Gardner Murphy

Gardner Murphy (July 8, 1895 – March 18, 1979) was an American psychologist specialising in social and personality psychology and parapsychology.[1] His career highlights included serving as president of the American Psychological Association, and of the British Society for Psychical Research.[2]

Gardner Murphy
BornJuly 8, 1895
DiedMarch 18, 1979 (1979-03-19) (aged 83)
OccupationPsychologist, psychical researcher
Spouse(s)Lois Barclay


Family life and education

Murphy was born on July 8, 1895 in Chillicothe, Ohio, US. He was the son of Edgar Gardner Murphy, an Episcopal minister and known activist.[1] Upon graduating with a BA from Yale University in 1916, Murphy attended Harvard University, working with L. T. Troland in a telepathy experiment, and achieving his MA in 1917. Murphy succeeded Troland as holder of the Hodgson Fellowship in Psychical Research at Harvard University. After the war, in 1919, Murphy continued his studies at Columbia University, working towards his PhD, and combined this, until it was awarded in 1923, with work under the Hodgson Fellowship.[3] He later married Lois Barclay and had two children, Al and Margaret.[4]

Murphy was recognized for being generous and kind, such as offering assistance or loans if a student or colleague was in trouble.[4] He also spoke out against racial conflicts and advocated for peaceful relations.


Murphy was inspired by the works of psychologists and scientists such as Herbert Spencer, Sigmund Freud, William James and Charles Darwin. Most of his works integrated aspects of each of these previous scientists. Murphy was a strong admirer of Freud, often drawing from his psychoanalytic theories. He considered Freud a true artistic genius, while still being critical of him.[5] Murphy was especially interested in Freud's perspective of the self, including regression and needs.[6] The world was skeptical of Freud at the time, yet Murphy still embraced his ideas and was often ridiculed for it.

While researching William James, Murphy took interest in James' philosophical perspective. He admired how James easily defined the boundaries between man, world and consciousness. Along with James and Freud, Murphy also took to Darwin, specifically his theory of evolution. Murphy particularly focused on the theory of adapt behavior in organisms,[7] which says that animals adapt to their environments for their own survival. This particular theory of evolutionary adaption played a hand in multiple personality theories Murphy later presented.


He studied the medium Leonora Piper, and collaborating with French chemist and psychical researcher René Warcollier in a transatlantic telepathy experiment. From 1921-1925, he served as lecturer in psychology at Columbia University. In 1925, Clark University hosted a symposium on psychical research, and, together with Harvard psychologist William McDougall, Murphy argued for the respect of the field as an academic discipline, while recognizing the difficulties of scientific acceptance and experimentation. From 1925-1929, he continued at Columbia University in the capacity of instructor and assistant professor in psychology. He was re-appointed as Hodgson Fellow at Harvard in 1937. From 1940-1942 he was professor and chairman of the Department of Psychology at City College in New York. From 1952, he worked as director of research for the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. He was elected to the presidency of the American Psychological Association in 1944. He subsequently served as the President of the British Society for Psychical Research in 1949 (which he had joined in 1917), and was Director of the Parapsychology Foundation in 1951.[1][8] Murphy authored several texts in psychology, including Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology (1928; 1949), Personality (1947), and Human Potentialities (1958). He was a contributor to personality, social and clinical psychology and an early exponent of humanistic psychology.[9] During these years, he continued his association with psychical research, including sitting on the council of the American Society for Psychical Research and serving as chair of its research committee; serving as an editor of the Journal of Parapsychology (1939–1941), speaking at professional symposia on psychical research; writing report, review and critical articles in general scientific, psychological as well as parapsychological journals.[1] He also supported (through his own book royalties) experimental studies by J. G. Pratt at Columbia (1935–1937); authoring an introductory review to the field, The Challenge of Psychical Research (1961), as well as William James and Psychical Research (1973) (with R. Ballou) and a 20-page article on parapsychology for the Encyclopedia of Psychology (1946); editing an English-language publication of Warcollier's reports (1938) and writing forewords for several parapsychological monographs.

