Murray, Henry Alexander

views updated Jun 08 2018


(b. New York, New York, 13 May 1893; d. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 23 June 1988)

psychology, personality theory, the study of lives.

Murray was a founder of personality psychology who emphasized “personology” or the study of lives in his most influential book, Explorations in Personality (1938). He was also a pioneer in personality assessment, and co-inventor of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). As director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic beginning in 1928, and professor in Harvard’s Psychology and then Social Relations department until 1962, Murray trained, inspired, and provoked many who would shape personality psychology in the decades to come.

Childhood and Education Henry A. Murray was born in New York City on 13 May 1893. His father, Henry Alexander Murray Sr., was a banker; he and Murray’s mother, Fannie Morris Babcock, were listed in the Social Register. Their early houses were just off Fifth Avenue on West 49th and West 51st Streets, and were demolished in the 1930s to make way for Rockefeller Center. Murray described his childhood in his autobiography as that of “the average, privileged American boy.”

Murray had warm relations with his father, and thus did not personally resonate to Sigmund Freud’s account of Oedipal hostilities of a boy toward his father. Murray was the middle of three children, with an older sister, Virginia, born in 1890 and a younger brother, nicknamed “Mike,” born in 1897. Murray felt that his mother favored his older sister and younger brother, and as a child he came to “the grievous (and valid) realization that he could count on only a third-best portion of his mother’s love” (1967, p. 298). This left him with a “marrow of misery and melancholy” that he suggests sensitized him to the sufferings of others, particularly women, and may have influenced his later career choices of medicine and psychotherapy. This underlying melancholy was “repressed by pride and practically extinguished in everyday life by a counteracting disposition of sanguine and expansive buoyancy,” yet he was left with “an affinity for the darker, blinder strata of feeling,” which drew him to tragic themes in literature and psychology. In psychology, his interest was not in the psychophysics of perception, but in following a “bent of curiosity toward all profound experiences of individual men and women” (Murray, 1981 [1959], p. 8).

Murray attended prep school at Groton and then Harvard College from 1911 to 1915. He majored in history but was not a diligent student, and was proudest of being the captain of the Harvard crew team. He was also active in many social organizations, elected during his junior year to lead the Phillips Brooks House Association, a social service organization for Harvard students. His only exposure to psychology in college was two lectures by Hugo Münsterberg on the senses, which sent him looking for the nearest exit. He later joked to his biographer in 1970 that he had “majored in the three Rs—Rum, Rowing, and Romanticism” (Robinson, 1992, p. 27).

The day after the final crew race against Yale, Murray became engaged to Josephine Rantoul, an attractive, outgoing woman from an upper-class Boston family, with an interest in social service. They were married in 1916 and lived together until her death in 1962; they had one daughter, Josephine, born in 1921, who later became a physician. Intellectually, Murray came alive in medical school at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating at the top of his class with a medical degree in January 1919. Murray wanted to pursue the underlying sciences in more depth, so he obtained a master’s degree in biology at Columbia in 1920, and a PhD in physiological chemistry from Cambridge University in 1927. He began a surgical internship at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City in the fall of 1920. Paul Robeson came into Presbyterian on a stretcher with a torn thigh muscle from football. Murray assisted in the surgery, and was assigned to look after the patient. Murray introduced him to a woman in the pathology lab, Essie Cardozo Goode, whom Robeson soon married. Murray and his wife stayed friends with the Robesons for years; attended Robeson’s performances in Emperor Jones, All God’s Children, and Othello; and held receptions for them at their home.

In 1921 Franklin D. Roosevelt was admitted to the hospital with an attack of infantile paralysis. George Draper, Murray’s influential teacher of case conferences in medical school, was assigned the case, and Murray, as intern, drew the patient’s blood nearly every day for six weeks, and talked about common experiences at Groton and Harvard. In Murray’s recollections, the future president was “very talkative” and didn't seem at all depressed. In later years Murray was introduced to Eugene O’Neill, and had him over for the evening, with O’Neill talking about his father’s drinking and family turmoil, and Murray about Jungian themes. Murray felt inarticulate in relation to O’Neill, and when O’Neill asked him for medical advice in 1927, Murray referred him to a friend from medical school.

