Henry Murray

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For other people of the same name, see Henry Murray (disambiguation).
Henry Murray
Henry Murray.jpg
Henry Murray
Born (1893-05-13)May 13, 1893
New York City
Died June 23, 1988(1988-06-23) (aged 95)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Fields Psychology
Institutions Harvard University
Known for Personality psychology
Influences Carl Jung
Influenced Abraham Maslow

Henry Alexander Murray (May 13, 1893 – June 23, 1988) was an American psychologist who taught for over 30 years at Harvard University. He was Director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic in the School of Arts and Sciences after 1930 and collaborated with Stanley Cobb, Bullard Professor of Neuropathology at the Medical School, to introduce psychoanalysis into the Harvard curriculum but to keep those who taught it away from the decision-making apparatus in Vienna. He and Cobb set the stage for the founding of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society after 1931, but both were excluded from membership on political grounds. While personality theory in psychology was becoming dominated by the statistics of trait theory, Murray developed a theory of personality called personology, based on "need" and "press". Patterned after chemistry's Henderson–Hasselbalch equation for the pH of a solution, personology was a holistic approach that studied the person at many levels of complexity all at the same time by an interdisciplinary team of investigators. Murray was also a co-developer, with Christiana Morgan, of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), which he referred to as "the second best-seller that Harvard ever published, second only to the Harvard Handbook of Music."

Personal background[edit]

Henry Murray was born into a wealthy family in New York in 1893. He had an older sister and a younger brother. Carver and Scheier, in "Perspectives on Personality" p. 100, note that "he got on well with his father but had a poor relationship with his mother", resulting in a deep-seated feeling of depression. They hypothesize that the disruption of this relationship led Murray to be especially aware of people's needs and their importance as underlying determinants of behavior. At Harvard, he majored in history with a poor performance, but compensated with football, rowing and boxing. At Columbia University he did much better in medicine, completed his M.D. and also received an M.A. in biology, in 1919. For the next two years he was an instructor in physiology at Harvard. He received his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge in 1928.

A turning point occurred in Murray's life at the age of 30: after seven years of marriage, he met and fell in love with Christiana Morgan but experienced serious conflict as he did not want to leave his wife, Josephine. This raised his awareness of conflicting needs, the pressure that can result, and the links to motivation. Carver and Scheier note that it was Morgan who was "fascinated by the psychology of Carl Jung" and it was as a result of her urging that he met Carl Jung in Switzerland. He described Jung as "The first full blooded, spherical — and Goethean, I would say, intelligence I had ever met." He was analyzed by him and studied his works. "The experience of bringing a problem to a psychologist and receiving an answer that seemed to work had a great impact on Murray, leading him to seriously consider psychology as a career" (J. W. Anderson). Jung's advice to Murray concerning his personal life was to continue openly with both relationships.

Murray was a leading authority on the works of American author Herman Melville[1] and amassed a collection of books, manuscripts and artifacts relating to Melville which he donated to the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.[2]

Professional career[edit]

In 1927, at the age of 33, Murray became assistant director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic. He developed the concepts of latent needs (not openly displayed), manifest needs (observed in people's actions), "press" (external influences on motivation) and "thema" — "a pattern of press and need that coalesces around particular interactions". Murray used the term "apperception" to refer to the process of projecting fantasy imagery onto an objective stimulus. The concept of apperception and the assumption that everyone's thinking is shaped by subjective processes provides the rationale behind the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). This was developed by Murray and Morgan (1935). In 1937 Murray became director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic. In 1938 he published Explorations in Personality, now a classic in psychology, which includes a description of the Thematic Apperception Test. During his period at Harvard, Murray sat in on lectures by Alfred North Whitehead, whose process philosophy marked his philosophical and metaphysical thinking throughout his professional career (Laughlin 1973).

