We Remember Dr. Billy Seay

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Dr. Billy M. Seay, long-time member of the Louisiana psychology community, passed away December 4, 2019. He served as a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Louisiana State University for many years, and then went on to become the founding Dean of the LSU Honors College.

Dr. Seay was one of the “monkey men,” the affectionate term for those who observed the behavior of primates and then explained the development, adaptation, and social structures of these close great-ape relatives.

When Dr. Seay came to LSU as a young psychologist in 1964, he brought with him the distinction of having published in the then ground-breaking studies about mother-infant separation. Seay studied with the American primatologist, Harry F. Harlow, at the University of Wisconsin, where Seay earned his doctorate.

In his work at Wisconsin and with Harlow, Seay published “Mother-Infant Separation in Monkeys,” in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “Affectional Systems in Rhesus Monkeys,” and “Maternal Behavior of Socially Deprived Rhesus Monkeys,” and ‘Maternal Separation in Rhesus Monkeys,” in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.

“Harlow provided his students with the resources of his laboratory, staff support, and considerable independence,” Seay told the Times in 2015. “When research was published he used a ‘post-Nobel’ style of authorship. Students were consistently the first author of  research reports. Exception occurred only if he had an agreement with an editor to be first author. He would not co-author dissertation publication. You were on your own.”

Seay also worked with colleague and fellow LSU professor and development psychologist, Dr. Nathan Gottried, to author The Development of Behavior: A Synthesis of Developmental and Comparative Psychology in 1978.

The Development of Behavior was ahead of its time. While debates still occur today about which influence––genetic, environmental, epigenetic, individual, etc.–– is dominant in development, Development of Behavior set out the importance of five “sets” for determining behavior from all five directions. In Development, they approached behavior from the dynamic interplay of the Phylogenetic Set, the Ontogenetic Set, the Experiential Set, the Cultural Set, and the Individual Set.

“One hopes that what is not lost is that all behavior is multiply determined,” Seay had told the Times. “There is not a single cause for any behavioral outcome,” he said.

“I think that both biological and cognitive psychology fail to recognize the importance of culture in shaping and determining behavior,” Seay said about the awareness of cultural impacts. “The cultural setting is a determining factor with respect to the environment an individual encounters. Failure to recognize cultural influences on behavior limits understanding behavior.”

Dr. Billy Seay was a devoted husband for sixty years to his college sweetheart. Billy is survived by his loving wife, Nedra Dees Seay, of Baton Rouge, his daughter Delecia Seay Carey and husband Tom, of Maurice, Louisiana, his son Franklin Whitfield Seay and wife Cheryl of Denham Springs, and many beloved grandchildren

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