Ausubel, David Paul

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AUSUBEL, DAVID PAUL (1918– ), U.S. educator and psychiatrist, who contributed significantly to the study of psychological factors in the development of ethnic culture. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Ausubel began his career as a practicing physician and psychiatrist, especially concerned with drug addiction; he became senior psychiatrist at Buffalo State Hospital in 1947. He taught psychology at Long Island University and psychiatry at Yeshiva University. In 1950 he became head of the Bureau of Educational Research at the University of Illinois. In 1957 Ausubel was awarded a Fulbright research grant for study in New Zealand. There he continued his work in psychological development by comparative cross-cultural research on the Maori ethnic minority. The resulting books, The Fern and the Tiki, an American View of New Zealand (1960) and Maori Youth, a Psychoethnological Study of Cultural Deprivation (1961), expressed his belief that educational malfunctioning could result from cultural deprivation, and that the systematic use of culture as a variable in psychological research is of primary significance.

Ausubel developed the theory of significant learning, one of the basic concepts of modern constructivism. It applies to the cognitive concept of learning, where a person interacts with his or her surroundings and tries to give meaning to what he or she perceives.


In 1963 he wrote The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning. Other books by Ausubel include School Learning (1969); Ego Psychology and Mental Disorder (1977); Theory and Problems of Adolescent Development (1978); What Every Well-Informed Person Should Know about Drug Addiction (1980); and The Acquisition and Retention of Knowledge (2000).

[Ronald E. Ohl /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]