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10 Famous Psychologists and Their Contributions

Hi, I am Raymond. I picked up psychology after my banking career as a personal interest.

Famous Psychologists


10 Famous Psychologists and their Contributions

Like other researchers and scientists psychologists also formulate hypotheses.

A hypothesis is:

  • a supposition or
  • a proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence.

These serve as a starting point for further investigation. Then they gather specific information to test their hypothesis as well as the soundness of their work. The research method they make use of depends with the subject they have.

Psychologists collect data or information:

  • by performing some series of laboratory experiments or
  • by conducting a number of tests about personality, aptitude, intelligence, performance, skills, knowledge and creativity.

Some other strategies involve:

  • direct observation
  • interview
  • distributing questionnaires
  • clinical studies and
  • investigations or surveys.

The primary function of a psychologist is to examine, investigate or inspect the human mind, involving the behaviour, cognition and affect. Psychologists try to understand and discover how the persons’ mind’s work. They also study a person's feelings or emotions, a person’s personality as well as how a person perceives things and conditions around him.

Ok. So now let's move to the Famous Psychologists!

There are influential and famous people who have dedicated and devoted their lives to psychology. We listed several psychologists who helped progress the development of the field of psychology. They are listed in alphabetical order.

Erik Erikson

Erikson is known as a developmental psychologist. He is acknowledged by many for the theory he formulated entitled Social Development of Human Beings and for coining the phrase Identity Crisis.

Erik Homburger Erikson was born on 15 June 1902 and died at the age of 85 on 12 May 1988. He was a Danish psychologist who, like Anna Freud, specialised in child psychology. At first he studied together with Anna, but later on he studied alone on the developmental stages of children's identity formation. Erikson was of Danish descent but was born in Germany. He moved to America to avoid the war. This is where he would eventually die.

Erikson belongs to the post-Freudian psychologists called ego-psychologists. In particular, they examined the function of our ego and sense of identity. Why do we identify with some people or groups, and not with others, and what the pros and cons of such behaviour are.

8 Stages of Development by Erik Erikson

Anna Freud

Anna Freud is perhaps best known as the founder of child psychoanalysis and for her description of the ego's defense mechanisms

Let's get back to the Freud family. Anna, the daughter of Sigmund, was born in Austria in 1895, on December 3rd. She died at the age of 86, on October 9, 1982.

Anna was a pioneer of child psychology. She used her father's psychoanalysis for this target group. That gave her insight into the big differences between adults and children. Anna would once have said, "If some desires are not satisfied, don't be surprised. We call that life."

Psychotherapy - Anna Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was the founder of Psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis devotes itself to the study of human psychological functioning and behaviour. This study contains three applications such as:

  1. The investigation of the human mind
  2. Systematized group of theories about human behaviour
  3. Method of treatment of psychological or emotional disease or illness

Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Austria. He died in his eighties, at the age of 83, on 23 September 1939. By that time Germany had already taken over Austria. Because Freud was of Jewish descent he had already moved to the United Kingdom a year earlier.

Freud has contributed a lot of sense and nonsense to psychology. The most sensible contributions are the theories on psychoanalysis. Freud, like Pavlov, was not an official psychologist, but a neurologist. He attributed many mental disorders to some form of neuroticism, in which this neuroticism arose as a result of certain events in a person's childhood stage of development. Depending on those events, and the phase in which someone was at that moment, the effects become visible later in life. If, for example, you lack love at a certain young age, you may develop a passion for food or drink.

However, we are not always aware of these events in the past. Some events are too far back for us to remember. But others, Freud thought, can be actively suppressed as memories. Consciously, you may not remember anything about it, but maybe you were abused by your father at a young age? Anyway, through his psychoanalysis, a form of introspection (looking inside), hypnosis and dream-analysis Freud tried to bring these suppressed memories to the surface.

Sigmund Freud: Psychotherapy


Carl Jung

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist who was also the founder of Analytical psychology.

