20 famous psychologists and their theories (2023)

(Last update: September 25, 2022)

some of the mostfamous psychologistsin history he made important contributions to the understanding of the human mind and behavior. Some of these thinkers were also philosophers, educators, and therapists. While some have become lightning rods for controversy, all of these thinkers have impacted the field of psychology.

Learn about some of the most influential thinkers in psychology, including their lives, theories, and major contributions to psychology.

BF Skinner

BF Skinnerwas a psychologist who developed the theory ofoperant conditioning. Inspired by Pavlov and Watson, his experiments revealed that reinforcement and punishment could be used to increase or decrease the occurrence of a behavior.

He was one of the most important figures of the school of thought known asbehaviorism. In a survey of psychologists, Skinner was identified as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century.

Wilhelm Wundt

If you've ever taken an introductory psychology class, you've probably spent at least a little bit of time learning about Wilhelm Wundt. This German psychologist, physician, and philosopher is best known for establishing the first psychology laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, officially marking the beginning of psychology as a separate field of science from philosophy and physiology.

In addition to being considered one of the founders of contemporary psychology, Wundt is often referred to as the father of experimental psychology.

Originally a professor of physiology, Wundt wanted to apply the same experimental methods used in science to the study of the human mind. Wundt also influenced students of his, including Edward Titchener, who established a school of thought known asStructuralism. Structuralism focused on studying human consciousness by breaking it down into the smallest possible elements.

Alfredo Adler

Alfred Alder was an Austrian psychiatrist often considered one of the most influential thinkers in psychology. He became one of the leading members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society after Sigmund Freud extended an invitation to him, but later became the first major figure to break with Freud's ideas.

Adler developed a perspective that he called Individual Psychology. Adler had a great influence on other psychologists, including Karen Horney, Carl Rogers, andAbraham Maslow.

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William James

Philosopher and psychologist William James is widely considered the father of American psychology. Among his famous achievements is the publication of the 1,200-page text,The principles of psychology, which quickly became a classic.

Through his teachings and writings, he helped establish psychology as a science. James also contributed to functionalism and pragmatism and influenced many psychology students during his 35-year teaching career.

Eduardo Thorndike

Edward Thorndike was an American psychologist associated with the school of thought known as functionalism and other thinkers such as Harvey Carr, James Rowland Angell, and John Dewey. Thorndike is often called the father of modern educational psychology and has published several important texts on the subject.

His accomplishments included being elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1912. In 1917, he was also one of the first psychologists to become a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Thorndike is also known for his experiments with cat puzzle boxes, his concept of the law of effect, and his contributions to educational psychology.

Sigmund Freud

No list of famous psychologists would be complete without the appearance of the eminentSigmund Freud. He is often identified with Freud as one of the most famous psychologists in psychology, but he is also considered one of the most notorious.

Although his ideas were often controversial, his concept of the unconscious mind had a profound and lasting influence on psychology. His work gave birth to the field of psychoanalysis, which continues to be used in various forms as a method of treatment to this day. Other important theories that he introduced includethe id, the ego, the superego, psychosexual development and death drive.

Hugo Münsterberg

Hugo Münsterberg was a German psychologist and a pioneer in applied fields, including industrial-organizational, forensic, and clinical psychology. Münsterberg was studying medicine, but after meeting Wilhelm Wundt, he turned his interest to the field of psychology.

Münsterberg was later invited by William James to take over the psychology laboratory at Harvard University, where he stayed for three years before returning to Europe. He also served as president of the American Psychological Association and taught many other leading psychologists, including Mary Whiton Calkins and Edward C. Tolman.

Münsterberg died on December 16, 1916 after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage shortly before he was scheduled to deliver the opening remarks at a lecture at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

James McKeen Cattel

James McKeen Catell helped establish psychology as a legitimate science and became the first professor of psychology in the United States. Cattell began studying English literature, but became interested in psychology after meeting the German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt. Cattell traveled to Germany to become Wundt's assistant and later published the first psychology thesis by an American.

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After returning to the United States, Cattell held various teaching positions and was influential in the formation of several major publications, includingthe science journalmiThe psychological review. In addition to helping advance psychology in the United States, Cattell also influenced other leading psychologists, including Edward L. Thorndike.

María Whiton Calkins

Mary Whiton Calkins is perhaps best known as the first female president of the American Psychological Association, but she also made many other contributions to the field. Her experiences represent the difficulty and discrimination faced by many women in the early days of psychology.

Despite meeting the requirements for a Ph.D. and receiving unanimous approval from a dissertation committee that included William James, Josiah Royce, and Hugo Munsterberg, Harvard refused to award Calkins her degree because she was a woman.

Regardless, Calkins had an influential and successful career in psychology. He invented the peer association technique, contributed to dream research, advocated self-psychology, and wrote more than 100 professional articles on topics in psychology and philosophy.

