Muensterberg, Hugo

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MUENSTERBERG, HUGO (1863–1916), psychologist. Born in Danzig, baptized at the time of his appointment to the University of Freiburg, Muensterberg developed the first psychological laboratory there. His fields of research included such varied problems as auditory space perception, estimation of size, kinesthesis, memory, the time sense, attention, and the influence of drugs on mental work. These were published in the series Beitraege zur experimentellen Psychologie (1889–92). Muensterberg enjoyed a reputation as one of the most brilliant young psychologists. As the result of a quarrel in the field of work, he was prevented, on antisemitic grounds – in spite of his baptism – from receiving a Berlin University appointment. Other appointments were turned down on the basis of unfavorable comments on his work by his colleagues. On the other hand, his work had attracted the attention of America's preeminent psychologist, Harvard's William James. Muensterberg was given a trial period at Harvard (1892–95), which was followed by a permanent appointment. Muensterberg's contribution is not widely appreciated today, mainly because he left no disciples.

Many modern trends in psychology are traceable to Muensterberg. On the theoretical side, Muensterberg was a forerunner of the functionalist school of psychology. His principles were described in Grundzuege der Psychologie (1900), with a second edition published posthumously by Max *Dessoir in 1918. His English text, Psychology, General and Applied (1914), although not well received, shows the scope and originality of his thinking. In 1898 he served as president of the American Psychological Association and as president of the American Philosophical Association in 1908. He was undoubtedly responsible for the growth of applied psychology. He was a leading figure and pioneer in industrial psychology and became interested in film, publishing in 1916 his book The Photoplay, one of the first major books on film theory. His work inspired William *Stern, Otto Klemm, and Otto *Lipmann. He devised tests for the selection of motormen and developed other testing procedures. He had a hand in the invention of the so-called lie detector and he instituted some of the first attempts at psychotherapy. In his day he was the great popularizer of psychology. He also took an interest in psychic phenomena, exposing the medium Madame Eusapia Paladino and writing, in a negative vein, on thought transference.

Muensterberg's last years were marked by increasing political activity. Although originally a marginal German, he remained a superpatriotic German who never gave up his German citizenship. At the outbreak of World War i he tried by all possible means to prevent the entry of the U.S. into the war and to work for a negotiated peace. His correspondence with the German chancellor, von Bethmann-Hollweg, presenting his plans to have President Wilson act as mediator, was intercepted and aroused violent feelings. In the midst of this controversy, he died as he was lecturing to his class.


F. Wunderlich, Hugo Muensterberg's Bedeutung fuer die Nationaloekonomie (1920); W. Stern, in: Journal of Applied Psychology, 1 (1917), 186–8; A.A. Roback, History of American Psychology (19642), 212–39. add. bibliography: M. Hale, Psychology and Social Order: An Intellectual Biography of Hugo Muensterberg (1977); M. Hale, Human Science and Social Order: Hugo Muensterberg and the Origins of Applied Psychology (1980); A. Langdale, Hugo Muensterberg on Film (2002).

[Helmut E. Adler]