Carl Gustav Jung was born in the heyday of Freud, on 26 July 1875. He died at the age of 85, on 6 June 1961. He received the Zurich Prize for Literature for his work in 1932. Furthermore he became an acclaimed member of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1938. He is best known for his continuation of Freud's ideas, and in particular his own development of a theory on top of them. Although Freud's ideas are nowadays considered outdated by most people, Jung's ideas are still popular among many.

Freud saw the gender (male or female) as a symbolic difference that unconsciously had great implications in our 'psyche'. Jung didn't want any of that. He built a theory about archetypes. These are so-called models for people, their behaviour or personalities. Archetypes can steer or influence the behaviour of an everyday person. Like Freud, he worked a lot with dreams. He is also responsible for widely used dream analysis. Jung mentioned the split between introverted and extroverted.

As a young boy, Jung was once attacked by a fellow student, and lost consciousness. He then had seizures of unconsciousness every time he had to do homework or go to school, and his parents suspected it was epilepsy. Jung heard his father express his concern that he, Jung, would never be able to take care of himself with this condition. As a result, the 12-year-old Jung once again concentrated on his studies, and, after a few repetitions of fainting, managed to become a world-famous psychologist. He never suffered from any form of unconsciousness later on in life.

In 1903 Jung married Emma Rauschenbach, and although he remained married to her until her death, there are indications that he had several romantic liasons. Including one with a patient of his, Sabina Spielrein. This relationship even lasted a few years, until Jung decided it was hurting his career, and the relationship broke up.

By the way, Jung's criticism of Freud was not easy. Freud had a stubborn desire to be proved right, and when Jung expressed his protest, Freud let all his other 'Freudian colleagues' turn a cold shoulder at Jung. But Jung persisted, and in the end would have much more influence on contemporary psychology than Freud.

Face to face | Carl Gustav Jung

Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow – one of the founders of the Humanistic psychology. Best acknowledged as the developer of the theory of human motivation known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Abraham Harold Maslow was born on April 1908. He was an American with Jewish-Russian parents. He strongly opposed the behaviorist thought patterns by Watson and Skinner. Similar to Watson and Skinner Maslow was a follower of behaviourism in his younger years. But in the 1960s he converted to so-called humanistic psychology. He is best known by the Maslow Pyramid. The Maslow Pyramid is a schematic overview that states that every individual has a hierarchy of needs. A person cannot wish for or fulfil the 'higher' needs if lower needs are not met.

At the very bottom we find physiological needs, such as food, drink, sleep and sex. The next level includes the need for safety and security. If this is foreseen (i.e. if you do not fear for your life and have a certain regular income, for example) then you can move on to level three, love/belonging. After having developed an extensive circle of friends, level four is the need for appreciation and recognition. If you also know how to receive all this from your surroundings, then you will be able to satisfy your highest need. Maslow called this self-actualization (self-development). Most people in the West can take the first two levels for granted. Unfortunately this can not be said for everyone on this planet. The higher levels are not always within reach. It depends on the person, situation and other factors.

Maslow also wrote a lot about the psychology of science. Maslow realized that scientists themselves are also humans. So he also focused his attention on scientists themselves. If you're a prospective scientist and want to know if you meet the requirements according to Maslow, go and look up his list on Wikipedia. It can also be found in his book: Psychology of Science (1974).

Abraham Maslow and Self Actualization

Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov is famous for different experiments with dogs. This led to the theory of Classical conditioning.

Pavlov was a Russian physiologist (someone who examines the signs and vitality of living organisms) born on September 26, 1849. He died at the age of 86 he died on 27 February, in 1936. Before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Pavlov was a psychologist even before the term was invented as a title. Thus he was a 'physiologist with an interest in behaviour'. He is best known for his research on saliva behaviour in dogs. Pavlov found out that you could 'teach' a dog to anticipate food by means of a totally unrelated other event. This works as follows: Pavlov knew that dogs literally 'salivated' (they produced saliva) when they could smell food. Normally, of course, this does not happen when something else, unimportant, happens like when a bell rings. Pavlov, however, linked this bell to the moment food was presented.

