Peter Gray (born 1944) is an American psychologist who currently occupies the position of research professor of psychology at Boston College. He is the author of a widely used introductory psychology textbook, Psychology , now in its seventh edition. The book broke new ground when the first edition was published (in 1991) as the first general introductory psychology textbook that brought a Darwinian perspective to the entire field. He is also author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life (Basic Books, 2013), and he writes a popular blog for Psychology Today magazine entitled “Freedom to Learn.”
Gray is a well-known critic of standard educational systems and is frequently invited to speak to groups of parents, educators, and researchers about children’s needs for free play, the psychological damage inflicted on children through our present methods of schooling, and the ways in which children are designed, by natural selection, to control their own education. Along with a group of other concerned citizens, he has created a website, AlternativesToSchool.com , aimed at helping families find alternative, more natural, routes to education.
Peter Gray graduated in 1962 from Cabot School in Cabot, Vermont, where he was valedictorian in a town with a total population of 763 in 1960. He majored in psychology at Columbia College in New York City and graduated magna cum laude. His experiences working at camps and recreation centers in high school and college helped to shape his future academic interests in play and child development. He received his Ph.D. in biological sciences from the Rockefeller University in 1972, and, in that same year, joined the psychology department at Boston College. There he moved up the ranks from Assistant to Associate to Full Professor, serving at various times as department chair, director of the undergraduate program, and director of the graduate program. In 2002 he retired from his teaching position and accepted the appointment he now holds, as research professor.
Gray’s research publications span a wide range. Although he is generally known as an evolutionary psychologist, he has conducted and published research in neuroendocrinology, animal behavior, developmental psychology, anthropology, and education. He is most well known for his research concerned with children’s natural ways of learning and the role of play in children’s development.