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Henry Murray : biography

May 13, 1893 - June 23, 1988

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 the Henderson-Hasselbach equation upon which the measurement of the different constituents of blood plasma are measured all at the same time, 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 always fondly 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 and 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 Goethian, 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 Melvillehttp://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/obituaries/henry-a-murray-is-dead-at-95-developer-of-personality-theory.html and amassed a collection of books, manuscripts and artifacts relating to Melville which he donated to the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.http://www.pittsfieldlibrary.org/melville_room.html



  • Murray, H. A. (1938). Explorations in Personality. New York: Oxford University Press
  • Murray, H. A. (1940). What should psychologists do about psychoanalysis? Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 35, 150–175
  • OSS Assessment Staff. (1948). Assessment of Men: Selection of Personnel for the Office of Strategic Service. New York: Rinehart.
  • Murray, Henry A. and Clyde Kluckhohn. (1953) Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture. New York: Knopf
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