SFU evolutionary biologist receives Sterling Prize

Crespi’s research revolutionizes study of psychiatric disorders and shifts understanding of human mental illness.

  • Aug. 24, 2016 6:00 p.m.

Bernard Crespi

Bernard Crespi, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s department of Biological Sciences, is the 2016 recipient of the SFU’s Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy for his novel research that re-envisions human mental illness through the lens of evolutionary biology.

According to the New York Times, Crespi’s theory is one of the most revolutionary ideas to psychiatry since Freud.

Crespi will be presented with the Sterling Prize at an award ceremony held on Monday, October 17 at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at SFU’s Vancouver campus.

Following the ceremony, Crespi will present a lecture outlining his research. The event is free and open to the public but requires registration.

“I think the award recognizes research that’s new, novel, and potentially wrong but potentially revolutionary as well,” Crespi says. “That encourages people to take risks, which they might not otherwise do.”

Crespi’s Diametric Theory of Human Mental Illness, originally published with co-author and  sociologist Christopher Badcock in 2008, proposes that psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia are diametric opposites on a mental illness spectrum. The theory also posits that human mental illness occurs in part from conflict between maternally and paternally-inherited genes.

Crespi’s work calls for the revision or replacement of the American Psychologist Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a categorization for psychological adaptations.

The Sterling Prize was first awarded in 1993, and remains committed to recognizing work that provokes and contributes to the understanding of controversy, while presenting new ways of looking at the world and challenging complacency. The Prize recognizes work across disciplines and departments, and is awarded annually by the Sterling Prize committee.



As Canada’s engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement.

SFU was founded 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far.

Today, SFU is Canada’s leading comprehensive research university and is ranked one of the top universities in the world. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 35,000 students, and boasts more than 135,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world.


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