Throughout psychology's relatively brief history, there have been many famous psychologists who have left their mark both on psychology and on the world at large. While some of these individuals do not necessarily fit today's definition of a 'psychologist', a term which indicates a doctoral-level degree in psychology, their influence on psychology is without question. Learn more about psychologists by browsing through this list of some of the most famous thinkers in psychology history.
Alfred Adler is known as one of the most influential thinkers in psychology. While he was initially a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Adler eventually departed from Freud's theories and developed his own perspective, which he called Individual Psychology. He had a strong influence on a number of other eminent psychologists, including Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Karen Horney
Mary Ainsworth was a psychologist best known for her research on attachment theory
and the development of the "strange situation" assessment
. Her work played an important role in our understanding of child development and has influenced other fields including education.
Gordon Allport was a psychologist perhaps best-known as one of the founding figures of personality psychology. He also developed a trait theory of personality that described three broad categories of personality traits.
Albert Bandura is a psychologist known for his famous "Bobo doll" experiment as well as his concepts of self-efficacy
and social learning
. Bandura’s work is considered part of the cognitive revolution in psychology that began in the late 1960s. His theories have had tremendous impact on personality psychology, cognitive psychology, education, and therapy.
Alfred Binet was a French psychologist famous for his development of the first widely used intelligence test
. He is often described as one of the most influential thinkers in psychology history and his original test still serves as the basis for modern measures of intelligence.
Mary Whiton Calkins was the first female president of the American Psychological Association. She studied at Harvard with famous teachers including William James and Hugo Munsterberg. Despite completing all of the requirements for a doctorate degree in psychology, Harvard refused to grant her degree simply because she was a woman.
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James McKeen Cattell was the first U.S. psychology professor. He is an important figure in psychology thanks to his work in intelligence, his use of quantitative methods and his focus on establishing psychology as a legitimate science.
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Raymond Cattell was a pioneering thinker who is perhaps best known for his use of multivariate analysis and his 16-factor personality model.
Mamie Phipps Clark was a pioneering psychologist known for her important research on child development and self-concept among minorities. As the first black woman to graduate from Columbia University, she faced discrimination because of her race and her gender. Her research with her husband, Kenneth Clark, played a major role in the Supreme Court's decision in the pivotal Brown vs. Board of Education case.
He's an important contemporary psychologist, but one of your first questions is probably "How do you pronounce his name?" (It's me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee, by the way.) Learn more about his work and contributions to modern psychology in this brief biography.
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John Dewey was an American psychologist, philosopher, writer and educational theorist. His work had a vital influence on psychology, education and philosophy and he is often considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th-century. His emphasis on progressive education has contributed greatly to the use of experimentation rather than an authoritarian approach to knowledge.
Erik Erikson's well-known stage theory of psychosocial development
helped generate interest and inspire research on human development through the lifespan. An ego psychologist who studied with Anna Freud, Erikson expanded psychoanalytic theory by exploring development throughout the full lifespan, including events of childhood, adulthood and old age.
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Hans Eyesenck was a very prolific psychologist, publishing more than 75 books and 1600 journal articles. Prior to his death in 1997, he was the living psychologist most frequently cited in scientific books and journal articles. He was also a very controversial figure, and his outspoken views of subjects ranging from psychotherapy to intelligence made him the subject of criticism.
Anna Freud began her career influenced by the theories of her father, Sigmund Freud. Far from living in her father's shadow, Anna made important contributions of her own to psychology. She founded child psychoanalysis and summarized the ego's defense mechanisms
in her book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense
Sigmund Freud may be one of the best known figures in history, but he is also one of the most controversial. He was the founder of the school of thought known as psychoanalysis
. The legacy of his life and work provokes both impassioned acclaim from his supporters and disdain from his detractors. While some view him as a cultural icon and others see him as a pseudo-scientific charlatan, there is no question that Freud left an indelible mark on psychology as well as other disciplines.
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Erich Fromm was a neo-Freudian psychoanalyst who had a major influence on humanistic psychology. Today Fromm is remembered for his concept of freedom as a fundamental component of human nature.
G. Stanley Hall (front center). Public Domain.
G. Stanley Hall founded the first American experimental psychology lab at John Hopkins University and also became the first president of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1892. He had a huge influence on the development of early psychology in the United States and many of his students went on to become eminent psychologists, including Lewis Terman, John Dewey and James McKeen Cattell.
Harry Harlow is best-remembered for his shocking and controversial experiments demonstrating the effects of social isolation on young rhesus monkeys.
Karen Horney was a prominent psychoanalyst best-known for her theories of neurosis
, feminine psychology, and self psychology. While Horney was a neo-Freudian, she also challenged many of Sigmund Freud's theories about female psychology. For example, Horney countered Freud's assertion that women experience "penis envy" by suggesting that men feel "womb envy" because they are unable to bear children.