Mamie Phipps Clark

Mamie Phipps Clark was a pioneering psychologist known for her important research on race and self-concept. Her work with her husband, psychologist Kenneth Clark, played a key role in the Supreme Court's decision that segregation was unconstitutional in the famous case of Brown v. Board of Education. Although she is often overlooked or mentioned only in passing in psychology textbooks, her contributions to psychology are simply too important to ignore.

measure freud

Anna Freud was the youngest of Sigmund Freud's six children. Although she began her career influenced by her father's theories, she was far from living in her father's shadow. She made important contributions to psychology, including founding child psychoanalysis and summarizing the ego's defense mechanisms in her book.The self and defense mechanisms(1936).

Lev Vygotsky

Lev Vygotsky has only become one of the most famous psychologists in the last few years. He is considered a seminal thinker in psychology, and much of his work is still being discovered and explored today.

Although he was a contemporary of Skinner, Pavlov, Freud, and Piaget, his work never reached its level of eminence during his lifetime. Part of this was because his work was often criticized by the Russian Communist Party and therefore his writing was largely inaccessible to the Western world. His untimely death at 38 also contributed to his obscurity.

Despite this, his work has continued to grow in influence since his death, particularly in the areas ofdevelopmental psychologyand educational psychology. He is best known for his sociocultural theory and zone of proximal development concepts and guided practice.

Juan Bowlby

John Bowlby was a British psychologist, perhaps best known for developingtheoretical link. His research on attachment and child development left a lasting impression on psychology, education, child care, and parenting.

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The researchers expanded their research to develop clinical treatment techniques and prevention strategies. His work also influenced other eminent psychologists, including his colleague Mary Ainsworth, who made important contributions to attachment theory.

harry harlow

American psychologist Harry Harlow is known for his infamous research on the social isolation of rhesus macaques in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In his primate laboratory located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harlow conducted a series ofpsychological experimentsin which baby monkeys were raised by surrogate "mothers."

In different variations of the experiments, some of the mother monkeys were made entirely of wire, while others were covered in soft cloth. At the time, some researchers suggested that feeding was the driving force behind the mother-infant bond. The main idea behind this was that children love their caregivers because they provide them with food.

Harlow and her fellow researchers found that touch comfort was the vital factor underlying a baby's love for its mother. Baby monkeys in Harlow's experiments preferred soft velvet mothers to wire mothers, even when the latter served as a food source.

Harlow's experiments played an important role in changing our understanding of attachment, but they were also extremely controversial. The experiments were shocking and cruel, particularly his later experiments, which involved placing young monkeys in total social isolation.

Most of his experiments are considered unethical by today's standards, and the nature of his research has contributed to ethical concerns and regulations about how laboratory animals are treated.

stanley milgram

The name of Stanley Milgram is forever associated with hisfamous obedience experimentit demonstrated the lengths people would go to obey an authority figure. During his undergraduate years, he spent time working as a research assistant for psychologist Solomon Asch. As you recall, Asch conducted a series of experiments that demonstrated how people conform in social groups.

The research helped spark interest in obedience andaccordance, which led Milgram to perform his controversial experiment.

Another interesting trivia: Milgram and psychologist Philip Zimbardo (of Stanford Prison Experiment fame) were schoolmates.

raymond cattel

Raymond Cattell was an American psychologist whose work influenced psychology in many ways. He not only introduced the concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence, but is also known for his 16-factor model of personality.

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Perhaps his greatest achievement was his pioneering work in factor analysis and multivariate analysis. In a 2002 review, Cattell was ranked as the 16th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century.

Edward B. Titchener

Edward B. Titchener was an influential figure in the formative years of psychology. As one of Wundt's students, Titchener is perhaps best remembered for establishing the school of thought known as structuralism. This early vision of psychology focused on dividing human consciousness into the smallest possible elements.

The researchers used a method known as introspection, which involved trained observers describing the mental processes that occurred when presented with different stimuli.

Titchener is also known for coining the term empathy and supervising the graduate studies of Margaret Floy Washburn, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Psychology. Although Titchener served as a powerful force in psychology, the school of thought she helped establish did not survive long after her death in 1927.

Clark L. Casco

Despite facing considerable adversity, Clark Leonard Hull managed to overcome health and financial problems to become one of the most important American psychologists of the 20th century. His childhood was marred by bouts of illness, including a severe case of typhoid fever.

After polio left him paralyzed in his left leg, Hull decided to switch his career ambitions from engineering to psychology. Although he had to interrupt his studies several times due to lack of money, he finally obtained his doctorate. and she embarked on a long career as a teacher and researcher.

Hull is best remembered for his influence onbehaviorismand his drive reduction theory, but is also noted for his research on hypnosis and his emphasis on rigorous scientific methods.

george kelly

George Kelly grew up in poverty and never graduated from high school. Despite these obstacles, he earned a doctorate in psychology and became an influential personality theorist. During the Great Depression, he decided to do something useful with his skills and opened a mobile clinic that provided psychological services to people throughout his home state of Kansas.