The result was that the dogs started to salivate while they smelled the food and heard the bell. At a later moment Pavlov would only rang the bell, without presenting food, and even then the dogs began to salivate. They had "learned" that the bell meant food. This learning method, also called conditioning, is still called the 'pavlov-reaction'.

This was a huge discovery his time. In 1904 Pavlov received the Nobel Prize, but this was not for this find, but for his findings on the digestive tract.

Classical Conditioning - Ivan Pavlov

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget who was fond of children formulated the developmental psychology. He spent much of his profession in listening to children, observing them and watching them as they developed

Jean William Fritz Piaget was born on 9 August 1896, and died at the age of 84 on 16 September 1980. He was a Swiss citizen who, like Anna Freud and Erik Erikson, studied the development of children. However, he did not focus on identity formation, but on cognitive capacities (intelligence). He was one of the first psychologists to suggest that children 'think' in a completely different way than adults.

Before Piaget people believed that children were simply miniature adults. Thinking the same way as adults. Yet, Piaget discovered that children have structurally different thought processes. This makes some things easier for children to learn, while other things can be more difficult. Even today, his work is of enormous importance to developmental psychologists.

Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Carl Rogers

Carl Ransom Rogers was born on American soil on 8 January 1902 and died at the age of 85 years old on 4 February 1987. Rogers is best known for his contribution to counseling and therapy. Together with Maslow he is the founder of humanistic psychology.

Yet, Rogery didn't want to become a psychologist at all. He came from a very religious family, and wanted to become a minister.

One of the important contributions can be expressed with this expression: "your perception is your reality":

What Rogers meant by this was that for a person 'reality' is exactly what that person perceives. In other words, the reality is that grass is blue, if a person has that perception.

However, most people see grass as green, and so everyone assumes this reality. The idea that people act according to what they 'think' is a reality, instead of what is consider to be the objective reality, was a novelty. This is also an insight that has done much to promote psychological counselling.

Instead of reprimanding patients for their erroneous perceptions, psychologists could now 'understand' from the patient's perspective that they actually saw it that way.

Carl Rogers Counsels An Individual On Anger

B.F. Skinner

B. F. Skinner was an influential American psychologist. He was also a behaviorist and successfully developed the theory or operant conditioning.

Burrhus Frederic (BF) Skinner was also born and raised in America on 20 March 1904. He died at the age of 86 (like Pavlov) on 18 August 1990. Skinner, like Watson, was a behaviorist, and he built on Pavlov's ideas of conditioning. While Pavlov linked stimuli (a stimulus is a certain event in our environment that triggers behaviour) to certain behaviours, Skinner tried to teach his study subjects (animals) to do or not to do something through punishment or reward.

If you want a mouse to turn left, you give him a jolt every time he turns right, and a candy when he turns left. This produces long-term results. Animals (and people) remember this long after the punishment or reward is removed. This was Skinner's greatest contribution to psychology.

An interesting fact is that Skinner initially didn't want to become a psychologist at all. He first obtained a bachelor's degree in English literature and wanted to become a professional writer. However, because he had little literary talent, he eventually decided to study something else. He received his PhD from Harvard.

B. F. Skinner - Philosophy of Behaviorism

John Watson

John B. Watson was the founder of Behaviourism. This theory is also known as the learning perspective.

John Broadus Watson was born in America on January 9, 1878, and died, at age 80, on September 25, 1958. So he experienced both the First and the Second World War, and this may have helped to motivate his great discoveries of the human psyche.

Pavlov discovered that we can 'learn' reactions to certain stimuli. Watson believed that we, as humans, cannot understand our own psyche other than through observation of behaviour.

John Watson is famous for "The Little Albert experiment". This was a controlled experiment showing empirical evidence of classical conditioning in humans.

To study this, Watson did not focus on humans, but on mice, and carefully examined their responses to a wide variety of cases. But it wasn't just mice! Later he would marry one of his students (Rosalie Rayner) and also applied behaviourism to their two sons.

