Steven Reiss was an internationally-recognized expert on anxiety, developmental disabilities, and intrinsic motivation. He introduced two now widely-used terms: (1) "diagnostic overshadowing" to refer to the tendency to overlook the mental health needs of people with developmental disabilities, and (2) "anxiety sensitivity" to suggest that the fear of fear increases the risk of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and panic attacks. Reiss published influential scientific studies on these issues and created three widely-used psychological assessments: the Anxiety Sensitivity Index (ASI), used to assess anxiety disorders; the Reiss Screen for Maladaptive Behavior, used to evaluate psychiatric service needs for people with developmental disabilities; and the Reiss Motivation Profile®, used to assess what makes any person tick. These scales have been translated into most European and Asian languages and are widely used internationally.


In 1968 Reiss received his A.B. degree from Dartmouth College magna cum laude, completing a double major in philosophy and psychology. Four years later he received his Ph.D. degree in psychology from Yale University.

Reiss joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1972 as Assistant Professor and within four years achieved tenured full Professor of Psychology. In 1991 he became Professor of Psychology (tenured) and Psychiatry at The Ohio State University.

He married Maggi Musico in 1971, and they have two adult children: Michael, a statistician, and Benjamin, a physician. Michael married Kristen Lambert, an architect, in 2012. Michael and Kristen have two sons: Caleb Gregory, born 14 April 2014; and James Samuel, born 5 May 2016.

Honors and Awards

2008 Distinguished Research Award, American Association on Mental Retardation
2006 Frank J. Menolascino Award for Career Research, National Association on Dual Diagnosis
2004 Who's Who in America
1991 Distinguished Award for Career Research, Arc of the United States (formerly Association for Retarded Citizens)
1987 Distinguished Services Award, American Association on Mental Retardation
1986 Fellow, American Psychological Association, Divisions 12 (Clinical Psychology) and 33 (Mental Retardation)
1968 Senior Fellow of Dartmouth College

Thematic Work

Anxiety Disorders. Reiss introduced the construct of anxiety sensitivity, which became one of the most widely studied and important topics in clinical psychology, with more than 2,000 published studies.

Many therapists had observed a "fear of fear" phenomenon in which anxiety patients who had panic attacks feared recurrence. Reiss led a team that reinterpreted the fear of fear as beliefs that anxious arousal is itself harmful (e.g., the belief that a racing heart is a sign of an impending attack). He predicted that these "anxiety sensitivity" beliefs precede anxiety disorders and are risk factors, not unimportant consequences. Reiss wrote the Anxiety Sensitivity Index (ASI), a 16-item standardized psychological measure that has been used in more than 2,000 scientific studies.

Reiss, S., Peterson, R.A., Gursky, D.M., & McNally, R.J. (1986). Anxiety sensitivity, anxiety frequency, and the prediction of fearfulness. Behavior Research and Therapy, 24, 1-8.

Reiss, S. (1980). Pavlovian conditioning and human fear: An expectancy model. Behavior Therapy, 11, 380-396.

Developmental Disabilities (Dual Diagnosis). Reiss extensively studied the co-occurrence of intellectual disabilities and psychiatric disorders, becoming one of the most authoritative experts in North America on this topic and the population. He worked to replace custodial institutional care with community supports for people with developmental disabilities, particularly those with behavioral or psychiatric challenges in addition to intellectual disabilities. He created the Reiss Screen for Maladaptive Behavior, a standardized tool assessing the need for services that received statewide adoptions throughout the United States and is still widely used. This tool greatly reduced the cost of identification of service needs. It presented authorities with specific people in need of help rather than just research estimates of how many people might be in need per region, thereby significantly enhancing the willingness of state authorities to fund new services. Reiss traveled from state to state to train caregivers; in total he gave invited presentations on the mental health needs of people with developmental disabilities in 44 states (usually at the request of the state government), four Canadian provinces, and Israel (at the request of the national government). He presented the underlying science supporting the need for new services at the National Institutes of Health, the Iberolatinamerican Society for the Scientific Study of Developmental Disabilities, the Royal College of Psychiatry; and the World Psychiatric Society.

Reiss, S., & Reiss, M. (2004). Curiosity and mental retardation: Beyond IQ. Mental Retardation, 42, 77-81.

Reiss, S. (1990). The development of a screening measure for psychopathology in people with mental retardation. In E. Dibble and D.B. Gray (Eds.), Assessment of Behavior Problems in Persons with Mental Retardation Living in the Community (pp. 107-118). Rockville, MD: National Institute of Mental Health.