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Clark Hull was a major figure in behaviorism. His ideas, including his drive reduction theory, were once dominant forces in psychology prior to the cognitive revolution of the 1960s.
Austrian psychoanalyst Melanie Klein is perhaps best known for developing the technique known as play therapy, which is still used widely today.
Psychologist and philosopher William James is often referred to as the father of American psychology. His 1200-page text, The Principles of Psychology
, became a classic on the subject and his teachings and writings helped establish psychology as a science. James also contributed to functionalism
, pragmatism and influenced many students of psychology during his 35-year teaching career.
Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist who founded the school of thought known as analytical psychology. He is known for his concepts of archetypes
and the collective unconscious.
Psychologist Kurt Lewin is often referred to as the father of modern social psychology. His pioneering theories argued that behavior is caused by both personal characteristics and the environment. Lewin's emphasis on scientific methodology and systematic study had an enormous impact on future research in social psychology. He is also well-known for his styles of leadership
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Hugo Munsterberg was a German psychologist who is known for his contributions to applied psychology. Despite the fact that his work still has an influence on many areas of modern psychology, his legacy was largely forgotten for many years. Learn more about Hugo Munsterberg's life, career and theories in this brief biography.
Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist whose research on conditioned reflexes influenced the rise of behaviorism. Pavlov's experimental methods helped move psychology away from introspection and subjective assessments to objective measurement of behavior. While he was not technically a "psychologist," his contributions to the field of psychology and his discovery of classical conditioning make him one of psychology's greatest pioneers.
Jean Piaget was a psychologist best-known for his stage theory of cognitive development
. He was one of the first thinkers to suggest that children think differently than adults, a concept that was considered revolutionary at the time.
Carl Rogers was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. In addition to contributing to the development of humanistic psychology
, his work had a dramatic influence on psychotherapy and education.
Martin Seligman is often described as the father of contemporary positive psychology. He served as President of the American Psychological Association in 1998, and in a survey of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, Seligman was ranked as the 13th most frequently cited psychologist in introductory psychology textbooks.
B. F. Skinner’s research on operant conditioning
(also known as instrumental conditioning) made him one of the leaders of behaviorism, but his theories and research also made him a target for controversy. Skinner's work remains influential today, especially in the field of behavioral therapy where behavior modification and intervention are used to change problem behaviors or reinforce desirable ones.
Sabina Spielrein is best-known as Carl Jung's patient and mistress as well as the subject of the 2011 film A Dangerous Method
. However, Spielrein was also a psychiatrist and an important contributor to the development of psychoanalysis. Jung and Freud both drew on Spielrein's ideas about transference and the death instincts. She also had an impact on other psychologists of her time including Melanie Klein and Jean Piaget. In 1941, Spielrein was killed by the Nazi's and her writings were lost for many years.
Robert Sternberg is a contemporary psychologist recognized for his research on intelligence, creativity, love and cognitive styles. Sternberg developed an intelligence test for a school project when his was in the seventh grade and later went on to form the triarchic theory of intelligence. He has also served as president of the American Psychological Association and has been given numerous awards for his work.
Edward Thorndike was a pioneering American psychologist perhaps best known for the law of effect
. While he was a very successful student, he initially disliked his first psychology course. His interest in psychology grew after reading the classic book The Principles of Psychology
by William James. Today, he is often referred to as the father of modern educational psychology
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Lev Vygotsky is often described as a seminal psychologist, since most of his ideas were not discovered by many people until well after his death. He is best known for his sociocultural theory
and his concepts of the zone of proximal development
and guided practice.
John B. Watson is often referred to as the "father of behaviorism
." His view that psychology was the science of observable behaviors had a strong influence, and the behavioral perspective rose to dominate the field during the first half of the twentieth century. Watson was one of the strongest advocates for behaviorism, suggesting that psychology should be objective and focus on the study of human behaviors.
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Max Wertheimer was one of the founders of the school of thought known as Gestalt psychology. Today, Wertheimer is best remembered for his influence on areas including sensation and perception as well as experimental psychology.
Wilhelm Wundt is best-known for establishing the very first experimental psychology lab in Leipzig, Germany. His work helped establish psychology as its own discipline separate from philosophy and physiology.
Robert Yerkes is known for his influence on comparative psychology and intelligence testing. He served on the committee responsible for developing the Army Alpha and Army Beta intelligence tests. He also established the first lab in the U.S. devoted to primate research.
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Philip Zimbardo is an influential psychologist who conducted a famous experiment during the early 1970s known as the Stanford Prison Experiment
. He is also widely recognized for his research on shyness, cult behavior and heroism.