous definition JOURNAL OF TEACHER EDUCATION Damon, W. 2007; 58 (5): 365-369
  • Taking ultimate responsibility Responsibility at work: How leading professionals act (or don't act) responsibly Damon, W., Bronk, K. C. 2007: 21-42
  • Taking philanthropy seriously: Beyond noble intentions to responsible giving Damon, W., Verducci, S. Indiana University Press. 2006
  • Handbook of child psychology, social, emotional, and personality development Damon, W., Lerner, R. M., Eisenberg, N. John Wiley & Sons. 2006
  • Looking back, for a change: a story of directions in child and adolescent development. New directions for child and adolescent development Damon, W. 2005: 15-19

    View details for PubMedID 16342889

  • Passion & mastery in balance: toward good work in the professions DAEDALUS Damon, W., Colby, A., Bronk, K., Ehrlich, T. 2005; 134 (3): 27-35
  • What is positive youth development? Conference on Positive Development - Realizing the Potential of Youth Damon, W. SAGE PUBLICATIONS INC. 2004: 13–24
  • The moral development children SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN Damon, W. 1999; 281 (2): 72-78

    View details for Web of Science ID 000081568300032

    View details for PubMedID 10443038

  • Political development for a democratic future: A commentary JOURNAL OF SOCIAL ISSUES Damon, W. 1998; 54 (3): 621-627