Henry A. Murray received his B.A. degree from Harvard University and later the M.A. and then the M.D. degree from Columbia University. He completed residency in surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. During his residency, he had the unusual experience of helping to care for the future president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Following this, he spent four years at the Rockefeller Institute studying embryology. In 1927 he received the Ph.D. from Cambridge University in England. While at Cambridge he became acquainted with the writings of Carl Jung, whose Psychological Types had recently been translated to English.
This apparently contributed to a change in his interest from the biological sciences to psychology. Upon returning to the United States, he was invited to be Morton Prince’s assistant at the newly formed psychological clinic at Harvard University. Over the objections of some, he succeeded Prince as its director. His interests began to turn more toward the Freudian approach to psychology. In 1928 he helped form the Boston Psychoanalytic Association, and in 1933 he became a member of the American Psychoanalytic Association.
His interests continued in the direction of personality. By 1938, he embarked on the research published in Exploration of Personality. In this work, he developed his taxonomy of needs and presses that characterize people’s directions in their lives and activities. Thus, he developed a systematic and dynamic approach to personality. Out of these studies there developed the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), a projective technique consisting of semivague pictures in which the subject was asked to tell a story about each. The responses were analyzed in terms of Murray’s system.
During World War II, Murray served in the Army Medical Corps. After the war, he returned to Harvard, where he was instrumental in establishing Harvard Interdisciplinary Department of Social Relations. His association with Clyde Kluckhohn resulted in the classic work Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture.
In 1961 the American Psychological Association honored him with its Distinguished Contribution Award. He received the Gold Medal Award in 1969 from the American Psychological Foundation for lifelong significant contributions to psychology. Murray hoped to foster a more comprehensive and systematic approach to personality as well as to complete an analysis of the writings of Herman Melville, but failing health prevented the completion of these efforts. He died of pneumonia at the age of 95. He goes down in history as one of the most important personality theorists of the twentieth century.
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