After completing his surgical internship in 1922, Murray accepted a fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, studying biochemical and medical changes in chicken embryos, leading eventually to twenty-one papers authored or co-authored in physiological or medical journals. While working at the Rockefeller Institute, he was struck by the theoretical opposition between two of its most eminent staff, Jacques Loeb, who advocated an extreme form of mechanism, and Alexis Carrel, who favored a form of vitalism or holism. How, Murray asked, can one account for such conflicting interpretations of the same phenomena? It seemed useful to consider science as “the creative product of an engagement between the scientist’s psyche” and the world. This prepared Murray for reading Carl Gustav Jung’s Psychological Types (1923), which “came to him as a gratuitous answer to an unspoken prayer” (Murray, 1981 [1967], p. 56).

This led to two enduring interests, “the question of varieties of human beings … and the question of what variables of personality are chiefly involved in the production of dissonant theoretical systems” (p. 56). These questions were part of Murray’s intellectual entry into psychology, to be complemented by a more tumultuous emotional path to psychology—through literature, love, and his meetings with Jung.

Expanding Psychology to Include Persons and Lives When Forrest Robinson proposed writing a biography of Murray in 1970, Murray replied that there was little to tell, except for a forty-year secret love affair that had revolutionized his life. Christiana Morgan was born in 1897 to a wealthy Boston Brahmin family, her father a professor at Harvard Medical School. She attended finishing school, served as a nurse in World War I, married Will Morgan in 1919, and bore a son in 1920. She met Murray at a Wagner opera in New York City; several months later at a dinner she asked Murray what he thought about Jung as compared to Freud. Murray said he didn't know, but hearing her enthusiasm, he read Jung’s Psychological Types (1923) as soon as it was published.

While working on a PhD in biochemistry at Cambridge University, and having started to fall in love with Christiana, Murray visited Jung over spring vacation, 1925. “On the crest of a wave I visited Dr. Jung in Zurich supposedly to discuss abstractions; but in a day or two to my astonishment enough affective stuff erupted to invalid a pure scientist. This was my first opportunity to weigh psychoanalysis in a balance; and I recommend it as one method of measuring the worth of any brand of personology. Take your mysteries, your knottiest dilemmas, to a fit exponent of a system and judge the latter by its power to order and illumine your whole being. This assuredly is a most exacting test, to apply the touchstone of your deep perplexity to a theory, to demand that it interpret what you presumably know best—yourself. But then, what good is a theory that folds up in a crisis?” (Murray, 1981 [1940], pp. 293–294)

Harvard Psychological Clinic The Harvard Psychological Clinic was established in 1926, and Murray was hired as a research fellow in abnormal psychology to assist Dr. Morton Prince, founder and director of the clinic. Prince became ill, and Murray succeeded him in 1928 as director, with Prince dying the following year. Murray had a vision of psychology and a vision of the role of the clinic, which is sketched in “Psychology and the University” (1981 [1935]). “There is reason to believe that in coming years the university which contributes most to the advancement of learning and the cultivation of the human spirit will be the one which develops and sustains the greatest school of psychology” (p. 337).

Psychology can be defined “as the science which describes people and explains why they perceive, feel, think, and act as they do” (1981, p. 338). In Murray’s view, no science of this kind yet existed. He critiqued the kinds of questions pursued in the academic psychology of his day as “bound to the ideology of introspectionism,” or introspections on responses to different physical stimuli (vision, hearing, tactile sensations). From these psychophysical

investigations into sensation and perception, which Murray sometimes called “eye, ear, nose and throat psychology,” consideration of “man as a human being has somehow escaped” (1981, p. 339). In an often repeated passage, Murray wrote in 1935 that “The truth which the informed are hesitant to reveal and the uninformed are amazed to discover is that academic psychology has contributed practically nothing to the knowledge of human nature. It has not only failed to bring light to the great, hauntingly recurrent problems, but it has no intention, one is shocked to realize, of attempting to investigate them. Indeed—and this is the cream of a wry jest—an unconcerned detachment from the natural history of ordinary mortals has become a source of pride to many psychologists” (1981 [1935], p. 339). Murray’s hope was that the Harvard Psychological Clinic could be a place for building connections between “the old academic psychology and the new dynamic psychology” (Robinson, 1992, p. 148).

