Famous Psychologists

Do you know who is the most famous psychologist in history? Well…no one really knows because there is more than one right answer! Who you pick as the most famous psychologist often depends on your area of interest. Are you into developmental psychology? Maybe clinical psychology is your thing. The area of study you like the most can determine who you think is the best psychologist of all time!

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Table of contents
    • Who are some of the most famous psychologists in history?
    • Who are some of the most famous psychologists alive right now?
    • Who are some famous female psychologists?
    • What are some famous psychologists and their theories?
    • What are some quotes by famous psychologists?

    Famous Psychologists in History

    Another reason it is hard to pick the most famous psychologist is that there are so many to choose from throughout history! Psychology has been a field of study since the late 1800s when Wilhelm Wundt started a laboratory research group just for psychology (the very first!) at the University of Leipzig in Germany. Sigmund Freud was working on his famous psychoanalytic studies around the turn of the 20th century. Ivan Pavlov did his experiments with dogs right before the 20th century. John Watson and Rosalie Raynor conditioned Little Albert to be afraid of white, furry animals around 1920, and B. F. Skinner created his Skinner box experiment a little later in the 1900s.

    A psychologist is a scientist who focuses on studying one or more areas of human behavior or mental processes.

    Here are some other famous people in psychology with a little bit about them and their area of study:

    Famous Person

    Demographics

    Area of Study

    Key Facts

    Mary Whiton Calkins

    1863 – 1930

    American

    Memory

    Experimental Psychology

    Consciousness & Dreams

    First female psychologist to complete the requirements for a doctorate in psychology.

    Harvard refused to grant her degree.

    President of the American Psychological Association (1905). First female president!

    Charles Darwin

    1809 – 1882

    English

    Evolutionary Psychology

    On the Origin of Species (1859)

    Dorothea Dix

    1802 – 1887

    American

    Mental Health Treatment & Advocacy

    Psychiatry

    Clinical Psychology

    Founded or expanded more than 30 psychiatric hospitals.

    Sigmund Freud

    1856-1939

    Jewish Austrian

    Clinical Psychology

    Personality

    Developmental Psychology

    Consciousness

    Developed the first comprehensive theory of personality.

    Developed the first theoretical approach to treating mental disorders.

    G. Stanley Hall

    1846 – 1924

    American

    Developmental Psychology

    Evolutionary Psychology

    First to be president of the American Psychological Association (1892).

    Founded the American Journal of Psychology (1887)

    William James

    1842 – 1910

    American

    General Psychology

    Experimental Psychology

    First psychology professor in the US.

    Considered the father of American psychology.

    Ivan Pavlov

    1849 – 1936

    Russian

    Behaviorism

    Learning

    Experimental Psychology

    Considered the founder of behavioral therapy.

    Won a Nobel Prize (1904).

    Discovered and defined classical conditioning.

    Jean Piaget

    1896 – 1980

    Swiss

    Developmental Psychology

    Cognitive Psychology

    Learning

    Pioneered the constructivist approach to psychology.

    Worked with Simon on the first intelligence test (1919).

    Developed the first standardized clinical interview process in psychology.

    Carl Rogers

    1902-1987

    American

    Clinical Psychology

    Humanistic Approach

    Considered a founding father of psychotherapy.

    One founder of the humanistic approach to psychology.Developed the client-centered approach to therapy.

    B. F. Skinner

    1904-1990

    American

    Behaviorism

    Learning

    Experimental Psychology

    Defined the theory of operant conditioning.

    Developed the behavior analysis approach to psychology.

    One of the pioneers of behaviorism.

    Margaret Floy Washburn

    1871 – 1939

    American

    Experimental Psychology

    Biological Psychology

    Sensation and Perception

    Consciousness

    First woman awarded a doctorate in psychology (1894).

    The second female president of the American Psychological Association (1921).

    The first woman voted into the Society of Experimental Psychologists.

    John B. Watson

    1878 – 1958

    American

    Behaviorism

    Experimental Psychology

    General Psychology

    Biological Psychology

    Developmental Psychology

    “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It” (1913).

    Founder of behaviorism.

    Developed the method of systematic desensitization.

