Throughout psychology’s relatively brief history, there have been many famous psychologists who have left their mark both on psychology and on the world at large. While some of these individuals do not necessarily fit today’s definition of a ‘psychologist’, a term which indicates a doctoral-level degree in psychology, their influence on psychology is without question. Learn more about psychologists by browsing through this list of some of the most famous thinkers in psychology history. Alfred Adler
Public Domain Alfred Adler is known as one of the most influential thinkers in psychology.
While he was initially a member of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Adler eventually departed from Freud’s theories and developed his own perspective, which he called Individual Psychology. He had a strong influence on a number of other eminent psychologists, including Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Karen Horney. Mary Ainsworth
Mary Ainsworth was a psychologist best known for her research on attachment theory and the development of the “strange situation” assessment.
Her work played an important role in our understanding of child development and has influenced other fields including education. Gordon Allport
Gordon Allport was a psychologist perhaps best-known as one of the founding figures of personality psychology. He also developed a trait theory of personality that described three broad categories of personality traits. Solomon Asch
Solomon Asch was a pioneering social psychologist. His famous conformity experiments demonstrated that people will claim that something is correct when it obviously is not due to social pressure from peers. Asch also had an important influence on psychologist Stanley Milgram, whose own obedience experiments were inspired by Asch’s work.
Albert Bandura is a psychologist known for his famous “Bobo doll” experiment as well as his concepts of self-efficacy and social learning. Bandura’s work is considered part of the cognitive revolution in psychology that began in the late 1960s. His theories have had tremendous impact on personality psychology, cognitive psychology, education, and therapy. Alfred Binet
Public Domain Alfred Binet was a French psychologist famous for his development of the first widely used intelligence test. He is often described as one of the most influential thinkers in psychology history and his original test still serves as the basis for modern measures of intelligence. Mary Whiton Calkins
Mary Whiton Calkins was the first female president of the American Psychological Association. She studied at Harvard with famous teachers including William James and Hugo Munsterberg. Despite completing all of the requirements for a doctorate degree in psychology, Harvard refused to grant her degree simply because she was a woman.
James McKeen Cattell Image courtesy Library of Congress James McKeen Cattell was the first U.S. psychology professor. He is an important figure in psychology thanks to his work in intelligence, his use of quantitative methods and his focus on establishing psychology as a legitimate science. Raymond Cattell
Image from Wikimedia Commons Raymond Cattell was a pioneering thinker who is perhaps best known for his use of multivariate analysis and his 16-factor personality model. Mamie Phipps Clark Mamie Phipps Clark was a pioneering psychologist known for her important research on child development and self-concept among minorities. As the first black woman to graduate from Columbia University, she faced discrimination because of her race and her gender. Her research with her husband, Kenneth Clark, played a major role in the Supreme Court’s decision in the pivotal Brown vs. Board of Education case.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi He’s an important contemporary psychologist, but one of your first questions is probably “How do you pronounce his name?” (It’s me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee, by the way.) Learn more about his work and contributions to modern psychology in this brief biography.
John Dewey Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons John Dewey was an American psychologist, philosopher, writer and educational theorist. His work had a vital influence on psychology, education and philosophy and he is often considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th-century. His emphasis on progressive education has contributed greatly to the use of experimentation rather than an authoritarian approach to knowledge.
Erik Erikson Public Domain Erik Erikson’s well-known stage theory of psychosocial development helped generate interest and inspire research on human development through the lifespan. An ego psychologist who studied with Anna Freud, Erikson expanded psychoanalytic theory by exploring development throughout the full lifespan, including events of childhood, adulthood and old age. Hans Eysenck
Image from the Wikimedia Commons / Sirswindon at en.wikipedia Hans Eyesenck was a very prolific psychologist, publishing more than 75 books and 1600 journal articles. Prior to his death in 1997, he was the living psychologist most frequently cited in scientific books and journal articles. He was also a very controversial figure, and his outspoken views of subjects ranging from psychotherapy to intelligence made him the subject of criticism. Leon Festinger
Leon Festinger was an influential social psychologist who is well-known for his theory of cognitive dissonance as well as his social comparison theory. Anna Freud Anna Freud began her career influenced by the theories of her father, Sigmund Freud. Far from living in her father’s shadow, Anna made important contributions of her own to psychology. She founded child psychoanalysis and summarized the ego’s defense mechanisms in her book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (1936). Sigmund Freud
Public Domain Sigmund Freud may be one of the best known figures in history, but he is also one of the most controversial. He was the founder of the school of thought known as psychoanalysis. The legacy of his life and work provokes both impassioned acclaim from his supporters and disdain from his detractors. While some view him as a cultural icon and others see him as a pseudo-scientific charlatan, there is no question that Freud left an indelible mark on psychology as well as other disciplines.
Erich Fromm Liss Goldring / Erich Fromm Estate Erich Fromm was a neo-Freudian psychoanalyst who had a major influence on humanistic psychology. Today Fromm is remembered for his concept of freedom as a fundamental component of human nature.