Hans Eysenck was a German born prominent psychologist who professionally practiced in Great Britain and is considered one of the foremost figures in postwar British psychology. A brilliant and outspoken individual, he often courted controversies with his arguments that attacked several beliefs, deeply held by the scientific fraternity. He was an extremely vocal critic of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy and believed that psychotherapy offered no effectiveness in the treatment of mental illnesses. He was highly criticized and even threatened when he made public his research on the role of genetics in determining the IQ of human beings. Born into a family of stage and film entertainers, it was believed that the young Hans would follow in his parents’ footsteps. But he did not and instead carved a place for himself as one of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century. He was one of the most frequently cited psychologists and was regarded as a prolific popularizer of psychology. He left Germany in opposition of the Nazi regime and made U.K. his home. He completed his education in London and was mentored by the eminent psychologist Cyril Burt who was known for his research on the heritability of IQ—a work which his protege furthered. Eysenck was also a prolific writer who had more than 75 books and 1600 journal articles to his credit.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born in Germany as the only child of film star Ruth Werner (stage name Helga Molander) and nightclub entertainer Eduard Anton Eysenck. His parents separated when he was very young and he was primarily raised by his maternal grandmother who was later killed in a concentration camp.
He completed his schooling from Prinz-Heinrichs-Gymnasium in Berlin.
He vehemently opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime and moved to London in 1934. His father stayed back and joined the Nazi party much to Hans’s disgust. Initially he faced many problems in London due to his German origins.
He enrolled at Pitman’s College in London for the winter session of 1934-35. He then shifted to University College to study psychology and graduated in 1938.
He worked on his PhD from the Department of Psychology in University College under the noted Professor Sir Cyril Burt. He completed his PhD in 1940.
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The World War II was escalating at the time when Eysenck completed his doctorate. He was still a German citizen at that time and was therefore unable to get a good job. He spent a little while working as a firewatcher.
By 1942 the tensions had eased a bit and he was able to get a job as a researcher psychologist at the Mill Hill Emergency Hospital in Northern London.
After the war, a new Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) was established as a postgraduate training and research facility at the University of London. He was chosen to head the department and held this post till his retirement in 1983.
He was provided the freedom to organize the department according to his research priorities. He was intrigued by the psychometric descriptions of personality and published the results of his experiments in ‘Dimensions of Personality’ in 1947.
In his 1952 work, ‘The Scientific Study of Personality’, he gave a factor psychoticism which was constructed around the idea that psychotic disorders differed in terms of introversion-extraversion (I-E).
He wrote a paper in 1952 in which he reported that two-thirds of the mental patients recover within two years irrespective of whether they receive psychotherapy or not. His act of questioning the effectiveness of psychotherapy created considerable controversy.
In 1955, Hans Eysenck became a full professor at the IoP and acquired British citizen.
He was of the view that I-E and neuroticism were linked to the concepts of excitation, inhibition and anxiety drive strength. He published his research findings in the 1957 book, ‘The Dynamics of Anxiety and Hysteria’.
By the late 1950s he began advocating that psychologists practice behavioral treatment, and the 1960s came to be known as the era of behaviour therapy in British clinical psychology. During this period he edited several books on the subject.
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During the late 1960s he began his work on researching the link between intelligence and heredity.
He published his book ‘Race, Intelligence, and Education’ in 1971 in which he argued that differences in the IQ scores of blacks and white was in part due to heredity. The book was considered controversial at that time.
He was a prolific writer who published numerous books and journal articles which became extremely popular in Britain. He also made several media appearances and remained involved in scientific research up until his death.
He was the most influential psychologist in postwar Britain and is best known for his research on the heritability of intelligence though his works covered diverse fields like tobacco use, genetics, politics, and astrology.
Awards & Achievements
He was presented the William James Fellow Award by the Association for Psychological Science in 1990 in recognition of a lifetime of distinguished contribution to psychological science.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Margaret Davies in 1938. The marriage, however, broke up later on. They had one son Michael who later became a renowned psychologist himself.
He later married personality psychologist Sybil Bianca Giuliett. They had a happy marriage that produced four children and lasted till his death.
He died of a brain tumour at the age of 81 in London.
His works sometimes created such widespread controversies that he was physically attacked during a speech and his children received threats to their lives.