Henry A. Murray

Henry A. Murray books and biography

Henry Murray

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Henry A. Murray (May 13, 1893 – June 23, 1988) was an American psychologist who taught for over 30 years at Harvard. He was founder of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and developed a theory of personality based on "need" and "press". He also is developer of the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) which is widely used by psychologists.


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" p100, 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 College he did much better in medicine and completed M.D. and also received an M.A. in biology 1919. For the next two years he was an instructor in physiology at Harvard and 1927 he received his doctorate degree in biochemistry at Cambridge.

A turning point in Murray's life occurred at the age of 30, when he had been married for seven years. He met and fell and love with Christina Morgan but experienced serious conflict as he did not want to leave his wife. 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 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.

Professional career

In 1927, at the age of 33, he became assistant director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic. Murray developed the concepts of latent needs (not openly displayed), manifest needs (observed in people's actions), "press" (external influences on motivation) and "thema" - "a pattern of press and need that coalesces around particular interactions". Murray used the term "apperception" to refer to the process of projecting fantasy imagery onto an objective stimulus. The concept of apperception and the assumption that everyone's thinking is shaped by subjective processes provides the rationale behind the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). This was developed by Murray and Morgan (1935). In 1937 Murray became director of the Harvard Psychological Clinic. In 1938 he published "Explorations in Personality", now a classic in psychology, which includes a description of the Thematic Apperception Test.

During World War II, he left Harvard and worked as lieutenant colonel for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). James Miller, in charge of the selection of secret agents at the OSS during World War Two, reports that Murray was the originator of the term "situation test". This type of assessment, based on practical tasks / activities was pioneered by the British Military. Murray acted as a consultant for the British Government (1938) in the setting up of the Officer Selection Board. Murray's previous work at The Harvard Psychological Clinic enabled him to apply his theories in the design of the selection processes used by WOSB and OSS to assess potential agents. The assessments were based on analysis of specific criteria (e.g. "leadership") by a number of raters across a range of activities. Results were pooled to achieve an overall assessment. The underlying principles were later adopted by AT&T in the development of Assessment Center methodology, now widely used to assess management potential in both private and public sector organisations.

Murray's identification of core psychological needs, including Achievement, Affiliation and Power (1938) provided the theoretical basis for the later research of David McClelland and underpins development of competency-based models of management effectiveness (Richard Boyatzis), Maslow's Hiearchy of Needs, and ideas relating to Positive Psychology. However, Murray's contribution is rarely acknowledged in contemporary academic literature. McClelland, Boyatzis and Spencer went on to found the McBer Consultancy.

Commissioned by OSS boss, William "Wild Bill" Donovan, in 1943 Professor Murray helped complete "Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler." The report was done in collaboration with psychoanalyst Walter C. Langer, Dr. Ernst Kris, New School for Social Research, and Dr. Bertram D. Lawin, New York Psychoanalytic Institute. The report used many sources to profile Hitler including a number of informants such as Ernst Hanfstaengl, Herman Rauschning, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, Gregor Strasser, Friedelinde Wagner, and Kurt Ludecke. The groundbreaking study was the pioneer of Offender profiling and political psychology, today commonly used by many countries as part of assessing international relations.

In addition to predicting that if defeat for Germany was near, Adolf Hitler would choose suicide, Professor Murray's collaborative report stated that Hitler was impotent as far as heterosexual relations were concerned and that there was a possibility that Hitler had participated in a homosexual relationship. The 1943 report stated that: "The belief that Hitler is homosexual has probably developed (a) from the fact that he does show so many feminine characteristics, and (b) from the fact that there were so many homosexuals in the Party during the early days and many continue to occupy important positions. It is probably true that Hitler calls Foerster "Bubi", which is a common nickname employed by homosexuals in addressing their partners."

Having returned to Harvard 1947, Murray lectured and established with others the Psychological Clinic Annex and was a chief researcher at Harvard. Alston Chase's book "Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist" tells of psychological experiments which Theodore Kaczynski is reported to have undergone at Harvard, under the direction of Henry Murray. Chase connects these experiences in a controversial thesis to Kaczynski's later career as Unabomber.

When Murray became emeritus professor at Harvard, he earned the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association and Gold Medal Award for lifetime achievement from the American Psychological Foundation.

Murray died from pneumonia at the age of 95.


  • 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.


  • Test Developer Profiles: Henry A. Murray, M.D., Ph.D.
  • TAT Research
  • Sandra K. Webster: Henry Murray
  • Ted K., the CIA & LSD: Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair
  • Cornell University Law Library [1] - "Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler " Readers can download a PDF version of the whole document HERE
  • Anderson, J. W. (1988). Henry Murray's early career. A psychobiographical exploration. Journal of Personality, 56, 138-171.
  • Carver and Scheier, Perspectives on Personality (2nd edition, 1992), Allyn & Bacon
  • Chase, Alston: "Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist", 2003, ISBN 0-393-02002-9
  • Robinson, Forrest: "Love's story told: A life of Henry A. Murray" Harvard University Press (1992)
  • Shneidman, E. S. ed., Selections from the Personology of Henry A. Murray (1981)

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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