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Famous March Psychologists: Hans Eysenck

Hans Eysenck was born in Germany on March 4, 1916. His parents were actors and divorced when Hans was 2 years old. Due to the misunderstandings between his parents, Hans was raised by his grandmother.

At the age of 18, when the Nazis came to power, Hans left the country and moved to England. In 1940 he took his doctorate in psychology at the University of London. During the Second World War, he was a psychologist in an emergency hospital, where he researched the fidelity of psychiatric diagnosis. The results led him to a strong antagonism with the clinical psychology of the times.

After the war, he taught at the University of London and was director of the psychology department at the Institute of Psychiatry associated with Bethlehem Royal Hospital. He wrote 75 books and 700 articles, becoming one of the most prolific theorists in psychology. He retired in 1983 but continued writing until his death on September 4, 1997.

Eysenck’s theory of personality

Eysenck’s theory is based primarily on physiology and genetics. Although he is a behaviourist and gives a great deal of importance to his learned habits, he believes that personality differences have their roots in genetic inheritance. He was particularly interested in temperament.

For over 50 years Eysenck has studied, experimented and supported the three-dimensional model of personality: extraversion, neuroticism and psychoticism. As such, he has conducted an impressive number of experimental research, most in the laboratory, to determine the physiological correlates of this dimension.

In his work “Dimensions of Personality” published in 1947, Eysenck gave the following definition of personality:

“Personality is the total amount of behavioural patterns present or potential of the body, as determined by heredity and the environment”

Neuroticism

Neuroticism is the name Eysenck used to describe a temperamental dimension from calm and quiet to nervous. His research has shown that nervous people tend to suffer from neurosis [1], hence the name of the dimension. But he did not claim that people who have high scores on the scale of neuroticism are necessarily neurotic, but that they are more prone to develop this trait.

Eysenck was convinced that since each individual has a place on the normality-neuroticism axis, then this dimension of personality is one with a genetic basis and physiological support. For this reason, he turned his attention to physiological research to find support for this hypothesis.

[1] Neurosis = minor mental disorder that does not affect the essential functions of personality and which the person is conscious in part. Neurotic is anxious, uncertain of his status and social role, aggressive with others, presents insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders, fatigue, lack of energy and impulse, fear of failure, general biological discomfort.

Extraversion-Introversion

Eysenck believed that this dimension is found in every individual and offered a complex physiological explanation, claiming that these two traits hold the balance between inhibition and excitement in the brain. Thus, excitement is when the brain “wakes up”, enters in the alert mode, learning state and inhibition is when the brain “calms” itself, either in the sense of relaxation or sleep or for the purpose of self-protection in the event of over-stimulation. Moreover, Eysenck suggested that extroverted individuals lack  “arousal” and as such, their brain requires external stimulation in order to remain alert, while introverts’ brain tries to protect itself from over-stimulation.

Some of Eysenck’s Major Publications

Eysenck HJ. Neuroticism and the illusion of mental health. The American Psychologist. 49: 971-2. PMID 7985888

Eysenck HJ. Creativity and Personality: Word Association, Origence, and Psychoticism Creativity Research Journal. 7: 209-216. DOI: 10.1080/10400419409534525

Eysenck HJ. Cancer, personality and stress: Prediction and prevention Advances in Behaviour Research and Therapy. 16: 167-215. DOI: 10.1016/0146-6402(94)00001-8

Eysenck HJ. Neuroticism, Anxiety, and Depression Psychological Inquiry. 2: 75-76. DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli0201_17

Eysenck HJ. The causes and cures of prejudice: a reply Personality and Individual Differences. 11: 649. DOI: 10.1016/0191-8869(90)90052-S

Eysenck HJ. The concept of “intelligence”: Useful or useless? Intelligence. 12: 1-16. DOI: 10.1016/0160-2896(88)90019-0

Eysenck HJ. Temperament, personality and activity. J. Strelau, Academic Press, London (1983) 375 pages. Personality and Individual Differences. 6: 145-146. 

For more information on Eysenck’s theory, please visit https://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-theories.html

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