    Wilhelm Wundt

    1832 – 1920

    German

    Experimental Psychology

    Consciousness

    Memory

    General Psychology

    Biological Psychology

    Sensation and Perception

    Considered the father of experimental psychology.

    Wrote the first textbook on experimental psychology (1874).

    Founded the first laboratory for psychology (1879).

    Famous Psychologists a collage of photographs of famous historical psychologists StudySmarterTop left to right: Freud, Dix, Pavlov, Calkins Bottom left to right: James, Washburn, Jung, Piaget. Wikimedia Commons

    Famous Psychologists Today

    All the psychologists we have talked about so far are from the past. What about psychologists who are alive today? Who are they, and what kind of work do they do? Martin Seligman (born in 1942) is a great example of a famous psychologist who is alive today. He is one of the key researchers in the field of positive psychology, and he also did some famous experiments on learned helplessness.

    Howard Gardner (born in 1943), Steven Pinker (born in 1954), and Paul Ekman (born in 1934) are a few other examples of famous psychologists alive today. Gardner is known for his theory of multiple intelligences. Pinker has written many works on cognitive psychology, language, and developmental psychology. Ekman is a pioneer in the study of emotions. He developed the idea of microexpressions and studied the biology of facial expressions.

    Robert Sternberg (born in 1949) is another famous name in cognitive psychology. He developed the triarchic theory of intelligence. We could also talk about Albert Bandura here, the famous psychologist who developed social learning theory, but he sadly passed away in 2021. He played a huge role in many different subfields of psychology: cognitive, social, clinical, and personality.

    Do you remember hearing or reading about a famous prison experiment in the basement of Stanford University? That experiment was conducted by Philip Zimbardo (born in 1933) who is now a retired, honored professor of Stanford. He was born to Italian immigrants in America, and he knows what it is like to be a victim of stereotypes, prejudicial attitudes, and discrimination. Even though his prison experiment later became known for extreme ethical concerns, it was actually funded by the US government!

    Famous Female Psychologists

    Have you noticed that many of the psychologists we have talked about so far are men? There are some important women in the history of psychology, too. We mentioned two of them earlier: Mary Whiton Calkins and Margaret Floy Washburn. Both of these women lived during a time when women were still denied basic rights, like the right to vote.

    Calkins was allowed to enter an all-male program at Harvard in 1890. When the male students found out that a woman had joined the program, they all dropped out! Calkins continued in the program, and she eventually completed all the requirements for a doctorate in psychology. When she was done, Harvard refused to grant her the degree she had earned. She was offered an equivalent degree from a woman’s college, but she refused to accept it on principle.

    Both Calkins and Washburn served as presidents of the American Psychological Association. After Calkins was denied a doctorate degree in psychology, Washburn became the first woman to receive the degree. Washburn had the degree she worked so hard to earn, but she still faced gender discrimination in her field. Thankfully, gender equality has come a long way in the field of psychology since its early days.

    In much of the Western world, women now earn more psychology doctorates than men!

    Susan Blackmore, Elizabeth Loftus, and Brenda Milner are a few famous female psychologists alive today. Blackmore (born in 1951 in England) is famous for her research on parapsychology and consciousness. Loftus (born in 1944 in America) is a prominent researcher on memory. Milner (born in 1918…now 103 years old!) is considered the founder of neuropsychology. Her work has been so influential that she has received over 20 honorary degrees!

    Famous Psychologists and Their Theories

    As you can tell, there are far too many famous psychologists to mention them all. One way you can remember a famous psychologist is by connecting them to their field of study. Below you will find lists of famous psychologists organized based on their main field of study. You can learn more about them in other articles on our website!

    Organizing psychologists based on their theories can help your brain remember and pick between different psychologists if you are asked a question about who developed what theory on your exam.

