Terrie Moffitt Receives Royal Honor From the British Monarchy

Terrie Moffitt Receives Royal Honor From the British Monarchy
King Charles III presents Duke faculty Terrie Moffitt with the title "Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire" on December 19, 2023. (Photograph courtesy of Terrie Moffitt) 

Terrie Moffitt, Nannerl O. Keohane University Distinguished Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience has received the title Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, commonly known as the MBE.

The honor, also bestowed upon many celebrities over the years, was presented to Moffitt by King Charles III at a ceremony in Windsor Castle in recognition of her outstanding scientific achievement and service to the United Kingdom.

Established in 1917 by King George V, the MBE is the third highest ranking honor one can receive from the British Sovereign, excluding knighthood and damehood. Until the beginning of the 19th century, only aristocrats and high-ranking military officers were appointed to an order of chivalry. Today, the Order of the British Empire recognizes service in several areas including the arts and charitable work, or, as in Moffitt’s case, for public service in the sciences, given the lasting and significant impact of her human development research.

Moffitt — who is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is regularly ranked among the world’s most-cited scientists — is internationally known for her research on the Dunedin Study, which uses a longitudinal birth cohort method to examine human health and behavior. Now in its fifth decade, the study follows the lives and development of 1037 people born in Dunedin, New Zealand between April 1972 and March 1973. Its findings have resulted in over 1200 research publications and reports.

A naturalized citizen to the United Kingdom, Moffitt fondly recalls her meeting with King Charles in the enormous, gilded palace hall, but the day also came with feelings of trepidation.

“One abiding worry was the palace dress code, which called for a hat,” Moffitt said. “[Research Project Manager in the Moffitt & Caspi Lab] Karen Sugden generously lent me a lovely fascinator for the occasion.”

Upon arriving at the palace, Moffitt expected a group of recipients to be lined up in chairs “like a high school graduation” but instead, each honoree had a brief private audience with the King.

“The King asked me if there are treatments today that completely cure mental illness. I said, ‘Not yet, your majesty.’”

The two then briefly discussed Moffitt’s research and she expressed how meaningful the award was to her, having become a British citizen. “We shook hands, then I walked backwards out of the royal presence, curtsied and exhaled.”

Moffitt was accompanied to the ceremony by her husband and research partner, Avshalom Caspi, Edward M. Arnett Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience.

In addition to their longitudinal study work, The Moffitt & Caspi Lab is also responsible for developing a trademarked biomarker, DunedinPACE, designed to measure the rate of human aging through blood spot samples.