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Henry Murray (life and Achievements)

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Henry Alexander Murray was an American psychologist whose most significant contribution to the science was the development of personality theory based on 'need' and 'press.' For more than thirty years the scientist taught at Harvard University in Boston, MA. In addition, he took part in founding the Boston Psychoanalytic Society which today boasts over 130 professional members throughout various psychoanalytic fields. Murray is also the one to have developed a Thematic Apperception Test which is now widely used in psychology to help in evaluating emotionally distressed patients. Further the test was improved and it's now used as a way to help people to understand themselves better and to allow their personalities to grow and develop. (Anderson, 1988).

Life and work of the scientist

Henry A. Murray was born in 1893. His family - parents, sister and brother - lived in New York. In 1915 Murray got a degree in history at Harvard University. Despite not being the most successful student, since history seemed to interest him little, he was very active and good in activities such as football, rowing, and boxing. Murry continued his studies however, and in 1919 earned a medical degree from Columbia College and appeared to be much more successful in medicine than in history. In 1926, the future psychologist got married, and within a year became an assistant director at Harvard psychological clinic. Shortly after in 1927, Murray received a second doctorate, this time in biochemistry from Cambridge College. Ten years later in 1937, Murray became the director of the Harvard psychological clinic.

At 30 years of age, Murray's career path seemed to have taken a different route after spending some time with Carl Jung in Switzerland. Murray was so impressed by Jung that without much persuasion he took the advice of the psychologist and completed his training at Harvard University where he remained for the rest of his professional career. (AllPsych online, 2004).

In 1938 Murray completed and published his work "Explorations in Personality", in which he included a description of the Thematic Apperception Test.

During the Second World War Murray worked at the Office of Strategic Services and held a position of lieutenant colonel. In 1938 he worked as a consultant for the government of Great Britain and helped form the Officer Selection Board. In 1943 the scientist took part in the creation of "Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler" which according to Anderson (1988) became the basis for further development of offending profiling and political psychology. Interestingly enough Murray predicted that Adolf Hitler would most likely resort to suicide if the dictator felt that Germany's defeat was at hand.

Professor Murray eventually returned to Harvard in the summer of 1947, where he became a chief researcher and established the Psychological Clinic Annex. Murray also became an emeritus professor as the American Psychological Association rewarded him with the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award and another Gold Medal Award from American Psychological Foundation. On June 23, 1988 Professor Henry Murray died of Pneumonia: He was 95 and will always be a permanent part of Harvard University's rich and varied history. The Murray Center, named after Henry Murray, at Harvard was founded in 1976 and continues its research on human development, the life span, and issues that especially affect women.

Contributions to psychology

One of the earliest theories of needs was the manifest need theory proposed by Henry A. Murray. Murray believed that needs are mostly learned rather than inherited and are activated by cues from the external environment (Murray, 1938). For example, an employee who has a high need for affiliation will pursue that need by associating with others only when the environmental conditions are appropriate. Only then would the need be manifest. When the need was not cued, the need was said to be latent or not activated.

Murray (1938) identified a wide range of needs that people supposedly acquire to some degree or another through interaction with their environment. Murray first developed a list of fifteen needs that were classified as viscerogenic (primary) and psychogenic (secondary). The needs for food, water, sex, urination, defecation, and lactation, all associated with physiological functioning, are examples of Murray's viscerogenic needs. Murray's psychogenic needs include abasement, achievement, affiliation, aggression, autonomy, deference, dominance, and power (AllPsych online, 2004).

Murray's need categories attempted to focus on specific, relatively narrow need-related issues and a separate need was created for almost every human behavior. Murray's list of needs was not derived from empirical research but from his personal observations and clinical experience. Periodically he added additional needs to his list, and the length of the list increased with his career (Anderson, 1988).

Murray and his colleagues also invented a new kind of test which became very well-known. It is called TAT (Thematic Apperception Test). Initially the purpose of the test was to study the dynamics of personality (AllPsych online, 2004): they showed some ambiguous pictures to the people and asked them to write a story about the picture focusing on: 'who are the people in the picture, what are they doing, and what will the outcome be.' They also maintained that people interpret these kinds of pictures according to their own perception. Murray and his colleagues believed that test-takers would reflect their own personal dreams, wishes or worries, and that such a test can uncover the basic 'themes' that recur in the unconscious. He also asked subjects to complete impossible puzzles aiming to test their ability to cope with frustration, asked people to write simple autobiographies or to describe their childhood experiences (Murray, 1943). These methods were used by Murray and his colleagues to analyze the subjects' personalities, internal conflicts, major driving forces, interests and bases of motivation (Anderson, 1988).

Further the test was improved and developed to evaluate emotionally disturbed patients, to evoke one's self-understanding, and personal growth and development.


In conclusion, it should be mentioned that Murray's theory also included many of Sigmund Freud's concepts, but the language is wider than that of Freud. For example, other than biological influence, Murray also considered the psychological and social needs of individuals. Also, another aspect that interested me in Murray was that


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