Murphy died on 18 March 1979 in Washington, D.C.[10]

Contributions to psychology

Social psychology

Murphy proposed the biosocial personality theory, which stated that personality was both biological and social.[7] "Biosocial" was not original term created by Murphy. Rather, Murphy stole the term and made it his own. At the center of the theory is canalization. This term too, was stolen. Murphy believed that canalization is needs are shaped by the specific ways they are being satisfied.[4] This instance, when the needs are being satisfied, is then controlled by two main mechanisms: regularity and relevance. These two components say, experience creates another experience based on the proximity of the relationship.[7] The theory was presented in his book Personality published in 1947.

In his book he proposed three main components to personality. Firstly, personality acts within a larger structure and second, has its own inner workings. In addition it is an entity that is shaped by its environment.[6] Other parts of the book discuss his biosocial theory canalization and autism. Autism, as Murphy defines it, is actions are designed by the satisfaction of needs while placing special emphasis on the self.[4]

Murphy also studied parapsychology, which at the time was not taken seriously. Many thought it was a joke and should not be considered a real science. Murphy thought differently. He believed that it is the scientist's job to expand the known science and push beyond the set boundaries.[4] He produced numerous studies on the paranormal, specifically about telekinesis, psychokinesis, and despite constant ridicule.

Humanistic psychology

The humanistic psychology movement did not occur until the 1960s. However, much of Murphy's writings were an early component of the movement and really set the stage for its beginnings. Generally, Murphy believed in the good of humanity, often producing works on the problems and solutions of societies, human nature, and individualism. These particular works were so inspiring that, at the time, many European refugee psychologists referenced his ideas in their arguments for peace in their countries.[4]

Murphy's book Human Potentialities (1958) covered a wide range of topics about the welfare of the human being. In general, Murphy rejected the idea of human nature being predetermined and unable to change.[11] Instead he proposed three distinct human natures. First, because of the theory of evolution, human nature is in a constant state of flux, and therefore, always changing.[11] Second, man’s various cultures were brought about by the instability of human nature.[11] Finally, man has an essential artistic view of the world that allows for the expansion of its boundaries.[11] These human natures were essential to his idea of human potentiality and prejudices. Prejudices are formed because of man's constant state of flux. Researching these ideas, Murphy concluded that prejudices did not exist because of logical reasoning. Rather, prejudices come about through natural spontaneous reactions.[12] With that in mind, Murphy suggested three principles when researching human potential. Firstly, the environment plays a role in the individuals' ideas of gaining experience.[13] Second potentialities are created through new experiences of the self rather than through cultural experience.[13] He concludes that there is no limit to the amount of new potentialities that can be created.[13]

He also published papers focusing on the boundaries between the individual, society, and world order. Murphy identified what he believed to be the source of conflict: individualism. He believed too much emphasis was placed on the definition of individualism; so much so that the true definition has been replaced by the idea of competition.[14] In other words the idea of winning and losing. Individualism only allows the person to view what is in their direct view, not the big picture.[14] The idea of competition is non societal; it takes care of the individual and their needs, but not the needs of society.

It is the problems of man that Murphy wanted to solve which pushed him to write Science and Order (1962). Through his research, he discovered ways of bettering the world through the scientific community. He proposed ten ideas that, while extreme, would essentially be beneficial to the world. First he proposed the idea of disarmament. Instead of weaponry, he suggested using common knowledge to come to an understanding. Second, create newer technology that would enable less reliability on weapons. In recommendations three, four, and five, Murphy suggested using different research methods to study the paths, decisions, and predictions that lead war to better prepare for future conflicts. In his last four recommendations, Murphy suggested studying politician personalities to better handle situational crises. He also suggested updating the educational system to fully include a firm understanding of the world and what is at stake; while also promoting more communication techniques to better understand adversaries.[15]

Later within his career he served as a consultant to the Indian Government researching solutions to the Hindu-Muslim conflict.[4] During this time, he gained knowledge of the local cultures and personalities of the native people. His time there led him to collect numerous data of Indian cultures and life incorporating the data into solutions for western problems. This work became known as Asian Psychology.

