Henry Murray

For other people with the same name, see Henry Murray (disambiguation).
Henry Murray

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

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

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. However, Murray's contribution is rarely acknowledged in contemporary academic literature. 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.


Murray’s Theory of Personality, also called personology, is explained in his book, Explorations in Personality, written in 1938.[3] Murray's system of needs is an important part of the personological system.[4]

According to Murray's ideas, an individual's personality develops dynamically as each person responds to complex elements in his or her specific environment. Murray viewed an individual's entire life as one unit, and pointed out that although a specific element of a person's life can be studied through psychology, this studied episode gives an incomplete picture of the entire life unit. To properly analyze the entire life cycle, Murray favored a narrative approach to studying personality, which he called "personology". The personological system has been used as an approach for multiple academic disciplines: philosophy, humanism, biological chemistry, and societal and cultural studies.

Murray divided personology into five principles: (1)Cerebral physiology, rooted in the brain, governs all aspects of personality. (2) People act to reduce physiological and psychological tension to gain satisfaction, but do not strive to be tension-free, and rather cycle between seeking excitement, activity and movement in their lives and then relaxing. (3)An individual's personality continues to develop over time and is influenced by all of the events that occur over a person’s lifetime. (4) Personality is not fixed and it can change and progress, and (5)Each person has some unique characteristics and others which are shared by everyone.

Murray’s theory of personality is rooted in psychoanalysis, and the chief business and aim of personology is the reconstruction of the individual's past life experiences in order to explain their present behavior. To study personality, Murray used free association and dream analysis to bring unconscious material to light. Murray's personality theories have been questioned by some psychologists,[5] and extended by others, such as D. C. McClelland.[6]

Harvard human experiments

From late 1959 to early 1962, Murray was responsible for what would now be regarded as ethically indefensible experiments in which twenty-two undergraduates were used as research subjects.[7] 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 domestic terrorist targeting academics and technologists.[8] 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.



Selected publications


  1. Fowler, Glenn (June 24, 1988). "Henry A. Murray is dead at 95; developer of personality theory". NYTimes.com. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  2. "Herman Melville Room". Berkshire Athenaeum. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  3. Phebe Cramer (2004). Storytelling, Narrative, and the Thematic Apperception Test. Guilford Press. pp. 11–. ISBN 978-1-59385-071-5.
  4. Ram Nath Sharma, S.S. Chandra; S.S. Chandra (1 January 2003). General Psychology 2 Vols. Set. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. pp. 490–. ISBN 978-81-269-0303-0.
  5. Obeying the Voice of God: Jack MacDonald's Journey. Brian Van Brunt. 1 January 2008. pp. 11–. ISBN 978-0-9778545-1-6.
  6. Michael Paschen; Erich Dihsmaier (22 July 2013). The Psychology of Human Leadership: How To Develop Charisma and Authority. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 233–. ISBN 978-3-642-37054-0.
  7. Chase A (2000-06-01). "Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber". The Atlantic Monthly. pp. 41–65. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  8. Chase, Alston (2003). Harvard and the Unabomber The Education of an American Terrorist. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 18–19. ISBN 0393020029.


  • TAT Research
  • Sandra K. Webster: Henry Murray
  • Anderson, J. W. (1988). "Henry Murray's early career. A psychobiographical exploration". Journal of Personality. 56: 138–171. 
  • Carver and Scheier (1992) Perspectives on Personality (2nd edition), Allyn & Bacon.
  • Chase, Alston (2003) Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-02002-9.
  • Robinson, Forrest (1992) Love's story told: A life of Henry A. Murray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Shneidman, E. S. ed., (1981) Selections from the Personology of Henry A. Murray New York: Harper-Collins Publishers.
  • Roazen, Paul (2003), "Interviews on Freud and Jung with Henry A. Murray in 1965.", The Journal of analytical psychology (published Feb 2003), 48 (1), pp. 1–2, doi:10.1111/1465-5922.t01-1-00001, PMID 12664714 
  • Meehl, P E (1992), "Needs (Murray, 1938) and state-variables (Skinner, 1938).", Psychological reports (published Apr 1992), 70 (2), pp. 407–50, doi:10.2466/PR0.70.2.407-450, PMID 1598366 
  • Triplet, R G (1992), "Henry A. Murray. The making of a psychologist?", The American Psychologist (published Feb 1992), 47 (2), pp. 299–307, doi:10.1037/0003-066X.47.2.299, PMID 1567091 
  • Laughlin, C D (1973), "Discussion: The influence of Whitehead's organism upon Murray's personology", Journal of the history of the behavioral sciences, 9 (3), pp. 251–7, doi:10.1002/1520-6696(197307)9:3<251::AID-JHBS2300090308>3.0.CO;2-4, PMID 11609728 
  • Smith, M B (1971), "Allport, Murray, and Lewin on personality theory: Notes on a confrontation", Journal of the history of the behavioral sciences (published Oct 1971), 7, pp. 353–62, PMID 11609526 
  • BELLAK, L (1958), "Henry A. Murray: an appreciation", Journal of projective techniques (published Jun 1958), 22 (2), pp. 143–144, doi:10.1080/08853126.1958.10380835, PMID 13550260 
  • Millon, Theodore. On the history and future study of personality and its disorders, Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 8 (2012): 1-19.
  • Sydney Ellen. "Henry Murray: Personology." Theories of Personality. By Duane Schultz. N.p.: Cengage Learning, 2008. 181-203. Print.
  • John Barresi*, Tim J. Juckes,Personology and the Narrative Interpretation of Lives, Journal of Personality, Volume 65, Issue 3, pages 693–719, September 1997
  • FRY, FRANKLYN D., Journal of Psychology, 35 (1953) p.181
  • Hutt, Max L., Buck, John N., 636-701. New York, NY, US:Ronald Press Company, 1953.
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