Jahoda was born in Vienna, Austria to a Jewish family, and like many other psychologists of her time, grew up in Austria where political oppression against socialists was rampant henceforward Dollfuß claimed power. Starting in her adolescent years she became engaged in the socialist party. This was a major influence on her life. Nowadays she is (among many others) considered as Grande Dame of European socialism. In 1928 she earned her teaching diploma from the Pedagogical Academy of Vienna, and in 1933 earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology from the University of Vienna. Together with her husband Paul Lazarsfeld and Hans Zeisel, she wrote a now-classic study of the social impact of unemployment on a small community: Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal (1932; English ed. 1971 – Marienthal: the sociography of an unemployed community – paperback by Transaction Publishers in USA, 2002). Marienthal was an industrial district that suffered very high levels of unemployment in the 1920s, and the research team examined the (often devastating) psychological consequences. These went beyond the obvious hardships associated with financial deprivation, and Jahoda concluded that in modern industrial societies work provides important social benefits, including a sense of personal worth, connection with wider social objectives, and a time structure to their days and weeks.
In 1937, after a period of imprisonment by the austro-fascist regime, Jahoda fled Austria, staying in England during World War II. In 1945 she arrived in the United States. During her time there, she worked as a professor of social psychology at the New York University and a researcher for the American Jewish Committee and Columbia University. She contributed significantly to the analysis of the Studies on Prejudice and was co-editor of the third volume of these studies called Anti-Semitism and Emotional Disorder: a Psychological Interpretation, which was published in 1950. Between 1958 and 1965, at what is now Brunel University, she was involved in establishing Psychology degree programmes including the unique four-year, "thin-sandwich" degree. Jahoda founded the Research Center of Human Relations, and was recruited by the University of Sussex in 1965, where she became Professor of Social Psychology. Later at Sussex University she became consultant, and then Visiting Professor, at the Science Policy Research Unit.
In 1958 she developed the theory of Ideal Mental Health. Through her work Jahoda identified five categories which she said were vital to feelings of well-being (1982, 87). These were: time structure, social contact, collective effort or purpose, social identity or status, and regular activity. She maintained that the unemployed were deprived of all five, and that this accounted for much of the reported mental ill-health among unemployed people. In the 1980s, when unemployment levels were again high, this approach was rather influential, and her Marienthal studies attracted renewed interest: she made many presentations on this topic in Europe. She was at that time working at the Science Policy Research Unit, where she had also contributed substantially to the Unit's work on innovation and futures studies – most visibly in the coedited study by Christopher Freeman and Marie Jahoda (eds) 1978, World Futures: the Great Debate (published by Martin Robertson in the UK). She continued her interest in psychology with the 1977 study Freud and the Dilemmas of Psychology (Hogarth Press), and was coeditor of Technology and the Future of Europe: Competition and the Global Environment in the 1990s with Christopher Freeman, Keith Pavitt, Margaret Sharp and William Walker (Thomson Learning, 1991). She was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992.
In 1927 she married Paul Felix Lazarsfeld with whom she had her only child Lotte Franziska (* 1930)- who became a professor of management at M.I.T.. In 1934, she divorced Lazarsfeld, who had been involved with Herta Herzog since 1932. After she returned to the UK in 1958 she married the Labour politician Austen Albu.
Ideal Mental Health
Marie Jahoda, in 1958, devised a list of characteristics which are present in the majority of people who are regarded as normal. Known as Ideal Mental Health, these were:
- Efficient self perception
- Realistic self esteem and acceptance
- Voluntary control of behaviour
- True perception of the world
- Sustaining relationships and giving affection
- Self-direction and productivity
in addition to those cited above – Marienthal; Current concepts of positive mental health; World Futures, Technology and the Future of Europe, Freud and the Dilemmas of Psychology – her major publications include: Research Methods in Social Relations by Claire Selltiz; Marie Jahoda; Morton Deutsch; Stuart W. Cook (1964)
Studies in the Scope and Method of The Authoritarian Personality: Continuities in Social Research by Richard Christie & Marie Jahoda (1954)
Research Methods in Social Relations – With Especial Reference to Prejudice by Marie Jahoda (1952)
Work, employment and unemployment: An overview of ideas and research results in the social science literature by Marie Jahoda (SPRU occasional paper series, University of Sussex, 1980)
Thinking About The Future – A Critique Of The Limits To Growth (published in the USA as Models of Doom) by H S D Cole, Christopher Freeman, Marie Jahoda, and Keith Pavitt (Sussex University Press, 1973)
Ich habe die Welt nicht verändert by Marie Jahoda (2002, Julius Beltz GmbH)