Henry Alexander Murray (May 13, 1893 – June 23, 1988) was an American psychologist who taught for over 30 years at Harvard. He was founder of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and developed a theory of personality based on "needs." This idea was further developed by Abraham Maslow in his "hierarchy of needs."
Murray's most significant and well-known contribution is the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), a personality test he developed which involved having individuals interpret a series of pictures to tell a story. Murray had theorized that the stories would reflect the individuals' underlying unconscious psychological state, their needs, drives, desires, hopes, and so forth based on their own past experiences. The TAT became one of the most widely used tests by psychologists. Murray's groundbreaking study on Adolf Hitler pioneered offender profiling and political psychology, today commonly used by many countries as part of assessing international relations.
The work of Henry Murray, and subsequent psychologists who have built on his ideas, has greatly increased our understanding of what motivates people, and thus how to care for them. In this way, his efforts have contributed to the betterment of society.
Henry A. Murray was born on May 13, 1893, into a wealthy family in New York City. He had an older sister and a younger brother. It is said that he had good relationship with his father, but a poor one with his mother, resulting in a persistent feeling of depression (Carver and Scheier 1992, 100). His early-life experiences probably helped him to be especially aware of people's needs and their importance as underlying determinants of behavior.
Murray completed his undergraduate work at Harvard, majoring in history. He exhibited rather poor performance, but compensated with football, rowing, and boxing. At Columbia College he did much better, completing his M.D. and receiving an M.A. in biology in 1919. For the next two years he was an instructor in physiology at Harvard and in 1927, he received his doctorate degree in biochemistry at Cambridge.
A turning point in Murray's life occurred at the age of 30, when he met and fell in love with Christiana Morgan. At the time he had been married for seven years, and he experienced serious conflict, as he did not want to leave his wife. This experience contributed toward Murray’s theory of conflicting needs. Persuaded by Christiana Morgan, Murray met Carl Jung in 1925, in Zurich, an experience that changed his life. Jung's advice to Murray concerning his personal life was to continue openly with both relationships. After his meeting with Jung, Murray decided to shift his career toward depth psychology.
In 1927, Murray became assistant director and in 1937, the director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic. In 1935, he developed, with help from Christiana Morgan, his famous Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). In 1938, he published the now classic Explorations in Personality.
During World War II, Murray left Harvard and joined the Army Medical Corps to help with the war effort. He worked as lieutenant colonel, establishing the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The goal of the agency was to find and train men for special tasks.
After the war, Murray returned to Harvard, lecturing part-time and establishing, with others, the Psychological Clinic Annex in 1949. He also served as a chief researcher. Murray retired in 1962. He became emeritus professor, receiving the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association and the Gold Medal Award for lifetime achievement from the American Psychological Foundation. He continued to lecture, and also furthered his study of the works of author Herman Melville.
Murray died from pneumonia in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of 95.
Murray believed that human action is motivated largely by needs. Those needs are mostly unconscious, and they influence and drive human behavior. He defined need as a "potentiality or readiness to respond in a certain way under certain given circumstances. … It is a noun which stands for the fact that a certain trend is apt to recur" (Murray 1938 p. 124).
Murray assumed that the human natural state is a state of disequilibrium, and that is why people have needs—to satisfy the lack of something. He divided needs into:
Murray listed 27 psychogenic needs:
Murray also developed the concepts of:
Murray's 27 needs and the forces that "press" them have been supported by research. Three of them have been the focus of significant study: the need for Power, Affiliation, and Achievement.
Murray developed the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), together with his colleague Christiana Morgan, in the mid-1930s. In 1938, he published Explorations in Personality, which included a description of the test.
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, often unconscious processes provides the rationale behind the Thematic Apperception Test.
The test consists of a series of provocative yet ambiguous pictures about which the subject must tell a story. The client identifies with the protagonist (main character) in the picture and tells a story about them. The test is based on an assumption that the client actually expresses his own concerns, fears, desires, and conflicts as reflected in what is going on with the story’s main character. The stories are later carefully analyzed to uncover the client’s underlying needs, attitudes, and patterns of reaction.
Murray was the originator of the term "situation test." This type of assessment, based on practical tasks/activities was pioneered by the British military. Murray acted as a consultant for the British government (from 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 the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War II forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, to assess potential secret agents. The assessments were based on analysis of specific criteria (such as "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 Assessment Center methodology, now widely used to assess management potential in both private and public sector organizations.
Commissioned by the OSS in 1943, Murray helped complete the Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler. The report used many sources to profile Adolf Hitler, including a number of informants such as Ernst Hanfstaengl, Herman Rauschning, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, Gregor Strasser, Friedelinde Wagner, and Kurt Ludecke.
In addition to predicting that if defeat for Germany was near, Adolf Hitler would choose suicide, 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 1943 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 National Socialist German Workers Party during the early days and many continue to occupy important positions. It is probably true that Hitler calls Albert Förster "Bubi," which is a common nickname employed by homosexuals in addressing their partners.
Murray's identification of core psychological needs provided the theoretical basis for the later research of David McClelland and underpins development of competency-based models of management effectiveness (Richard Boyatzis), Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and ideas relating to Positive Psychology. Three of Murray's needs have undergone substantial research: The need for Power (nPow), Affiliation (nAff), and Achievement (nAch).
Murray’s Thematic Apperception Test eventually became one of the most widely used and researched projective psychological tests. His groundbreaking study on Adolf Hitler was the pioneer of offender profiling and political psychology, today commonly used by many countries as part of assessing international relations.
Some of Murray’s work was regarded as highly controversial, especially in relations to his work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
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