Kevin Carlsmith, psychology professor, dies at 44


Kevin M. Carlsmith died peacefully on Saturday, Nov. 19, from cancer in his boyhood home in Portola Valley, surrounded by his family. He was 44.

An accomplished researcher and professor of psychology at Colgate University since 2003, he earned a Ph.D. at Princeton University in 2001 and a bachelor's degree from Lewis & Clark College in 1989.

His research examined theories of morality and justice in a social psychological context. He was particularly interested in the question of punishment, and of how people perceive the purpose of punishing wrongdoers (i.e., for deterrence or for moral retribution).

He published his findings in numerous journals, and was regularly invited to comment to the news media, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, about contemporary issues of punishment, such as analyzing the motivations and justification for the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

A recipient of three grants from the National Science Foundation, he possessed a particular expertise in statistics, an ability that he may have inherited from his father, Stanford professor J. Merrill Carlsmith, who died in 1984.

He grew up in Portola Valley as the son of two academic psychologists. His mother, Lyn K. Carlsmith, died in September.

His other great passion was the outdoors, which he had come to love as a boy on backpacking trips to Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains, said his brother Chris Carlsmith.

After college he worked at the North Face and served as a river guide and rock-climbing instructor for Outward Bound. He taught for four years at the White Mountain School in New Hampshire.

In 2010-11, he was appointed as a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

During that same year, he provided care to his ailing mother Lyn while managing his own health issues, taking care of his family, and arranging his affairs, his brother said. In addition to his wife, Alison; and daughters, Abby and Julia; he is survived by his brother, Chris Carlsmith of Arlington, Massachusetts, and sister Kim Sampson of Orlando, Florida.

The family asks that photos, written anecdotes, and other memories be sent to the Carlsmith Family, 31 Berenda Way, Portola Valley, CA 94025, in order to help Abby and Julia remember Kevin in years to come.

Visit for more information and to leave remembrances on the Almanac's Lasting Memories website.

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