Other notable works and theories

Murphy had many prominent theories and ideas throughout his lifetime. Before his ideas of social psychology, Murphy bounced around different learning theories and ideas, building off of what was already known. His learning theories are a good example. Murphy believed that perception is learned the same way as behaviors, through reward and punishment.[16] Murphy believed that perception fulfills multiple roles beyond relaying the sensory information to the brain. It was a way of fulfilling needs as well.[16] This satisfaction of needs is displayed in many of his other publications.


Murphy's Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology (1929) received a positive review in the British Medical Journal which stated "no purely objective record could be as successful as Dr. Gardner Murphy's presentation of the history, which bears evidence everywhere of a judicious choice of material and of such emphasis as is free from any prepossession."[17] Edwin Boring described it as "an exceptionally good book".[18] The 1949 revised edition received a mixed review by Alphonse Chapanis in The Quarterly Review of Biology who wrote the book did not present a balanced synopsis of research but recommended it as a "useful addition to the psychologist's library".[19] However, Ralph H. Turner wrote Murphy maintained an "exceptional order of objectivity through most of his presentation" and described it as "a very useful text".[20]

Murphy's introductory psychological textbook An Introduction to Psychology (1951) received positive reviews.[21][22] Alastair Heron described it as a "textbook for the interested and not-too-sophisticated reader who hopes to become more interested without becoming at the same time more sophisticated."[23]

In his book Challenge of Psychical Research (1961), Murphy documented research into clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis and telepathy.[24] John L. Kennedy wrote there was inadequate information about the role of the experimenter during psychical research experiments.[25] Ralph W. Gerard gave the book a positive review but stated the results from the experiments may be explainable by alternative factors such as misinterpretation or unintended cues without recourse to the paranormal.[26]

Psychologist L. Börje Löfgren heavily criticized Challenge of Psychical Research stating that Murphy hardly ever considered the "possibility that spontaneous occurrences might actually be memory falsifications (conscious or unconscious), simple lies, or similar phenomena." He concluded his review by suggesting the book is "especially apt to do much damage and seduce people into believing in things for which there is extremely scant evidence."[27]



  • Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology (1929, revised edition 1949)
  • Experimental social psychology; an interpretation of research upon the socialization of the individual (1931)
  • A Briefer General Psychology (1935)
  • An Introduction to Psychology (1951)
  • In the Minds of Men: The Study of Human Behavior and Social Tensions in India (1953)
  • Human Potentialities (1958)
  • Challenge of Psychical Research: A Primer of Parapsychology (1961)
  • Personality (1947)
  • Asian Psychology (1968)
  • Psychological Thought from Pythagoras to Freud: An Informal Introduction (1968)
  • William James on Psychical Research (1973)
  • Humanistic Psychology (1989)
  • There is More Beyond: Selected Papers of Gardner Murphy (1989)


  • Murphy, G (1941). "Some Present-Day Trends in Psychical Research". Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. 35: 118–132.
  • Murphy, G (1945). "Field Theory and Survival". Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. 39: 181–209.
  • Schmeidler, G. R.; Murphy, G. (1946). "The Influence of Belief and Disbelief in ESP Upon Individual Scoring Level". Journal of Experimental Psychology. 36 (3): 271–276. doi:10.1037/h0054099. PMID 20985363.
  • Murphy, G (1949). "Psychical Research and Personality [Presidential address]". Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. 49: 1–15.
  • Murphy, G (1953). "Psychology and Psychical Research". Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. 50: 26–49.
  • Murphy, G (1958). "Trends in the Study of Extrasensory Perception". American Psychologist. 13 (2): 69–76. doi:10.1037/h0042474.
  • Murphy, G (1962). "Report on Paper by Edward Girden on Psychokinesis". Psychological Bulletin. 59 (6): 520–528. doi:10.1037/h0044213.
  • Murphy, G (1966). "Psychical Research Today". International Journal of Neuropsychiatry. 2: 357–362.
  • Murphy, G (1967). "Introductory Aspects of Modern Parapsychological Research". Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences. 30: 256–260. doi:10.1111/j.2164-0947.1967.tb02462.x.
  • Murphy, G (1973). "A Caringtonian Approach to Ian Stevenson's Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation". Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. 67: 117–129.