    Subfield of PsychologyFamous Psychologists

    School of Structuralism

    Wilhelm Wundt

    Edward Bradley Titchener

    School of Functionalism

    William James

    James Rowland Angell

    John Dewey

    Behaviorism

    Ivan Pavlov

    B. F. Skinner

    Edward Thorndike

    John B. Watson

    Robert Rescorla

    Psychoanalytic/Psychodynamic

    Sigmund Freud

    Carl Jung

    Anna Freud

    Humanistic Psychology

    Abraham Maslow

    Carl Rogers

    Motivation and Emotion

    William James

    Alfred Kinsey

    Stanley Schachter

    Hans Selye

    Personality

    Alfred Adler

    Paul Costa

    Robert McCrae

    Developmental Psychology

    Diana Baumrind

    Harry Harlow

    Mary Ainsworth

    Lev Vygotsky

    Jean Piaget

    Erik Erikson

    Konrad Lorenz

    Moral Development

    Carol Gilligan

    Lawrence Kohlberg

    Biological Psychology

    Carl Wernicke

    Paul Broca

    Sensation and Perception

    Gustav Fechner

    David Hubel

    Ernst Weber

    Torsten Wiesel

    John Garcia

    Cognitive Psychology

    Noam Chomsky

    Hermann Ebbinghaus

    Wolfgang Köhler

    Elizabeth Loftus

    George A. Miller

    Edward Tolman

    Intelligence

    Charles Spearman

    Howard Gardner

    Robert Sternberg

    Alfred Binet

    Francis Galton

    Lewis Terman

    David Wechsler

    Social Psychology

    Albert Bandura

    Leon Festinger

    Solomon Asch

    Stanley Milgram

    Philip Zimbardo

    Clinical Psychology

    Aaron Beck

    Albert Ellis

    Mary Cover Jones

    Joseph Wolpe

    Dorothea Dix

    Some of these psychologists fall under more than one category. For instance, Sigmund Freud belongs under psychoanalytic, developmental, clinical, and personality.

    Famous Psychologists A black and white photograph of Sigmund and Anna Freud sitting at a dining table at an event StudySmarterSigmund Freud and daughter Anna. Wikimedia Commons

    Famous Psychologist Quotes

    Here are a few interesting quotes by famous people in the history of psychology! These quotes help represent the wide diversity of thought and ideas in the field of psychology.

    The healthy adult is one who can love and work."

    Sigmund Freud (1935)1

    Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process."

    Stanley Milgram (1974)2

    I am sometimes asked, 'Do you think of yourself as you think of the organisms you study?' The answer is yes. So far as I know, my behavior at any given moment has been nothing more than the product of my genetic endowment, my personal history, and the current setting."

    B. F. Skinner (1983)3

    The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."

    Carl Rogers (1961)4

    Experimental investigation...should lay a solid foundation for a future true science of psychology."

    Ivan Pavlov (1927)5

    Famous Psychologists - Key takeaways

    • Psychology has been a field of study since the late 1800s when Wilhelm Wundt started a laboratory research group just for psychology (the very first!) at the University of Leipzig in Germany.
    • A psychologist is a scientist who focuses on studying one or more areas of human behavior or mental processes.
    • The father of psychology is generally considered to be Wilhelm Wundt, but William James is considered the father of American psychology.
    • Technically, the first female psychologist was Margaret Floy Washburn, but Mary Whiton Calkins met all of the requirements for the degree before Washburn.
    • Sigmund Freud is considered a major contributor to each of these subfields: psychoanalytic, developmental, clinical, and personality.

    References

    1. Freud, S. (1935: reprinted 1960). A general introduction to psychoanalysis. Washington Square Press
    2. Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority. Harper & Row.
    3. Skinner, B. F. (1983, September). Origins of a behaviorist. pp. 22–33.
    4. Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin.
    5. Pavlov, I. (1927). Conditioned reflexes: An investigation of the physiological activity of the cerebral cortex. Oxford University Press.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Famous Psychologists

    Who is the most famous psychologist?

    The most famous psychologist is usually considered to be Wilhelm Wundt or Sigmund Freud.

    Who is the most famous psychologist right now?

    The most famous psychologist right now is any of several prominent researchers, including Seligman, Gardner, and Zimbardo.

    Who is the real father of psychology?

    The real father of psychology is generally considered to be Wilhelm Wundt, but William James is considered the father of American psychology.

    Who was the first child psychologist?

    The first child psychologist was Jean Piaget who studied cognitive development in children.

    Who was the first female psychologist?

    The first female to receive a doctoral degree in psychology was Margaret Floy Washburn, but Mary Whiton Calkins met all of the requirements for the degree before Washburn.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who founded the first psychology laboratory?

    Who is considered the father of experimental psychology?

    Which of the following is NOT a key researcher in the field of behaviorism?

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