One new technique developed at the Harvard Psychological Clinic was the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). The TAT is a series of ambiguous drawings, such as a boy looking at a violin on the table before him, or a man turning away from a woman lying on a bed. Subjects were asked to tell a story about the pictures, what is going on, what led up to the picture, and what may happen in the future. The objective was to draw out people’s fantasies, an important part of their unconscious life. Fantasies are important as they can be related to feelings and emotions, to formative experiences, to overt action, to neurotic symptoms, or to creative work. Morgan drew some of the TAT pictures, and she is listed as first author on the original paper (1935), perhaps to draw her more into the work of the Clinic.

Murray was powerfully influenced by psychodynamic theory (Freud and Jung), and was affected by William James, the Gestaltists, Kurt Lewin, Clyde Kluckhohn, and others. He felt that Freudians emphasized sex and aggression, while Murray proposed a larger set of needs, including both viscerogenic or biological needs, such as needs for food, water, sex, and harm avoidance; and psychological needs, such as for acquisition, superiority, achievement, recognition, dominance, autonomy, affiliation, nurturance, play, and so on.

Murray believed that psychodynamic psychologists were looking at some of the right questions, but with inadequate methods, whereas academic psychologists were sometimes more scientifically rigorous but investigating trivial problems. Explorations in Personality (1938) was an effort to integrate these two worlds, and to explore the uses of multiple scientific methods for “personology” or the study of lives, a kind of “experiential psychology.” His team of co-authors included many who went on to influential careers in psychology, including Robert White, Donald MacKinnon, Nevitt Sanford, Saul Rosenzweig, Jerome Frank, Erik Homburger (later Erikson) and others. In his autobiography, Murray said that in some quarters he was “thought of not as an author so much as an author of authors, a diversity of them, none bound to his ideas” (1981 [1967], p. 71).

When Murray came up for tenure at Harvard in 1936, although the manuscript for Explorations in Personality was in draft, it had not yet been published. The meeting was held at the house of the Harvard President, James Bryant Conant. One of Murray’s supporters, Gordon All-port, argued that Murray was the intellectual descendant of William James and important in maintaining a humanistically oriented psychology at Harvard. Another committee member, neuropsychologist Karl Spencer Lashley, had recently been hired at Harvard; the chair of psychology, Edwin G. Boring, argued that Lashley was the best psychologist in the world. Lashley had a strong opposition to psychoanalysis, and strongly opposed the appointment. He said that James had done “more harm to psychology than any man that ever lived,” and threatened to resign if Murray was given tenure (Robinson, 1992, p. 225). Lashley saw this as a clash between “the older humanistic and philosophical psychology” (Murray) versus the new more exact and biological approach to psychology (Lashley). The tenure vote was split three to three. As a compromise, Murray was given two five-year non-tenured appointments.

Murray, angered at this critical tenure review by men whose opinion he did not overly respect, went on leave from 1937 until the fall of 1941. After a year in Europe, he returned to the United States to work on his biography of Herman Melville, taking Melville through age thirty-three, when he finished Pierre. With the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the world changed, and Murray’s conception of himself and his work in the world also changed. Fighting against Nazism and winning World War II became of greatest immediate importance, while exploring the unconscious had a lower priority.

In response to a request from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency, Murray finished by October 1943 a 227-page psychological study of Adolf Hitler, “Analysis of the Personality of Adolph [sic] Hitler, with Predictions of His Future Behavior and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany’s Surrender.” Much of this was later published, without adequate acknowledgement of Murray’s role, by Walter C. Langer as The Mind of Adolf Hitler: The Secret Wartime Report (1972).

Once the Hitler study was completed, Murray went to Washington, D.C. to eventually lead a program selecting recruits for the OSS intelligence service. This multiform assessment drew on procedures from the Harvard Psychological Clinic and used a variety of tests of intelligence, mechanical ability, group problem solving, debating ability, and physical strength. The candidates were rated on eleven different variables, discussed in a diagnostic council, and sketched in a biographical profile, as reported in The Assessment of Men (Murray, et al, 1948).

Personality in Society and Culture Murray was changed by World War II. The “deep-diving” exploration of the unconscious with Morgan, trying to go beyond upper-class conventions, was no longer as central in his life as it had been, and he turned more to the ways in which personality is interwoven with society and culture. How could another world war be prevented? His thoughts turned to world government, and the need perhaps for a “new mythology” or a new cultural framework to integrate opposing cultural systems and reduce the likelihood of future international conflicts.

