OBITUARY: Professor Hans Eysenck
Monday 08 September 1997
Eysenck seemed to relish controversy, and called his autobiography Rebel with a Cause (1990). He championed Arthur Jensen's belief in inherited IQ racial differences. He supported the tobacco industry's denial that cigarette smoking had been proved to cause lung cancer. He espoused Michel Gauquelin's conclusion that the positions in the sky of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn at birth correlate with adult personality traits. In each of these cases he adopted a position that many scientists found outrageous.
On the other hand Eysenck was a leading spokesman for a view that has been popular in academic psychology: that Freud was not a scientist and that psychoanalysis is unscientific. Eysenck repeatedly returned to this theme in articles, books and lectures over more than 30 years.
"Portrayed as extremist on many issues," he once said, he felt nevertheless that he had "always been an apostle of moderation". Yet "The Psychologist They Most Love To Hate" was the title of a profile of him in the weekly journal New Scientist. He aroused passions so strong that people attempted violence on him to prevent him from speaking publicly.
Eysenck did not practise psychotherapy himself. However, he pioneered in Britain behaviour therapy, which uses experimentally established principles of learning in order to change maladaptive behaviour. Similarly he did not research himself the genetics of intelligence, and based his writings about this subject upon other researchers' work.
Eysenck was born in Berlin in 1916. He hated Hitler and Nazism and in 1934, after enrolling as a physics student at Berlin University, he left Germany. He went to Dijon, in order to study French language, literature and history. After a few months he decided he preferred England, partly because he "felt safer" with the Channel between Hitler and himself.
He enrolled at London University expecting to study physics and astronomy. However, candidates for that course had to do two science topics on the entrance examination, and Eysenck, apparently ignorant of the requirement, had not done so, and found he was ineligible. He had insufficient funds to wait another year and wanted to study a science subject. He alleged he had "never heard" of psychology, but it was the least unscientific subject available given the exams he had passed. At the time he was "furious", but it turned out for the best, he later wrote. "In the larger ocean of the physical sciences life would have been very much harder." Years later he said light-heartedly that he could not take seriously a scientific discipline which would have him as a prominent figure.
He studied psychology under Sir Cyril Burt, and emphasised statistical analysis and explored individual differences. Eysenck got his bachelor's degree from University College in 1938, and in the same year married his first wife, Margaret Davies. They had one child, Michael, born in 1944, who went on to become Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, London University.
Hans Eysenck's PhD thesis, officially supervised by Burt, and published in 1940, investigated how artistic judgement or taste varies among individuals. Like nearly all Eysenck's work, this research expressed his view that scientific advance depends upon measurement. From 1942 to 1946 he worked at Mill Hill Emergency Hospital in north London. He moved from there to the Maudsley Hospital in south London.
His first published work, in 1944, was on social attitudes. The statistical analysis of attitudes and the psychology of politics became career interests. He held the view that, besides the distinction between conservatism on the Right and radicalism on the Left, "tough-mindedness" (or authoritarianism) is distinguishable from "tender-mindedness". He found evidence for his view, later expounded in his Psychology of Politics (1954), that the tough- minded include Fascists on the Right and Communists on the Left, whereas liberals are tender-minded. Further, men are more tough-minded than women, and working-class people more tough-minded than the middle classes.
He also came to "discover", as he put it, that "prejudice, authoritarianism, religion, conservatism and other social concepts require a very strong genetic component in their causation". He found that "roughly half the causal factors in producing the variety of social attitudes" were genetic in origin, the rest being due to environmental differences within families and between families.
A major objective for Eysenck was to develop a scientific understanding of personality. At Mill Hill he wrote his first book, Dimensions of Personality (1947), which tried to describe and to explain individual differences in human personality. Based upon observing and recording performance on objective tests, as well as behaviour, such as expressed opinions, attitudes and preferences, he developed the concept of "neuroticism". He equated neuroticism with "emotionality" and defined it as an "inherited emotional instability" that predisposes a person to form neurotic symptoms under stress. He also studied another factor, introversion-extraversion, related to Carl Jung's introversion- extroversion typology, which Eysenck found was independent of neuroticism. In a later book, The Scientific Study of Personality (1952), he added a third dimension of personality, "psychoticism", which he believed discriminated people diagnosed as psychotic from normal and neurotic people. Eysenck regarded personality largely as innate and genetically determined.
Eysenck's second marriage was in 1950 to Sybil Rostal. He married her "for love", and remained "in that state", he said in 1990, "for some 40 years now - a boring tale perhaps, but there is a lot to be said for such a state!" He did not fall into the category of someone "whose private life - or sexual behaviour - is really relevant to their autobiography". "By Kinsey's standards," he said, his life had been "extremely average". Nothing "would bring a blush to the face of an octogenarian spinster in Bournemouth!" Sybil Eysenck later became a noted psychologist herself and co-authored several books with her husband.
He and Sybil had both been only children, and had "regretted very much the absence of any brothers or sisters". They had both been determined to avoid the "only child" status for their children, and had together three sons and a daughter.
