William McDougall (psychologist) bigraphy, stories - Psychologists

William McDougall (psychologist) : biography

22 June 1871 - 28 November 1938

William McDougall FRS (22 June 1871 – 28 November 1938) was an early twentieth 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 behaviorism and stands somewhat outside the mainstream of the development of Anglo-American psychological thought in the first half of the twentieth 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. He also studied medicine and physiology in London and Göttingen. After teaching at University College London and Oxford, he was recruited by William James to Harvard University, 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 was Cyril Burt.


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.The New international encyclopaedia, Volume 7, Dodd, Mead and company, 1923, p. 282 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.David Ray Griffin Parapsychology, philosophy, and spirituality: a postmodern exploration 1997, p. 139William McDougall Body and mind: a history and a defense of animism Methuen, 1911 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.Janet Oppenheim The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914 1988, pp. 263-264

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.Peter J. Bowler Reconciling science and religion: the debate in early-twentieth-century Britain 2001, pp. 181-184


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. 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.Asprem, E. (2010), , Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 46 (2):123-143.

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