Murray’s two five-year appointments would have ended in 1947, but Murray resigned from Harvard in June 1945. Behind the scenes, even though not formally on the faculty, he was involved in the formation of Harvard’s new interdisciplinary Department of Social Relations, founded in January 1946. He completed the manuscript for Assessment of Men (1948) on the U.S. Office of Strategic Services study he had headed, and he co-edited Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture (Kluckhohn and Murray, 1948, revised 1953), which became an important collection of readings in the new Social Relations department. This included the famous line, “Every man is in certain respects (a.) like all other men, (b.) like some other men, (c.) like no other man.” (In later statements, this was rephrased in terms of “persons.”) Individuals are like “all other persons” due to similar features in the biological endowments of all humans, in their physical environments, and in their social and cultural worlds. Being like “some other persons” can be affected by membership in different nations, tribes, and social classes. Similarities can also be shaped by having different types of psychopathology, or between the wealthy and the poor in different societies.

Finally, there are the ways in which a person is like no other person. An individual’s ways of perceiving, feeling, needing, thinking, and behaving are not exactly duplicated by others. This singularity is produced by unique biological endowments interacting with particular environments, and unique sequences of interaction between developing persons and their environments. Analysis of these similarities and differences and their causes could engage social and clinical psychologists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists in interdisciplinary inquiry for years to come.

Morgan did not want Murray to return to Harvard after World War II, but to devote more time to finishing an account of their relationship, which they had both been working on. She wrote that his work on Melville could be a preparation for writing about their relationship. He never published a book-length biography of Melville, but did write a 90-page introduction plus notes to Melville’s Pierre (1949), a novel that Morgan and Murray felt uncannily reflected their experience.

Murray did return to Harvard in 1948, as a lecturer with tenure in Social Relations; he was promoted to full professor in 1950, and remained there until his retirement in 1962. His conceptual work often refers obliquely to the power of “creative dyads,” but it was not clear what he was referring to, until he told this part of his story to Forrest Robinson, as related in Love’s Story Told: A Life of Henry A. Murray (1992). Murray’s wife, Josephine, died in 1962, and Morgan drowned near a beach where they were vacationing in the Caribbean in 1967, perhaps from medical problems, alcohol, or suicide. Murray was not able to openly tell their story during his lifetime, and it may have cost them dearly.

Murray entered a second marriage, which gave him a new life, with psychologist Nina Chandler Fish in 1969. She was familiar enough with the dyad to avoid that pattern and seek another way of life together. A number of scholars tried to help Murray with his unfinished publications, including Eugene Taylor, and several “Morsels” on Melville were published in the 1980s.

In 1970, when approached by prospective biographer Robinson, Murray provided nearly one hundred interviews, with the agreement that the book would be published posthumously. Murray died in 1988, and his biography was published in 1992. The biography proved immensely controversial. It illuminated much about Murray’s relationship with Morgan, and his connections to Jung and Melville. This is a complex story, sometimes tragic, and much remains to be understood about how Murray’s life is related to his work in personality theory, personality assessment, and the history of psychology and social relations at Harvard (Runyan, 1994, 2006).

Murray’s Legacy Murray made major contributions as a founder of personality psychology, a leader in personality assessment, director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic, and a scholar of Herman Melville. With his background of an MD and a PhD in biochemistry, he sought to expand the bounds of scientific psychology so that it could include the study of persons and lives. Many were influenced by Murray, either personally or by his work.

Michigan State University started a series of Henry A. Murray lectures beginning in 1978, and that same year, the annual Henry A. Murray award for contributions to personality psychology and the study of lives was established and given through the Society of Personality and Social Psychology of the American Psychological Association.

Murray was inspired by James, as well as by Jung, Freud, Melville, and others. In turn, Murray’s vision inspired many who went on to develop personality psychology. The first generation includes Robert White, who wrote The Abnormal Personality (1948) and Lives in Progress (1952) and followed Murray as director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic; Donald MacKinnon, who became the founding director of the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research at the University of California, Berkeley in 1949; Nevitt Sanford, who co-authored The Authoritarian Personality (1950) and founded the Wright Institute; Gardner Lindzey, who edited the Handbook of Social Psychology (1954) and co-authored Theories of Personality (1957); and Erik Erikson, author of Childhood and Society (1950), Young Man Luther (1958), and Gandhi’s Truth (1969).

