The University of Miami Health Psychology Faculty and Graduate Students
Neil Schneiderman, Ph.D. (1937-2023)
James L. Knight Professor of Psychology, Medicine, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Public Health Sciences, and Biomedical Engineering
University of Miami
Professor Neil Schneiderman, Ph.D., one of the giants of Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, passed away on October 6, 2023 in Miami at the age of 86. Neil remained active until the end, directing the University of Miami (UM) Psychology Department Behavioral Medicine/Health Psychology Program and editing the upcoming American Psychological Association (APA) Handbook of Health Psychology.
Began career as a physiological psychologist
While Neil was a student at Brooklyn College, he planned to be a writer. He, however, eventually found his way to psychology. As a graduate student under the supervision of Professor Isidore Gormezano, Neil published two seminal research papers in Science describing the rabbit nictitating membrane conditioning model (an animal learning model). He earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from Indiana University in 1964 and completed post-doctoral training in neurophysiology and neuropharmacology in the Physiological Institute of the University of Basel, Switzerland.
First job was his only job
Neil joined the UM Psychology Department as an Assistant Professor in 1965. He did not interview for this position, but was hired on the basis of his record. He quickly rose through the ranks and was promoted to Professor in 1974. In 1989, Neil was awarded the James L. Knight endowed chair in Health Psychology. He founded the UM Psychology Department Behavioral Medicine/Health Psychology Program in 1986 and served as its director until his death. Neil was recognized by UM for his contributions with the UM Faculty Senate Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award (1999) and the Provost’s Scholarly Activity Award (2020).
At UM, Neil’s early NSF-funded research examined classical heart rate conditioning in animal models. This work was the precursor for the fear-conditioning paradigm currently used in neuroscience research. For the next several decades he and his colleagues traced neuronal pathways involved in Pavlovian conditioning of cardiovascular responses. This body of work began with identifying the cells of origin of vagal cardioinhibitory motoneurons in the medulla, using histochemistry, and microstimulation and single neuron extracellular electrophysiological recordings. This work continued with mapping the central nervous system pathways that mediated conditioned and unconditioned cardiovascular adjustments
Cardiovascular behavioral medicine research
The study of central nervous system pathways mediating differentiated patterns of cardiovascular adjustments in animal models led Neil and his colleagues to conduct an important series of psychophysiological studies in humans. This research described differentiated patterns of neurohormonal and cardiovascular responses to various behavioral stressors as a function of race, sex, and hypertensive status. This work also demonstrated that the patterns of physiological responses were also influenced by psychosocial factors such as harassment and hostility.
Besides his basic cardiovascular research, Neil conducted applied cardiovascular research. In recent years, Neil and colleagues have documented the psychosocial prevention of atherosclerosis progression in animal models of coronary artery disease. Neil was a key figure in two important clinical trials designed to compare the effects of cognitive behavior therapy strategies vs. usual care on morbidity and mortality in patients with coronary heart disease. He served as the PI of the Miami Clinical Center for the NIH NHLBI “Enhancing Recovery in Coronary Heart Disease Patients (ENRICHD)” randomized trial. Neil also collaborated with Kristina Orth-Gomér and other Swedish colleagues to conduct the “Stockholm Women’s Intervention Trial for Coronary Heart Disease (SWITCHD).”
Because of Neil’s interest in associations among biological regulation, psychosocial factors and disease processes, it was not surprising that he also joined with colleagues relatively early in the HIV/AIDS epidemic to study relationships between psychosocial variables and endocrine-immune regulation in HIV-infected patients. This work, in turn, led Neil and collaborators to conduct randomized controlled trials using group-based cognitive behavior therapy and relaxation training to influence psychosocial, endocrine and immune factors, and even to reduce HIV viral load to undetectable levels in patients who were failing their regimen of highly active anti-retroviral drugs.
Population-based observational studies addressing health disparities
In addition to Neil’s contributions in basic science and in clinical trials research, he was actively involved in population-based observational studies. From 2007 until recently, Neil was the PI of the Miami Field Center of the NIH-funded Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, the most comprehensive long-term study of health and disease in Hispanics and Latinos living in the US. Neil and his colleagues in Miami, the Bronx, Chicago, and San Diego have studied the health status and disease burden of over 16,000 Hispanic adults, describing the positive and negative consequences of immigration and acculturation in relation to lifestyle and access to health care and assessing likely causal factors of disease in this diverse population.
Impact, influence, leadership, and awards
Colleagues have described Neil as a visionary, one of a kind, determined, a force of nature, witty, persuasive, tenacious, a team builder, competitive, able to see the big picture, a leader, and a friend. These attributes have undoubtedly contributed to his profound impact.
Through interdisciplinary research using basic science approaches, randomized clinical trials, and population-based observational studies, Neil realized his early goal of becoming a writer.
Neil published over 450 scientific journal articles and edited or wrote 18 books and monographs. Since 1966, his research was continuously funded by organizations such as NHLBI, NIMH, NINDS and NSF, including large Program Project Grants dealing with biopsychosocial factors in cardiovascular disease (NHLBI) and HIV/AIDS (NIMH), and two NIH training grants (NHLBI; NIMH). It is estimated that his extramural research support totalled more than $125M over his career.
Neil was the second Editor-in-Chief of the journal Health Psychology before becoming founding Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Within the NIH, he served as a member of the Biopsychology Study Section, NHLBI Research Training Review Committee, and NIMH Health Behavior and Prevention Review Committee. Within APA, Neil was the president of the Division of Health Psychology (38), the chair of the Board of Scientific Affairs, and a fellow in the Divisions of Experimental Psychology (3), Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology (6), and Health Psychology (38). A founding fellow of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, Neil later served as president of that organization. Neil also was president of the International Society of Behavioral Medicine (ISBM) and he was a fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) and of the American College of Clinical Pharmacology. Neil’s many contributions were recognized with the APA Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (1994), the SBM Distinguished Scientist Award (1997), the ISBM Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award (2004), the ISBM Lifetime Achievement Award (2012), and the American Psychosomatic Society Distinguished Scientist Award (2014).
Neil Schneiderman was a pioneer in Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine, and arguably one of the most influential figures over the past 50 years. Perhaps among his greatest legacies, are the countless number of students and colleagues that Neil mentored and championed over the years. Neil generously gave his time and devoted resources to train generations of researchers and clinicians. And, as we stand on the shoulders of this giant, we all owe him a debt of gratitude.
Contributions in memory of Neil can be made to the University of Miami Department of Psychology, where they will be used to support graduate students and trainees.