A German-born British psychologist whose unorthodox views generated controversy.
Hans Eysenck's obituary in The New York Times described him as “one of the most distinguished, prolific, and maddeningly perverse psychologists of his generation.” This accurately sums up a long career that Eysenck claimed he entered almost by accident. As a personality and behavior theorist, he popularized the terms introvert and extrovert, and he created a personality inventory test based on his many years of research in London. Eysenck wrote more than 80 books and 1,600 journal articles, and he generated enormous controversy during his career. He argued that psychotherapy had little if any value, that smoking did not cause lung cancer, and that there was a correlation between race and IQ scores. While he made many enemies in many circles, he also had many supporters who claimed that his ideas were taken out of context.
Born in Berlin on March 4, 1916, Hans Jürgen Eysenck was the son of Eduard Anton and Ruth Werner Eysenck. Both his parents were actors. They divorced in 1918, and Hans was primarily raised by his grandmother. He attended school primarily in Berlin and had planned to go to the university there when he graduated from high school in 1934. When he discovered that his acceptance into the University of Berlin was contingent on joining the Nazi Party, he decided this was unacceptable and left Germany. He studied literature and history at the University of Dijon in France and later at University College of Exeter in England. He moved to London and had planned to study physics there but did not qualify for admission into the program. When he tried to register as a science student, he was told that he could only take psychology. Initially disenchanted with the subject, he soon warmed to it, particularly the areas of statistical analysis and research. He received his bachelor's degree in 1938 and a Ph.D. in 1940 under the supervision of Cyril Burt (1883–1971), an educational psychologist known for his research on the heritability of intelligence.
Turned down for British military service because he was still a German citizen, Eysenck was later allowed to join Britain's civil defense program. In 1942, he took a position as a research psychologist at the Mill Hill Emergency Hospital outside London. Many of the staff were from London's Maudsley Hospital, a psychiatric training institution that had been closed because of the war. When it reopened in 1946, Eysenck took a position there as a senior research psychologist. He became director of the psychology department a year later. In 1950, the University of London established its Institute of Psychiatry at Maudsley, and Eysenck established its psychology department. He also became a professor of psychology at the university. Eysenck stayed at Maudsley until his retirement in 1983.
Personality was what most intrigued Eysenck, and he conducted expensive research on different personality types. He was influenced in part by scientists such as Ivan Pavlov, famous for his experiments with conditioned reflexes. But he also placed considerable importance on statistical research. Genetics, too, played a role in Eysenck's research. He came up with a series of personality dimensions to explain different behaviors. These included neurosis, introversion-extroversion, and psychosis. He used his theories and his statistical research to explain in part what made shy people shy or what made people engage in criminal behavior. He also developed the Maudsley Personality Inventory used widely in Britain to determine a person's basic personality type.
Eysenck's career was characterized by major controversy. Along with research results lauded by both his colleagues and the public, he drew numerous conclusions that for many called into question his abilities as a serious scientist. As early as the 1950s, Eysenck claimed that psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on people. He believed that behavior therapy yielded much better results because it dealt with the present rather than some deep dark past. Although in later years he did grow somewhat more accepting of certain types of psychotherapy, he remained for the most part skeptical of its true worth.
Eysneck also had unusual theories about smoking and lung cancer. He believed that certain personality types were susceptible both to taking up smoking and to the diseases it could cause. The ethics of Eysenck's research on smoking and lung cancer were questioned due to the fact that his research was largely funded by tobacco companies. Eysenck argued that it was only important that his research was done correctly, not who funded the research.
By far his most controversial views were those on race and intelligence. The American psychologist Arthur Jensen (1923–2012) claimed in the late 1960s that race was a factor in IQ scores, with African Americans scoring about 15 points lower on the tests than white test takers. Eysenck came to Jensen's aid and said that the difference in scores was based on genetic, as well as physiological, factors. Not surprisingly, the negative publicity generated by a statement like this was so strong that when he visited the University of California at Berkeley in 1971, he had to be escorted about the campus by armed bodyguards. Eysenck claimed that his conclusions were purely scientific and were not based on racism. His detractors were invariably surprised when they found out he had voluntarily left Nazi Germany.
Over the next several years Eysenck continued to conduct research and write books and articles. After he retired, Eysenck held the title of professor emeritus at the school until his death in 1997. His second wife, Sybil Rostal Eysenck, had been a psychology student. Because of this connection, the Eysencks often collaborated on different projects. The couple, who married in 1950, had four children. In addition, Eysenck's had a son with Margaret Davies during his first marriage.
In 1996, Eysenck was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He continued to work as much as he could, up until almost the time of his death. Death came on September 4, 1997, at a hospice in London.
See also Intelligence quotient (IQ) .
Buchanan, Roderick D. Playing with Fire: The Controversial Career of Hans J. Eysenck. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Eysenck, Hans J. The Biological Basis of Personality; with New Preface by Sybil B.G. Eysenck. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2006.
Wampold, Bruce E. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: A 50Year Perspective on the Outcome Problem.” Psycho-therapy 50, no. 1 (2013): 16–24.
Honan, William. “Hans J. Eysenck, 81, a Heretic in the Field of Psychotherapy.” http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/10/world/hans-j-eysenck-81-a-heretic-in-the-field-ofpsychotherapy.html (accessed July 24, 2015).
Plucker, Jonathan. “H. J. Eysenck.” http://www.intelltheory.com/eysenck.shtml (accessed July 24, 2015).
Russell, Roberta. “Hans J. Eysenck, Ph.D. Lifetalk with Roberta Russell on Psychoanalysis.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN4Hod8Clv8 (accessed July 24, 2015).