Personality psychology is constituted of at least three strands of work: the measurement and correlation of traits or individual difference, the study of individual lives, and the experimental study of psychological processes. Murray has had a significant influence on at least the first two of these traditions.

In Paradigms of Personality Assessment, Jerry S. Wiggins (2003) reviews the history of personality assessment in five traditions: psychodynamic, interpersonal, persono-logical, multivariate, and empirical (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, MMPI). He argues that Murray has had more influence on personality assessment across all of these traditions than any other single individual, including Freud.

In the study of needs and motivation, David McClelland was a leader in studying achievement motivation, which could be assessed through scoring TAT responses. McClelland’s students, David Winter and Dan McAdams, studied power motivation and affiliation motives respectively. McAdams (2006) developed a conceptual framework for integrating the three levels of traits, characteristic adaptations including motives and goals, and life stories.

Rae Carlson famously asked, “Where is the person in personality research?” (1971), pointing out how infrequently personality psychology journals include studies of individual lives. The situation has improved somewhat since then, with William M. Runyan (1982) and Alan C. Elms (1994) providing overviews of the study of lives, and with the Journal of Personality doing special issues on the study of individual lives in 1988 and 1997.

A later generation of psychologists working in the study of lives, all influenced by Murray or his work, include Elms, McAdams, Abigail Stewart, Irving Alexander, Nicole Barenbaum, James Anderson, Ian Nicholson, William Todd Schultz, George Atwood, and Runyan, with selections in Psychobiography and Life Narratives (McAdams and Richard L. Ochberg, 1988), and the Handbook of Psychobiography (Schultz, 2005).



Papers of Henry Murray. Cambridge, MA: Pusey Library, Harvard University.

With others. Explorations in Personality: A Clinical and Experimental Study of Fifty Men of College Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 1938. A founding book in personality psychology. A 70th anniversary edition was published by Oxford University Press in September 2007, with a preface by Dan McAdams.

“What Should Psychology Do about Psychoanalysis?” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 35 (1940).

With OSS Assessment Staff. Assessment of Men. New York:

Rinehart, 1948.

Editor and author of Introduction. Melville, Herman. Pierre, or the Ambiguities. New York: Hendricks House, 1949.

Editor, with Clyde Kluckhohn and David M. Schneider.

Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture, 2nd rev. ed. New York: Knopf, 1953.

“Preparations for the Scaffold of a Comprehensive System.” In Psychology: A Study of a Science, Vol. 3, edited by Sigmund Koch. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.

“Henry A. Murray.” In A History of Psychology in Autobiography, Vol. V, edited by Edwin G. Boring and Gardner Lindzey.

New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1967.

Endeavors in Psychology: Selections from the Personology of Henry A. Murray. Edited by Edwin S. Shneidman. New York:

Harper & Row, 1981. Includes Murray’s most important articles and chapters.


Anderson, James W. “The Life of Henry A. Murray:

1893–1988.” In Studying Persons and Lives, edited by Albert I. Rabin et al. New York: Springer, 1990.

Barenbaum, Nicole. “Henry A. Murray : Personology as Biography, Science, and Art.” In Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology, Vol. VI, edited by Gregory A. Kimble, Michael Wertheimer, and Charlotte White. Washington, DC:

American Psychological Association, 2006.

Carlson, Rae. “Where is the Person in Personality Research?” Psychological Bulletin 75 (1971): 201–219.

Douglas, Claire. Translate this Darkness: The Life of Christiana Morgan. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. A feminist and Jungian biography of Murray’s partner.

Elms, Alan C. Uncovering Lives: The Uneasy Alliance of Biography and Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Robinson, Forrest G. Love’s Story Told: A Life of Henry A. Murray.

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992. A major biography.

Runyan, William McKinley. Life Histories and Psychobiography:

Explorations in Theory and Method. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

_____. “Coming to Terms with the Life, Loves, and Work of Henry A. Murray.” Contemporary Psychology 39 (1994).

Review of Robinson’s 1992 biography.

_____. “Psychobiography and the Psychology of Science:

Understanding Relations between the Life and Work of Individual Psychologists.” Review of General Psychology, 10, no. 2 (2006): 147–162.

