15 Famous Psychologists And Their Historical Impact

Psychology is a growing branch of science that is still being developed thanks to the collective effort of these famous psychologists.

The scientific study of human behavior has seen many revolutionary developments. All of it has been possible due to the firm foundations laid by the famous psychologists in the list below.

15 Famous Psychologists and Their Historical Impact

1. Wilhelm Wundt

Considered The Father of Experimental Psychology,” William Wundt revolutionized the study of psychology forever. He founded the first laboratory for experimental psychology study at the University of Leipzig in 1879. In doing so, he set psychology apart as a separate science based entirely on empirical data and research.

He is one of the most famous psychologists for creating his school of thought in psychology. He studied consciousness and perception by breaking the whole process down to its elements, a perspective known as Structuralism.

2. William James

William James (1842) taught Harvard University’s first psychology classes, the first school to offer psychology courses in America. He developed an interest in psychology and wrote Principles of Psychology, a book that is still widely referenced worldwide.

In 1890, William James published “The Principles of Psychology” and many other works that have influenced many famous psychologists.

His viewpoint of understanding psychology was called Functionalism. Mary Whiton Calkins was one of James’ noted students and one of the many famous psychologists.

3. Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was a highly skilled surgeon who also contributed greatly to the field of psychology. He observed that behavior could be conditioned to occur in response to stimuli it was formerly unrelated to.

This process is called classic conditioning, and his experiments with the dog and a bell are very famous. He is easily one of the most famous psychologists ever.

He received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1904 for his works on digestive juices.

4. B.F. Skinner

B.F. Skinner - Operant Conditioning and Free Will

After John Watson, B.F. Skinner made great contributions to the field of psychology from the behaviorist perspective. He was greatly influenced by the scientific ventures of Ivan Pavlov and Edward Thorndike.

He studied the learning of voluntary behavior and named the process operant conditioning. Skinner, Watson, and Pavlov are considered to be the pioneers of behaviorist psychology.

Skinner was a Harvard professor until his retirement in 1974. He published “The Behavior of Organisms” in 1938.

5. Carl Jung

Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist who was born on July 26, 1875. His first major contribution was the division of personality types into two distinctions, extroverts and introverts.

His theory of individuation, various archetypes, and collective consciousness has been fundamental in forming the foundations of psychology.

It must be noted that he expounded hugely on the works of Sigmund Freud’s studies of the human mind.

6. Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow (1908) is an American psychologist who made the “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid. He explains that human motivation is for a human’s self-actualization. He played a pivotal role in the foundation of the humanistic perspective of psychology. He is one of the most famous psychologists of the 20th century.

This was formed due to his frustration with Freudian psychoanalysis and behaviorist branches of psychology. Maslow firmly believed that human beings were more than just their mental illness. He encouraged the study of the overall human experience for a better mind.

7. Mary Whiton Calkins

Mary Whiton Calkins-Public Presentation

Women were repeatedly sidelined in areas of research and study of psychology in the early days of its development. Mary Whiton Calkins was exceptional in her achievements in the field of human memory (paired association technique) and self-psychology.

Despite her influential contributions, Harvard University refused to award her a Ph.D. This was because her application for studentship was rejected. After all, she was a woman. She was allowed to sit in classes only as a guest.

Sexism was still very prevalent. It’s indeed disconcerting to see one of these famous psychologists be held back by the societal bounds of her time. Calkins was able to break through the glass ceiling and establish her legacy regardless.

She became the first woman to become the president of APA.

8. Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers on Person-Centered Therapy Video

Carl Rogers made huge contributions to humanistic psychology and was supportive of Abraham Maslow’s theories1. He rejected the stoic collective ideal of human behavior that behaviorists and Freudian psychoanalysts were keen on.

Instead, he stated that each individual varied due to their unique perception. Only the individual can be the best expert on their behavior. He made interesting observations in our understanding of human development. He published his work, “The Client-Centered Therapy,” in 1951.

9. Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget (1896) was a Swiss psychologist who made great contributions to child development and cognitive psychology. His works led to the establishment of developmental psychology as a serious sub-division of psychology. Piaget suggested that there is a crucial difference between child psychology and adult psychology.

He is also famous for his works on genetic epistemology. He also helped in the development of constructivist theory. It concerns the idea that the mind is constructed over time based on social interactions and unique experiences.

