In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hans Eysenck

  • Introduction
  • Biographical and Autobiographical Works and Obituaries
  • Archival and Bibliographic Resources
  • Web-Based Resources
  • Tribute Volumes and Special Journal Issues
  • Personal Life
  • Integrative Vision and Professional Initiatives
  • Research Impact and Collaborations
  • Early Research on Aesthetic Preferences
  • Personality Psychology and the Individual Differences Approach
  • Behavioral Genetics
  • Neurobiological Basis of Personality
  • Measurement Scales
  • Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy
  • Behavior Therapy and Psychopathology
  • Intelligence
  • Intelligence and Racial Differences
  • Politics and Personality
  • Crime and Personality
  • Sex, Astrology, ESP, Parapsychology, and Creativity
  • Smoking, Cancer, and Heart Disease
  • Popular Writing

Psychology Hans Eysenck
Rod Buchanan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 March 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0262


Hans Jurgen Eysenck (b. 1916–d. 1997) was a towering figure in personality psychology, notable for the audacity of his theorizing, the expansive scope of his empirical research, and the often-controversial views he expressed. Eysenck was the most significant figure in the history of British psychology by almost any measure. He is also likely to remain so because historical circumstances ensured he had an impact on a developing discipline that can never be duplicated. Eysenck was born in Berlin in 1916 at the height of the Great War, the only child of German film and stage performers Ruth Werner (aka Helga Molander) and Eduard Eysenck. The toxic prewar political climate in Germany saw him emigrate to England in 1934 soon after finishing secondary school. Almost by accident, Eysenck took up psychology at University College, London, and was mentored by Cyril Burt. He was almost interred as an enemy alien during the early stages of the war but was subsequently recruited by Aubrey Lewis in 1942 to lead the psychology program at Mill Hill Emergency Hospital – which functioned as the relocated Maudsley Hospital at the time. After the war, Lewis founded the Institute of Psychiatry, adjacent and affiliated with the Maudsley in south London. By 1955, Eysenck was made full professor within an independent psychology department at the institute and remained there for the rest of his career. Eysenck took the individual differences approach pioneered by Spearman and Burt to a new level. He developed a distinctively programmic approach that began with his derivation of three key dimensions of personality: neuroticism, extraversion, and psychoticism. Much of Eysenck’s later research explored how these dimensional differences played out across a wide variety of areas. Eysenck also attempted to give his personality dimensions a neurobiological basis. Eysenck’s research legacy was assured by his huge output—at least eighty-five books and more than a thousand scientific papers, many highly cited. He also laid the blueprint for the development of clinical psychology in Britain, founded several journals and professional associations, and trained many students. Yet Eysenck was full of contradictions. He advocated a no-nonsense, empirical rigor, but his critics came to distrust the numbers he presented. He consistently lambasted psychoanalysis at the height of its mainstream influence but took fringe areas such as astrology, ESP, and parapsychology seriously. For much of his career, this quiet, introverted man was the public face of the discipline in Britain. Many of his books were geared to popular audiences. However, Eysenck’s late career interventions in the race and IQ debate and the smoking and health issue would cement his polarizing reputation as a fearless, if politically incorrect, controversialist.

Biographical and Autobiographical Works and Obituaries

Eysenck’s career is one of the most well-charted of any psychologists. He has been the subject of three major biographies: Gibson 1981, Buchanan 2010, and Corr 2016. Each of these biographies has different emphases and strengths. Eysenck also penned two versions of his memoirs, Eysenck 1990 and Eysenck 1997. Many obituaries and tributes appeared after his death, including Gray 1997 and Freeman 1997.

  • Buchanan, Rod D. 2010. Playing with fire: The controversial career of Hans J. Eysenck. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Lengthy intellectual biography where the focus is on the development of Eysenck’s theories and his approach to research. Gives detailed accounts of the origins of Eysenck’s work on personality and its neurobiological basis, his role in promoting behavior therapy, and his involvement in many controversies, including race and IQ and smoking and health.

  • Corr, Philip J. 2016. Hans Eysenck: A contradictory psychology. London: Palgrave.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-57323-0

    The most recent biography of Eysenck, highlighting the intellectual contradictions of Eysenck’s work, the enormous breadth of his interests, and the contemporary status of his contributions to various fields.

  • Eysenck, Hans J. 1990 Rebel with a cause. London: W.H. Allen.

    Eysenck gives a personal and entertaining account of his early life in Germany and a tour of his research career in terms of the many “battles” he fought.

  • Eysenck, Hans J. 1997. Rebel with a cause. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press.

    Extended version of Eysenck’s autobiography that includes coverage of the last few years of his life.

  • Freeman, J. 1997. The pugnacious psychologist. The Guardian, 8 September.

    An obituary that emphasizes Eysenck’s role as a public intellectual, “the people’s psychologist.”

  • Gibson, Hamilton Bertie. 1981. Hans Eysenck: The man and his work. London: Peter Owen.

    A distinctly friendly biography that appeared just before Eysenck retired in 1983. It is thus incomplete, given that Eysenck continued his research and professional activities well into retirement. It is light on technical discussion but conveys a good sense of the social milieu of the Institute of Psychiatry during Eysenck’s tenure.

  • Gray, Jeffrey A. 1997. Obituary: Hans Jürgen Eysenck (1916–97). Nature 389:794.

    DOI: 10.1038/39755

    A tribute from a prominent former colleague, focusing on Eysenck’s research contribution.

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