Schultz, William Todd, ed. Handbook of Psychobiography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Smith, M. Brewster, and James W. Anderson. “Henry A. Murray (1893–1988).” American Psychologist 44, no. 8 (1989): 1153–1154.

William McKinley Runyan

Murray, Henry Alexander, Jr.

views updated May 08 2018

Henry Alexander Murray Jr.

American biochemist, physician, and clinical and experimental psychologist who developed an integrated theory of personality .

Henry Alexander Murray, Jr. developed "personology," the integrated study of the individual from physiological, psychoanalytical, and social viewpoints. His background in medicine, biology, Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis , and clinical and experimental psychology , as well as his work in anthropology, sociology, and

literature, enabled him to develop an interdisciplinary approach to psychology. His concepts of motivation , particularly the need to achieve, had a major influence on theories of psychology. In 1961, Murray earned the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, followed by the Gold Medal Award of the American Psychological Foundation in 1969.

Murray, born in New York City in 1893, was the second of three children of Henry Alexander Murray, Sr., and Fannie Morris Babcock. His father was a poor Scottish immigrant who became a wealthy investor. His mother, a New York socialite, was the daughter of the founder of the Guaranty Trust Company. Murray was educated at the Craegie School and, later, at Groton Academy. He entered Harvard University in 1911.

Becomes a physician and researcher

Although Murray's Harvard major was history, he entered the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York in 1915, earning his M.D. in 1919. In 1916, he married Josephine Rantoul, the daughter of a prominent Boston family and herself a graduate of Radcliffe College. The Murrays had one daughter.

At Columbia, George Draper stimulated Murray's interests in psychological factors affecting illness, and he stayed on at Columbia to earn an M.A. in biology in 1920. Returning to Harvard, Murray went to work with L.J. Henderson, applying the Henderson-Hasselbach equation to the acidity of the blood. Between 1919 and 1923, Murray published 10 papers on his physiological research.

Following two years as a surgical intern at Presbyterian Hospital in New York, Murray was awarded a research fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York. He studied the development of chicken embryos, publishing 10 papers in that field, while simultaneously working towards his Ph.D. in bio-chemistry from Cambridge University in England.

Discovers psychoanalysis and "depth psychology"

In 1925, Murray first met the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung , and the two became lifelong friends. With his discovery of the writings of Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, Murray began to develop his theory of personality, using Melville as a case study. Although never published, Murray's biography of Melville had a major influence on the scholarship of the day, and Murray's published articles and book chapters introduced the application of Jung's "depth psychology" to literary criticism. At about this time, Murray began his relationship with Christiana Morgan , who remained his lover and coworker until her suicide in 1967.

After earning his Ph.D. in 1927, Murray became an instructor at Harvard under Morton Prince, a psychopathologist who had founded the Harvard Psychological Clinic. Following Prince's death in 1929, Murray became director of the clinic, despite the fact that he had never taken a psychology course. Together with the neuropsychiatrist Stanley Cobb, Murray moved the focus of the clinic from experimental research in hypnosis and multiple personality to Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis. He also introduced these subjects into the Harvard curriculum. Murray pursued his study of personality or "personology." At a time when American experimental psychologists studied rat behavior, Murray and his interdisciplinary research team studied single individuals on a variety of levels. With his staff, Murray published Explorations in Personality: A Clinical Study of Fifty Men of College Age in 1938. For decades, this remained the principle text for personality theory. With Morgan, Murray developed the Thematic Apperception Test , in which the subject is asked to tell stories about a series of pictures. This test remains an important tool in clinical psychology . Murray became an assistant professor at Harvard in 1929, associate professor in 1937, and professor of clinical psychology in 1948.

Murray served in the Army from 1943 until 1948, selecting personnel for the Office of Strategic Services (which later became the Central Intelligence Agency) and training agents in the United States and abroad. He was awarded the Legion of Merit by the War Department in 1946.

Further develops his theory of "personology"

After his discharge from the Army as a lieutenant colonel, Murray joined Gordon Allport in the new Department of Social Relations at Harvard. There his research interests broadened further. With Clyde Kluckhohn, he began studying personality in society and investigated personality from the viewpoint of the dyadic interactionthe idea that a relationship between two people could be viewed as a single system with equal input from both partners. He also studied the role of mythology in personality and in society. Murray was best known, however, for his development of a human motivational system of social needs. He described behavior as a function of the interaction of individual needs, such as a need for achievement or a need for affiliation , and the "press" of the environment .