Reiss, S., & Trenn, E. (1984). Consumer demand for outpatient mental health services for mentally retarded people. Mental Retardation, 22, 112-115.

Reiss, S., & Szyszko, J. (1983). Diagnostic overshadowing and professional experience with mentally retarded persons. American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 87, 396-402.

Reiss, S., Levitan, G.W., & McNally, R.J. (1982). Emotionally disturbed, mentally retarded people: An undeserved population. American Psychologist, 37, 361-367.

Intrinsic Motivation. Reiss wrote the Reiss Motivation Profile®, a standardized psychological tool that assesses what motivates a person. More than 80,000 people were assessed. The results of this large-scale, cross-cultural, scientific research identified 16 psychological needs or "basic desires," which are goals common to everyone and deeply rooted in human nature. Although everyone embraces the 16 basic desires, individuals prioritize them differently. This work was reported in most newspapers of record in North America, Europe, and Asia as well as by BBC and ABC.

Reiss, S. (2004). Multifaceted nature of intrinsic motivation: The theory of 16 basic desires. Review of General Psychology, 8, 179-193.

Reiss, S., & Havercamp, S.M. (1998). Toward a comprehensive assessment of fundamental motivation. Psychological Assessment, 10, 97-106.

Life Coaching. In two books Reiss applied the 16 basic desires to human resources. The Reiss Motivation Profile® is used by multinational companies for leadership training and conflict resolution.

Reiss, S. (2013). The Reiss Motivation Profile: What Motivates You? Worthington, OH: IDS Publishing Corporation.

Reiss, S. (2008). The Normal Personality: A New Way of Thinking about People. New York: Cambridge University Press. (Translated into German and Polish.)

Reiss, S. (2000). Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities. New York: Tarcher/Putnam. (Translated into Chinese, Dutch, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish.)

Education. Reiss applied the 16 basic desires to assessing academic underachievement and to motivating students. Schools throughout the United States use the Reiss School Motivation Profile® and the Reiss Motivation Profile® for Children.

Reiss, S. (2009). Six motivational reasons for low school achievement. Child and Youth Care Forum, 38, 219-225.

Religion. Reiss published a comprehensive theory of what motivates religious experiences.

Reiss, S. (2015). The 16 Strivings for God: The New Psychology of Religious Experiences. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

Reiss, S. (2004). The 16 strivings for God. Zygon, 39, 303-320.

Reiss, S. (2000). Why people turn to religion: A motivational analysis. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39, 47-52.

Media Psychology. Reiss published an influential and widely-publicized study on reality television by applying the 16 basic desires to popular culture.

Reiss, S., & Wiltz, J. (2004). Why people watch reality TV. Media Psychology, 6, 363-378.

Sports. Reiss applied the 16 basic desires to a comprehensive analysis of sports psychology.

Reiss, S., Wiltz, J., & Sherman, M. (2001). Trait motivational correlates of athleticism. Personality and Individual Differences, 30, 1139-1145.

Myths of Intrinsic Motivation. Reiss has identified multiple flaws in the social psychology of intrinsic motivation. He has argued that the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is invalid and that the so-called undermining effect which social psychologists claim to have discovered, and which is the basis of Daniel Pink's book, Drive, is just a trivial distraction effect of no scientific significance.

Reiss, S. (2013). Myths of Intrinsic Motivation. Worthington, OH: IDS Publishing Corporation.

Reiss, S., & Sushinsky, L.W. (1976). The competing response hypothesis of decreased play effects: A reply to Lepper and Greene. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 233-244.

Reiss, S., & Sushinsky, L.W. (1975). Overjustification, competing responses, and the acquisition of intrinsic interest. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 1116-1125.

Leadership Activities

Reiss used his reputation in the field of developmental disabilities to focus attention on critical public policy issues for the population. In 1987 he organized the first-ever international conference on the mental health aspects of intellectual disabilities. The Director of the National Institutes of Mental Health convened an ad hoc panel to fast track funding for this conference. In 1998 Reiss convened a panel of 105 physicians and scientists from ten nations to write a consensus handbook of best practices aimed at reducing the abuse of psychiatric overmedication. Twelve national medical, professional, or government organizations formally endorsed Reiss's efforts including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institutes of Health. Reiss underwent liver transplantation in 2002 because of an autoimmune disease. Four years later he started a national program, "Lives Worth Saving," aimed at reducing discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities in organ transplant operations.

Martens, M.A., Jones, L., & Reiss, S. (2006). Organ transplantation, organ donation and mental retardation. Pediatric Transplantation, 10, 1-8.