John Watson - Little Albert

John B Watson - The Little Albert Experiment

Several other noteworthy psychologists

All of the psychologists stated below have also made a lot of great contributions in the field of psychology. They are famous for the various theories they invented, formulated and developed.

  • Edward Thorndike – founded the theory of Connectionism. He helped lay the scientific foundation of the modern educational psychology.
  • Joseph Wolpe – developed theories known as Systematic desensitization and Assertiveness training.
  • Gordon Allport ­– formulated the theory of Personality development which is one of the first humanistic theories.
  • Albert Ellis – an American cognitive behavioural therapist who developed the Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy or (REBT).
  • Aaron Beck – the father of Cognitive therapy and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Beck Hopelessness Scale, (BHS) and Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) which are still widely used.
  • Alfred Binet – a French psychologist who developed the very first usable Intelligence Test. This became the basis of currents IQ test.
  • Milton Erikson – recognized as the father of the Modern Hypnotherapy. The Ericksonian hypnotherapy is one of fastest developing and influential fields of today’s hypnotherapy. He utilized the method of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
  • Kurt Lewin – one of the pioneers of the Social Psychology and also recognized as the father of the same theory. He is also the very first researcher who explored the study of group dynamics as well as the Organizational Development.
  • Noam Chomsky – acknowledged as one of the most important contributors in the field of theoretical linguistics in the 20th century.
  • Erich Fromm – an international and distinguished Social psychologist and Humanistic philosopher in the field of psychology.
  • William Glasser – known for developing the Reality Therapy and Choice Theory. He is notable for developing the Cause and Effect Theory which explains the human behaviour.
  • Harry Harlow – a well-known psychologist best recognized for his studies on Affection and Development utilizing rhesus monkeys and surrogate wire or terrycloth mothers.
  • Carol Gilligan – best known for her work on ethical community and ethical relationships
  • Jean Baker Miller – best known for her ideas that isolation is one of the most damaging human experiences and is best treated by reconnecting with other people

38 Famous Psychologists


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Who is known as the father of classical conditioning?
    • B.F. Skinner
    • Jean Paul Sartre
    • Ivan Pavlov
    • Sigmund Freud
  2. Which type of behaviour modification relies on consequences?
    • Classical conditioning
    • Aversion therapy
    • Operant conditioning
    • Flooding
  3. Which animals were primarily used in B.F. Skinner’s “Skinner Boxes” of operant conditioning?
    • Rats
    • Dogs
    • Cats
    • Rabbits
  4. According to Freud, which inner force contains the libido?
    • Ego
    • Superid
    • Superego
    • Id

Answer Key

  1. Ivan Pavlov
  2. Operant conditioning
  3. Rats
  4. Ego

Stressed and Worried

The Key Functions Of Psychology And Psychologist's Contributions.

The Key Functions Of Psychology And Psychologist's Contributions.

The Key Functions Of Psychology.

How a Psychologist Can Help an Individual?

The famous and well respected psychologists mentioned in this article have all been involved in defining the theories etcetera in the field of psychology.

Psychologists try to help people understand their mind, emotions and their entire behaviour.

By understanding psychology and knowing the importance of psychology it we are also able to appreciate the importance of psychologists and their contributions to our lives.

This concludes the list of famous psychologists of the last two centuries. This list can't cover all of them. No doubt I may have forgot to mention several others, maybe even your favourite psychologist. Don't worry, there's room below to tell everyone about this forgotten psychologist! Don't forget to provide a little background info as well.

Ever needed help from a shrink?

More about Famous Psychologists


G.B.Y on July 24, 2014:

it is versatile field of study which can be applied in our every day life.

Raymond Philippe (author) from The Netherlands on April 17, 2014:

I stand corrected

Megor on April 17, 2014:

Jean Piaget was a man.

Ruby Jackson on April 03, 2014:

I like your psychology hubs. Enjoy reading and learning from them.

Dr. J. Lo on July 08, 2009:

A very nice, brief article. Provides important information. Good job overall.

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