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Obituaries

Alan Bell, 70; Studied Homosexuality

May 26, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alan P. Bell, a research psychologist who led a groundbreaking Kinsey Institute study two decades ago suggesting that homosexuality has a biological basis, has died. He was 70.

Bell died of a stroke May 13 at a hospital in Bloomington, Ind.

A retired professor of counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University in that city, Bell was a senior research psychologist for 14 years at the Alfred C. Kinsey Institute for Sex Research, which is affiliated with the university.

Bell led the Kinsey Institute study, published in 1981, that suggested that homosexuals are born with that predisposition and not influenced by traumatic experiences during childhood development.

"We found homosexuality is deep-seated and not something that one chooses to be or not to be," Bell said at the time. "We looked at the biological underpinnings of sexuality."

The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, was based on five-hour interviews with about 1,500 homosexual and heterosexual men and women in the San Francisco area.

Critics, however, questioned the study's controversial finding that there is almost no correlation between early family experience and adult sexual orientation, and the researchers' method of relying on participants' memories in answering researchers' questions.

"I expect to be condemned from both sides--by the radicals for even looking into the subject and by the analysts who may say we're trying to paint a glowing picture of homosexuality," Bell said. "But we are reporting what people say, and it's all very consistent."

Paul Robinson, writing in Psychology Today, said Bell and his co-authors answered the question of why some people become homosexuals while others become heterosexuals "more satisfactorily than any previous study."

"One finishes [the study] with the firm sense that much of the confusion about sexual identity has now been set aright," Robinson wrote. "Parents can safely rid themselves of the fear that their actions will somehow determine the sexual preference of their children, and psychotherapists can relax their fierce campaign to change adult sexual behavior by probing into early familial experiences."

Born in Newark, N.J., in 1932, Bell earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., in 1952. He received a master's from General Theological Seminary in New York in 1955, and as an Episcopal minister helped found a parish in Denville, N.J.

Bell obtained a doctoral degree in counseling from Columbia University in New York in 1964. During his doctoral internship at the Veterans Administration hospital in Northport, N.Y., he became interested in the dreams of a sex offender with whom he did extensive work. The result was the book "The Personality of a Child Molester," co-written with Calvin Hall.

In 1967, Bell became an assistant professor at Indiana University and senior research psychologist at the Kinsey Institute. He also served as a vice president of the institute for 12 years.

While at Kinsey, he was senior author of "Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women" and another landmark publication, "Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Among Men and Women."

In 1970, Bell co-founded the university's Center for Human Growth, which is a departmental training site for graduate students in counseling and offers therapy for campus and community clients.

A charter member of the International Academy of Sex Research, Bell was the author of several books, including "Human Sexuality: Studies From the Kinsey Institute" and "The Mind and Heart in Human Sexual Behavior."

After retiring from Indiana University in 1997, Bell continued his private practice in psychotherapy.

He is survived by his second wife, Shirley; a son, the noted violinist Joshua Bell of New York City; three daughters, Terry Milazzo of Bow, N.H., Toby Gill of Indianapolis and Rachel Bell of Chicago; a sister, Patricia Kirkwood of Montclair, N.J.; and four grandchildren.

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