William McDougall (psychologist)

William McDougall
Born 22 June 1871
Chadderton, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom
Died 28 November 1938 (1938-11-29) (aged 67)
Durham, North Carolina, U.S.
Nationality British
Fields Psychology
Doctoral advisor W. H. R. Rivers
Influences Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Carl Jung
Influenced Thorstein Veblen,[1] Konrad Lorenz, Cyril Burt

William McDougall FRS[2] (/məkˈdɡəl/; 22 June 1871 – 28 November 1938) was an early 20th century psychologist who spent the first part of his career in the United Kingdom and the latter part in the United States. He wrote a number of highly influential textbooks, and was particularly important in the development of the theory of instinct and of social psychology in the English-speaking world. He was an opponent of behaviourism and stands somewhat outside the mainstream of the development of Anglo-American psychological thought in the first half of the 20th century; but his work was very well known and respected among lay people.

McDougall was educated at Owens College, Manchester and St John's College, Cambridge.[3] He also studied medicine and physiology in London and Göttingen. After teaching at University College London and Oxford, he was recruited to occupy the William James chair of psychology at Harvard University in 1920, where he served as a professor of psychology from 1920 to 1927. He then moved to Duke University, where he established the Parapsychology Laboratory under J. B. Rhine, and where he remained until his death. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Among his students were Cyril Burt, May Smith, William Brown, and J. C. Flügel.[4]


McDougall's interests and sympathies were broad. He was interested in eugenics, but departed from neo-Darwinian orthodoxy in maintaining the possibility of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, as suggested by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck; he carried out many experiments designed to demonstrate this process. Opposing behaviourism, he argued that behaviour was generally goal-oriented and purposive, an approach he called hormic psychology (from Greek ὁρμή hormḗ "impulse").

However, in the theory of motivation, he defended the idea that individuals are motivated by a significant number of inherited instincts, whose action they may not consciously understand, so they might not always understand their own goals. His ideas on instinct strongly influenced Konrad Lorenz , though Lorenz did not always acknowledge this . McDougall underwent psychoanalysis with C. G. Jung, and was also prepared to study parapsychology. In 1920 he served as president of the Society for Psychical Research, and in the subsequent year of its US counterpart, the American Society for Psychical Research.[5] A strong advocate of scientific method and academic professionalization in psychical research, McDougall was instrumental in establishing parapsychology as a university discipline in the US in the early 1930s.[6]

Because of his interest in eugenics and his unorthodox stance on evolution, McDougall has been adopted as an iconic figure by proponents of a strong influence of inherited traits on behaviour, some of whom are regarded by most mainstream psychologists as scientific racists. He wrote:

"...; the few distinguished Negroes, so called, of America - such as Douglass, Booker Washington, Du Bois - have been, I believe, in all cases mulattoes or had some proportion of white blood. We may fairly ascribe the incapacity of the Negro race to form a nation to the lack of men endowed with the qualities of great leaders, even more than to the lower level of average capacity" (McDougall, William., The Group Mind, p.187, Arno Press, 1973; Copyright, 1920 by G.P. Putnam's Sons).

McDougall married at the age of 29 ("against my considered principles", he reports in his autobiographical essay, "for I held that a man whose chosen business in life was to develop to the utmost his intellectual powers should not marry before forty, if at all"). He had five children.


In 1911, McDougal authored Body and Mind: A History and Defence of Animism. In the work he rejected both materialism and Darwinism and supported a form of Lamarckism where mind guides evolution. McDougall defended a form of animism where all matter has a mental aspect, his views were very similar to panpsychism as he believed that there was an animating principle in matter and had claimed in his work that there were both psychological and biological evidence for this position.[7] McDougall had defended the theory that mind and the brain are distinct but interact with each other though he was not a dualist or a monist as he believed his theory of animism would replace both the philosophical views of dualism and monism.[8][9] As a parapsychologist he also claimed telepathy had been scientifically proven, he used evidence from psychic research as well as from biology and psychology to defend his theory of animism.[10]

McDougall produced another work attacking materialism titled Materialism and Emergent Evolution (1929). In the book he had also criticised the theory of emergent evolution as he claimed it had ignored the evidence of Lamarckism and had ignored the evidence of mind guiding evolution. McDougall's last work on the subject titled The Riddle of Life (1938) criticised organicism as according to McDougall even though the theory of organicism had rejected materialism it had not gone far enough in advocating an active role for a nonphysical principle.[11]

Selected bibliography

By William McDougall:

This book has been reprinted several times. For example, in 1960, University Paperbacks, an imprint of Methuen & Co and Barnes & Noble, published a reprint of the 23rd edition.[12]

By Margaret Boden:

See also


  1. Hodgson, Geoffrey M. 1998. "On the Evolution of Thorstein Veblen's Evolutionary Economics." Cambridge Journal of Economics. 22(4):415-431.
  2. Greenwood, M.; Smith, M. (1940). "William McDougall. 1871-1938". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 3 (8): 39. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1940.0005.
  3. "McDougall, William (MDGL890W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. Wooldridge, Adrian (2006). Measuring the Mind: Education and Psychology in England C.1860-c.1990. Cambridge University Press. pp. 57–58. ISBN 9780521026185. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  5. Krantz, D L; Hall, R; Allen, D (1969), "William McDougall and the problem of purpose.", Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (published Jan 1969), 5 (1), pp. 25–38, doi:10.1002/1520-6696(196901)5:1<25::AID-JHBS2300050104>3.0.CO;2-S, PMID 11610086
  6. Asprem, E. (2010), "A Nice Arrangement of Heterodoxies: William McDougall and the Professionalization of Psychical Research", Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 46 (2):123-143.
  7. The New international encyclopaedia, Volume 7, Dodd, Mead and company, 1923, p. 282
  8. David Ray Griffin Parapsychology, philosophy, and spirituality: a postmodern exploration 1997, p. 139
  9. William McDougall Body and mind: a history and a defense of animism Methuen, 1911
  10. Janet Oppenheim The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914 1988, pp. 263-264
  11. Peter J. Bowler Reconciling science and religion: the debate in early-twentieth-century Britain 2001, pp. 181-184
  12. McDougall, William (1960. First published 1908), An Introduction to Social Psychology (23rd ed.), University Paperbacks. Imprint of Methuen & Co (London) and Barnes & Noble (New York)., pp. xxi–xxii Check date values in: |date= (help) (Note: Preface to 23rd edition commences p.xxi, with date of this preface [October 1936] on p.xxii.)

Further reading

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