Interestingly, Ted Kaczynski, the serial bomber who killed and injured several people with mail bombs, was a participant in one of Murray's psychological experiments when he was a Harvard undergraduate. The study had to do with identifying men who would not break under pressure.

Murray held numerous honorary doctorates and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He retired in 1962 as a professor emeritus, the same year that his wife died. In 1969 he married Caroline Chandler Fish and became step-father to her five children. Murray died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1988, at the age of 95. In his memory , Radcliffe College established the Henry A. Murray Research Center for the Study of Lives.

Margaret Alic

Further Reading

Douglas, Claire. Translate This Darkness: The Life of Christiana Morgan, the Veiled Woman in Jung's Circle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Nordby, Vernon J. and Calvin S. Hall. A Guide to Psychologists and Their Concepts. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1974.

Robinson, Forrest G. Love's Story Told: A Life of Henry A. Murray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Schneidman, Edwin S., ed. Endeavors in Psychology: Selections from the Personology of Henry A. Murray. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.

Murray, Henry A. (1893-1988)

views updated May 23 2018

MURRAY, HENRY A. (1893-1988)

American psychologist and psychoanalyst Henry A. Murray was born in New York City on May 13, 1893, and died in Boston on June 23, 1988. He was one of the most important pioneers who introduced psychoanalysis into American academic psychology.

Originally trained as a physician, he was analyzed by both Carl G. Jung and Franz Alexander, and became one of the founding members of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society. Not only was Murray a leader in the field of personality theory, but Murray (with the help of Christiana Morgan) created the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). He also took a leading role in making psychological profiles for the American government's Office of Strategic Services during World War II. For years Murray headed the Harvard Psychological Clinic, originally founded by Morton Prince, and he also worked on the writings of Herman Melville for almost half of his long life. Although Murray took a wholly independent path apart from both Freudian and Jungian organizations, his contact with both men has to be considered historically memorable.

Although Murray was self-taught as a psychologist, he felt proud to be in the humanistic tradition of a philosopher like William James. He remains notable for having inspired generations of graduate students. His TAT test was a means of drawing forth from people by means of words and stories important aspects of personality that an individual could or would not volunteer. The TAT test was designed to be both a diagnostic tool and a research tool. His most famous single book, which was the outcome of collaborating with others at his Psychological Clinic, was Explorations in Personality (1938). He also co-edited, with the Harvard anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, an influential book of readings, Personality in Nature, Culture, and Society (1948).

Murray, along with Kluckhohn and the sociological theorist Talcott Parsons, helped create the famous, but short-lived, interdisciplinary Department of Social Relations at Harvard. And he was illustrious enough to have been asked to testify as an expert witness in behalf of Alger Hiss in the second trial that ended in Hiss's being convicted of perjury. (Murray's social standing was so secure, one of his forbearers having been the last Tory governor of Virginia, that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI conducted only the most cursory report on him.) Dean Acheson, secretary of state under President Harry Truman, was a classmate of Murray's at Groton, and reported in 1970 that Murray had been the "outstanding" member of their class "in the sense of originality of mind, curiosity about everything, sympathetic personality, catholicity of taste, cultural breadth." Murray felt blocked as a writer, not just in connection with his Melville project but in explaining his whole orientation toward human nature. Yet he remains memorable not just for his emphasis on turning from the abnormal to the normal, and from failure to success, but because he fought against dogmatism in psychoanalysis as unscientific, and insisted on distrusting any truth that became a sect.

Paul Roazen


Anderson, James W. (1988). Henry A. Murray's early career: A psychobiographical exploration. Journal of Personality, 6 (1), 139-71.

Kluckhohn, Clyde and Murray, Henry A. (eds.). (1948). Personality in nature, society and culture. New York: Knopf.

Murray, Henry A. (1938). Explorations in personality. New York: Oxford University Press.

Roazen, Paul. (2003). Interviews on Freud and Jung with Henry A. Murray in 1965. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 48 (1), 1-27.

Robinson, Forrest. (1992). Love's story told: A life of Henry A. Murray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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