During World War II, he left Harvard and worked as lieutenant colonel for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). James Miller, in charge of the selection of secret agents at the OSS during World War Two, reports that Murray was the originator of the term "situation test". This type of assessment, based on practical tasks and activities, was pioneered by the British Military. Murray acted as a consultant for the British Government (1938) in the setting up of the Officer Selection Board. Murray's previous work at The Harvard Psychological Clinic enabled him to apply his theories in the design of the selection processes used by WOSB and OSS to assess potential agents. The assessments were based on analysis of specific criteria (e.g. "leadership") by a number of raters across a range of activities. Results were pooled to achieve an overall assessment. The underlying principles were later adopted by AT&T in the development of the Assessment Centre methodology, now widely used to assess management potential in both private and public sector organisations.

Murray's identification of core psychological needs (Murray's system of needs), including Achievement, Affiliation and Power (1938) provided the theoretical basis for the later research of David McClelland and underpins development of competency-based models of management effectiveness (Richard Boyatzis), Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and ideas relating to positive psychology.[citation needed] However, Murray's contribution is rarely acknowledged in contemporary academic literature.[citation needed] McClelland, Boyatzis and Spencer went on to found the McBer Consultancy.

In 1943 Murray helped complete Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler, commissioned by OSS boss William "Wild Bill" Donovan. The report was done in collaboration with psychoanalyst Walter C. Langer, Dr. Ernst Kris, New School for Social Research, and Dr. Bertram D. Lewin, New York Psychoanalytic Institute. The report used many sources to profile Hitler, including informants such as Ernst Hanfstaengl, Hermann Rauschning, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, Gregor Strasser, Friedelinde Wagner, and Kurt Ludecke. The groundbreaking study was the pioneer of offender profiling and political psychology, today commonly used by many countries as part of assessing international relations.

In addition to predicting that Hitler would choose suicide if defeat for Germany was near, Murray's collaborative report stated that Hitler was impotent as far as heterosexual relations were concerned and that there was a possibility that Hitler had participated in a homosexual relationship. The report stated: "The belief that Hitler is homosexual has probably developed (a) from the fact that he does show so many feminine characteristics, and (b) from the fact that there were so many homosexuals in the Party during the early days and many continue to occupy important positions. It is probably true that Hitler calls Albert Forster "Bubi", which is a common nickname employed by homosexuals in addressing their partners."

Having returned to Harvard 1947, Murray lectured and established with others the Psychological Clinic Annex and was a chief researcher at Harvard. When Murray became emeritus professor at Harvard, he earned the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association and Gold Medal Award for lifetime achievement from the American Psychological Foundation.

Murray died from pneumonia at the age of 95.

Harvard human experiments[edit]

From late 1959 to early 1962, Murray was responsible for the ethically questionable, CIA-sponsored Project MKUltra experiments in which twenty-two undergraduates were used as research subjects.[3][4] Among other purposes, Murray's experiments focused on measuring people's reactions under extreme stress. The unwitting undergraduates were submitted to what Murray himself called "vehement, sweeping and personally abusive" attacks. Assaults to their egos, cherished ideas and beliefs were the vehicle used to cause high levels of stress and distress. Among them was 17-year-old Ted Kaczynski, who went on to become the Unabomber, a serial killer targeting academics and technologists.[5] Alston Chase's book Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist connects Kaczynski's abusive experiences under Murray to his later criminal career.


  • Murray, H. A. (1938). Explorations in Personality. New York: Oxford University Press
  • Murray, H. A. (1940). "What should psychologists do about psychoanalysis?". Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 35: 150–175. doi:10.1037/h0060130. 
  • OSS Assessment Staff. (1948). Assessment of Men: Selection of Personnel for the Office of Strategic Service. New York: Rinehart.
  • Murray, Henry A. and Clyde Kluckhohn. (1953) Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture. New York: Knopf


  1. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/obituaries/henry-a-murray-is-dead-at-95-developer-of-personality-theory.html
  2. ^ http://www.pittsfieldlibrary.org/melville_room.html
  3. ^ Cockburn, A; St Clair J (1999-10-18). "CIA Shrinks and LSD". CounterPunch. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  4. ^ Chase A (2000-06-01). "Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber". The Atlantic Monthly. pp. 41–65. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  5. ^ Chase, Alston (2003). Harvard and the Unabomber The Education of an American Terrorist. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 18–19. ISBN 0393020029. 


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