10. Erik Erikson

Erik Homburger Erikson (1902) was a developmental psychologist. He developed the theory of Psychosocial Stages of Human Development. This theory explains eight stages of psychosocial development, where a crisis is overcome to achieve a specific virtue.

Erik Erikson & Lifespan Development

This process can have positive or negative effects, which is crucial in personality development. Erikson’s theory is an all-encompassing view on personality development that does not exclude adulthood. This was a new development, which was welcomed by many.

He is also famous for coining the phrase identity crisis.

11. Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura on Behavior Therapy, Self-Efficacy and Modeling Video

Albert Bandura (1925) was Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University. He made huge contributions to the branch of social psychology. He was most famous for his social learning theory. He states that humans learn by observing and imitating other people’s behavior to fit into society.

All such behavior is honed and reinforced. He illustrated this through the simple Bobo doll experiment. He’s considered one of the greatest psychologists ever for having such a great impact on the discipline. “Self Efficacy The Exercise of Control” and “Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory” are his major works.

12. Lev S. Vygotsky

Vygotsky's Developmental Theory: An Introduction (Davidson Films, Inc.)

A prolific writer and a great thinker, Lev S. Vygotsky (1896) was a Russian psychologist. He made influential contributions to the field of developmental psychology. Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory states that children learn and grow through the dynamic social interactions they face.

He describes the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), the gap between what the child knows and what they don’t know. Parents and teachers help in the knowledge acquisition of children so that they can cross this ZPD2. He died young, due to a terrible bout of T.B., at the age of 37.

13. John B. Watson

John B. Watson (1878) was an American psychologist who formed the behaviorist school of thought in psychology. It was his idea that human behavior is quite akin to animal behavior. He was particular about researching under laboratory conditions to maintain credibility and get scientific evidence. Behaviorism was a popular school of psychology in the U.S. in the 1920s and ’30s.

To understand conditioning, he conducted a highly controversial experiment on “Little Albert,” an 11-month-old baby. He conditioned fear of rats and white furry objects in the baby by playing loud, scary sounds when shown these things.

14. Anna Freud

Anna Freud (1895) is the famed British psychoanalyst and the daughter of Sigmund Freud. She followed her father’s footsteps and made great additions to her father’s extensive works, especially in child psychology. Her major works are “Beating Fantasies and Daydreams,” “The Ego and The Mechanisms of Defence.”

She cataloged her personal experiences, along with her observations in Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic in London. Her observations that the ego develops defense mechanisms to protect itself from anxiety and depression are wonderful reads today.

15. Edward Thorndike

Edward Lee Thorndike (1874) is an American psychologist 3that observed animal behavior to form the theory of connectionism. He conducted experiments along with William James at Harvard University. He later taught educational psychology in Colombia.

His books on educational psychology were fundamental in introducing psychological techniques in school curriculums for the first time. His most famous works are “The Psychology of Wants, Interests, and Attitudes” and “Human Nature and the Social Order.”

Edward Thorndike cats experiment (behavioral psychology)

In the End

All the research done by such famous psychologists has led to the development of the science of psychology. These principles are known to be followed by modern psychologists.

All branches of psychology, especially clinical psychology4, counseling psychology, and others, have had many advances in these years. Further developments in the field of psychology will greatly help human beings prosper. The foundations laid by these famous psychologists will help.

The contributions of all these famous psychologists and many others are constantly building up this essential science of the human mind. Some theories get rejected in lieu of better theories postulated over time. But one must remember that all contributions are worthy since each human being is the expert of their brain.

Would you please let us know in the comment section how you liked our famous psychologists’ article? And what other famous psychologists would you’ve added to this list.

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  1. Seth, Anil K., and Tim Bayne. “Theories of consciousness.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 23.7 (2022): 439-452. ↩︎
  2. Xi, Jiao, and James P. Lantolf. “Scaffolding and the zone of proximal development: A problematic relationship.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 51.1 (2021): 25-48. ↩︎
  3. De Rooij, Mark, and Wouter Weeda. “Cross-validation: A method every psychologist should know.” Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science 3.2 (2020): 248-263. ↩︎
  4. Taylor, Steven. “The psychology of pandemics.” Annual review of clinical psychology 18 (2022): 581-609. ↩︎

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