Invited by the psychiatrist Sir Aubrey Lewis, founder of the Institute of Psychiatry, Eysenck joined him there in 1950. Eysenck became (in his own words) Lewis's "blue-eyed boy", who "could do no wrong". Initially Lewis defended him against attacks by colleagues who resented Eysenck's criticisms of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. However, when Lewis later argued that patients should be treated only by medically qualified therapists, Eysenck opposed him - and won. Eysenck believed that psychology was "a fundamental scientific discipline" which alone was "able to discover the laws of nature according to which behaviour could be controlled", whereas psychiatry was "merely an applied discipline making use, at best, of the discoveries of psychology".
Eysenck worked at the Maudsley Hospital and at the institute for most of his professional life. In 1950 he was appointed Reader in Psychology, a subsection of the Department of Psychiatry. In 1955 the psychology department became independent, and Eysenck became the professor. The department has trained postgraduate students in clinical psychology for MPhil, MSc and PhD degrees. This was the first course in clinical psychology to be recognised by an English university. More than anyone else Eysenck was responsible for establishing clinical psychology as a profession in Britain.
The Diploma in Psychological Medicine used to be the major psychiatric qualification in the United Kingdom, and psychology was an important part of the examination. For many years Eysenck gave psychology lectures to candidates. He taught many of the people who later became professors of psychiatry in Britain, and among the things he taught them were his criticisms of psychoanalysis.
One of Eysenck's "proudest boasts" as a teacher was that there has been no Eysenckian school. He always "insisted", he said, that his students should remain critical of his own theories as well as of everybody else's.
"Each patient," he wrote, "constitutes a scientific problem of its own" and "the skill of the clinical psychologist consists in solving this unique problem in terms of the general principles offered by academic psychology". This he illustrated in Case Histories in Behaviour Therapy (1974), which he edited.
He was interested in developing theories underlying behaviour therapy. He thought that the scientific explanation of neuroses lies in learning theory. He discussed these issues in Theoretical Foundations of Behaviour Therapy (1988), which he co-edited with Irene Martin, a student and colleague. He also emphasised the importance of genetic factors in neurosis, and the relevance of personality differences to treatment.
At informal meetings of students and colleagues, "Hans made sure," reported Martin, that
the opponents were unambiguously identified: psychoanalysts, dangerous through their wealth and influence, psychiatrists through their dominance, unscientific psychologists . . . Hans went gleefully into battle. If behaviour therapy based on theory was to dominate, then Freudians had to be demoted and psychiatrists put into their proper place. If his personality theory was to rise, others had to fall.
In 1962 Eysenck became editor of the International Series of Monographs in Experimental Psychology. In 1963, he founded the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy (nicknamed "Brat"), and until 1978 was editor-in- chief.
Extending the principles of behaviour therapy to another field, he was among the first to argue, in Sex, Violence and the Media (1978), co-authored with D.K.B. Nias, that sex and violence on television do affect viewers.
Outside the academic world, he is perhaps best known for four popular books: Uses and Abuses of Psychology (1953), Sense and Nonsense in Psychology (1957), Know Your Own IQ (1962) and Fact and Fiction in Psychology (1965). These books have sold millions of copies in many translations and reprintings. They include chapters about hypnosis and suggestibility, lie detectors and truth drugs, telepathy and clairvoyance, the interpretation of dreams, the measurement of personality, the psychology of aesthetics, the measurement of intelligence, the effects of psychotherapy, national stereotypes, the psychology of anti-Semitism, and many other subjects. In 1981 he and his son Michael collaborated in a popular book, Mindwatching.
In 1983, aged 67, Hans Eysenck retired from the Maudsley Hospital and from the Institute of Psychiatry, "an unwilling victim," he wrote, "of ageism". He stayed on at the institute as Professor Emeritus. He wrote that "a more welcome transition has been that from `Dad' to `Grandad' ".
Eysenck once said that he was "not a good psychologist in the layman's sense", that is, "a person who has an intuitive understanding of other people's reactions". He said that tact and diplomacy were never his "strong points". They were "fine in international relations and politics", but in science only the facts mattered. He thought, he might have had this view "implanted" in his "genes". On another occasion he said that "such abilities" as he had in science lay "largely on the quantitative side, in measurement, psychometrics and statistical analysis".
A further self-assessment, presumably based upon responses to his own questionnaires, was that his characteristics were "independence, dominance, non-conformism, emotional stability, assertiveness, rebelliousness, risk- taking, ego control and (perhaps?) bloody-mindedness".
He regarded himself as a successful scientist, which he was. He attributed his success to have been "blessed with a high IQ, strong scientific motivation, considerable persistence, good health, a stable introverted personality which history has shown to be best fitted for scientific research, and special abilities of fast reading and writing".
A measure of a scientist's success is the number of instances that other scientists cite their work. That Eysenck liked giving weight to things that could be measured is shown by the last page of his autobiography: it lists members of the British psychology departments with the most citations in the 1985 Social Sciences Citation Index. He was far in front with 813 citations. The next nearest had 251.
Hans Jurgen Eysenck, psychologist: born Berlin 4 March 1916; Senior Research Psychologist, Mill Hill Emergency Hospital 1942-46; Director, Psychological Department, Maudsley Hospital 1946-83; Reader in Psychology, London University (Institute of Psychiatry) 1950-54, Professor of Psychology 1955-83 (Emeritus); married 1938 Margaret Davies (deceased; one son), 1950 Sybil Rostal (three sons, one daughter); died 4 September 1997.
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