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Zombies and the Psychology of Parenting Under Extreme Stress

("zombie stick family"/Tim Evanson /CC BY-SA 2.0)

Professor of psychology Steven Kirsh combined two of his passions, zombies and psychology, for his latest book: Parenting in the Zombie Apocalypse: The Psychology of Raising Children in a Time of Horror (McFarland, 2019).

Kirsh begins by imagining the world of the zombie apocalypse, then applies to it contemporary research on parenting during times of extreme stress, including the societal breakdown that can happen in times of war, government collapse, famine, etc. “It’s a non-fiction assessment of a fictional world,” he said.

Kirsh’s notes that hundreds of millions of parents and children find themselves parenting under duress—during periods of unrest, in refugee situations, and in grief every day. His book highlights the impact of these real-world troubling and traumatic circumstances on parenting. “If you take the zombies out of the apocalypse, you’re still left with horrifying conditions for rearing children.” 

The book was inspired by Kirsh’s course Parents vs. Zombies, an honors seminar in the social sciences. For the course, students read about contemporary parenting strategies and applied them to the horror-filled world of the zombie apocalypse.

“I like having students take what we learn in class and relate it to media—books, movies, TV shows. If you can apply it to an outside context, then you understand it,” Kirsh said. “Plus, using zombies to teach can be helpful: their world is devoid of politics, biases, and history—there is nothing to distract you from what happens to these groups of people.”

Kirsh’s honors course, which will be offered in Spring 2020, attracts students from all majors who have varying experience with statistics and methods. His book is a useful tool for presenting challenging material while circumventing discipline-specific jargon and methodology for non-majors.

The idea has now come full circle, Kirsh concluded. “I taught the course, which inspired and shaped the book, and now I’m going to use the book to shape the course.”


Monique Patenaude, PhD
Director of Media Relations
(585) 245-5056