  1. Martin Seymour-Smith, Andrew C. Kimmens. (1996). World Authors, 1900-1950, Volume 3. H.W. Wilson. p. 1876. ISBN 08-2420-899-4
  2. "Gardner Murphy". Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology.
  3. M. Basavanna. (2000). Dictionary of Psychology. Allied Publishers. p. 263. ISBN 81-7764-030-5
  4. Hartley, Eugene L. (1980). "Obituary: Gardner Murphy (1895-1979)". American Psychologist. 35 (4): 383–385. doi:10.1037/h0078337.
  5. Murphy, Gardner (1956). "The current impact of Freud upon psychology". American Psychologist. 11 (12): 663–672. doi:10.1037/h0048812.
  6. Lindemann, Erich (1948). "Personality--a biosocial approach to origins and structure". The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 43 (4): 551–553. doi:10.1037/h0050034.
  7. Barta, William (1999). "Gardner Murphy's double-aspect psychology". Review of General Psychology. 3 (1): 55–79. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.3.1.55.
  8. "Gardner Murphy". Occultism & Parapsychology Encyclopedia.
  9. Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock. (2007). Kaplan and Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 221. ISBN 0-7817-7327-X
  10. John Shook. (2005). Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers. Theommes Continuum. p. 1776. ISBN 1-84371-037-4
  11. Krugman, Morris (1959). "Review of Human potentialities". American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 29 (4): 837–838. doi:10.1037/h0096949.
  12. Meltzer, H. (1948-04-01). "Problems in Prejudice". Journal of Educational Psychology. 39 (4): 251–253. doi:10.1037/h0049468. ISSN 1939-2176.
  13. Murphy, Gardner (1953). "Human Potentialities". Journal of Social Issues. 7: 4–19. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1953.tb02263.x.
  14. Murphy, Gardner (1943). "Problems of a war time society: I. Psychological forces, destructive and constructive: 2. Can we build a satisfactory post-war world?". American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 13 (4): 581–589. doi:10.1037/h0097218.
  15. Murphy, Gardner (1963). "Science and world order". American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 33 (1): 8–14. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.1963.tb00354.x.
  16. Proshansky, Harold; Murphy (1942). "The Effects of Reward and Punishment on Perception". The Journal of Psychology. 13 (2): 295–305. doi:10.1080/00223980.1942.9917097.
  17. History Of Psychology. (1929). British Medical Journal. Vol. 2, No. 3575. pp. 53-54.
  18. Boring, Edwin (1930). "Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology by Gardner Murphy". American Journal of Psychology. 42 (1): 156–161. doi:10.2307/1414440. JSTOR 1414440.
  19. Chapanis, Alphonse (1950). "Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology by Gardner Murphy". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 25 (1): 114. doi:10.1086/397503.
  20. Turner, Ralph H. (1950). "Historical Introduction to Modern Psychology by Gardner Murphy". American Journal of Sociology. 55 (4): 428–429. doi:10.1086/220580.
  21. Eng, Erling W. (1953). "An Introduction to Psychology by Gardner Murphy; Herbert Spohn". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 28 (2): 222–223. doi:10.1086/399677.
  22. Zangwill, Oliver (1953). "Psychology: The Fundamentals of Human Adjustment by Norman L. Munn; An Introduction to Psychology by Gardner Murphy". American Journal of Psychology. 66 (2): 316–319. doi:10.2307/1418746. JSTOR 1418746.
  23. Heron, Alastair (1952). "An Introduction to Psychology by Gardner Murphy". British Journal of Industrial Medicine. 9 (4): 315–316. doi:10.1136/oem.9.4.315. hdl:2027/mdp.39015019385197.
  24. "Challenge of Psychical Research by Gardner Murphy". Kirkus Reviews.
  25. Kennedy, John L. (1962). "Challenge of Psychical Research: A Primer of Parapsychology by Gardner Murphy". American Journal of Psychology. 75 (4): 709. doi:10.2307/1420316. JSTOR 1420316.
  26. Gerard, Ralph W. (1962). "Out, Damned Spot! Beyond the Reach of Sense by Rosalind Heywood. Challenge of Psychical Research by Gardner Murphy". The American Scholar. 31 (1): 152–154.
  27. Löfgren, L. B. (1968). "Recent Publications on Parapsychology". Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 16: 146–178. doi:10.1177/000306516801600108.

Further reading

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