During this time he also formulated his theory of the construction of personal personality. According to Kelly, the differences between people are the result of the different ways in which they interpret and predict events in the world around them. He believed that we act like scientists, formulating hypotheses and conducting "experiments" to test our ideas about the world.

Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov had a huge influence on psychology and is often included in lists of famous psychologists, but he was not a psychologist. Pavlov was a Russian physiologist whose research on conditioned reflexes influenced the rise of behaviorism in psychology. His most famous contribution was the discovery ofclassical conditioning, which plays an important role in our understanding of psychology and behavior today.

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Pavlov's experimental methods helped move psychology away from introspection and subjective evaluations toward more objective measures of behavior.


This list represents just a sampling of some of the famous psychologists who have made a major impact in the field. In addition to historical figures, contemporary psychologists continue to make their mark on the science of psychology.


What is a famous theory from a psychologist? ›

Sigmund Freud wrote the psychoanalytic theory. Psychologists often refer to this as the theory of personality organization and dynamics of personality development. An individual may use psychoanalytic theory as a guideline for understanding personality development and psychoanalysis.

What is the most popular psychology theories? ›

List of popular theories of psychology: 1. Piaget Theory of Development 2. Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development 3. Spearman's Two-Factor Theory 4.

Who are the major theorists psychology? ›

Grand theories are those comprehensive ideas often proposed by major thinkers such as Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson,9 and Jean Piaget. Grand theories of development include psychoanalytic theory, learning theory, and cognitive theory.

Who are the 6 theorists of psychology? ›

The theorists of the well-known theories are (Freud, Erickson), (Watson, Skinner), (Piaget, Vygotsky), (Bronfenbrenner), (Rogers, Maslow), (Lorenz). Keep reading to find out all about the Six Grand Theories.

What is Carl Jung's theory? ›

Carl Jung's theory is the collective unconscious. He believed that human beings are connected to each other and their ancestors through a shared set of experiences. We use this collective consciousness to give meaning to the world.

What is Jean Piaget's theory? ›

The Theory of Cognitive Development by Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, suggests that children's intelligence undergoes changes as they grow. Cognitive development in children is not only related to acquiring knowledge, children need to build or develop a mental model of their surrounding world (Miller, 2011).

What are the 5 major psychological theories? ›

The five major theories of psychology are behavioral, psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive, and biological. They are frequently referred to as the "grand" theories.

What are the Big 8 theories in psychology? ›

At this point in modern psychology, the varying viewpoints on human behavior have been split into eight different perspectives: biological, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, psychodynamic, sociocultural, evolutionary, and biopsychosocial.

Who are some well known theorists? ›

Top 18 Personality Theorists Including Freud and More
Top Personality TheoristsTheory
Erik EriksonPsychosocial
Carl RogersPsychosocial
John WatsonBehavioral
Ivan PavlovBehavioral
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Who are the famous theorists in cognitive psychology? ›

14.3: Cognitive Theorists- Piaget, Elkind, Kohlberg, and Gilligan.

Who is the No 1 psychologist in world? ›

Robert Bradley (psychologist)
Robert H. Bradley
BornJuly 14, 1946
EducationUniversity of Notre Dame University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Known forResearch on early childhood education
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Who were the 3 most important developmental psychologists? ›

During the 1900s three key figures have dominated the field with their extensive theories of human development, namely Jean Piaget (1896-1980), Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) and John Bowlby (1907-1990). Indeed, much of the current research continues to be influenced by these three theorists.

Who is the most popular psychologist? ›

Sigmund Freud – Freud is perhaps the most well-known psychologist in history. He explored the personality and human psyche as it relates to the id, the ego and the superego.

Who is the most famous female psychologist? ›

  • #5: Anna Freud (1895–1982)
  • #4: Mary Ainsworth (1913–1999)
  • #3: Margaret Floy Washburn (1871–1939)
  • #2: Karen Horney (1885-1952)
  • #1: Melanie Klein (1882–1960)
  • The Future (of psychology) Is Female.
Mar 22, 2022

Who is the father psychological theory? ›

Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (1832–1920) is known to posterity as the “father of experimental psychology” and the founder of the first psychology laboratory (Boring 1950: 317, 322, 344–5), whence he exerted enormous influence on the development of psychology as a discipline, especially in the United States.

Are there 3 major psychological theories? ›

After three decades of research, three major psychological theories of time have emerged: psychodynamic theory, behavioral theory and cognitive theory.

What is Sigmund Freud's theory? ›

In simple terms, Sigmund Freud's theory suggests that human behavior is influenced by unconscious memories, thoughts, and urges. This theory also proposes that the psyche comprises three aspects: the id, ego, and superego. The id is entirely unconscious, while the ego operates in the conscious mind.

Did Jung believe in Jesus? ›

Jung believed religion was a profound, psychological response to the unknown — both the inner self and the outer worlds — and he understood Christianity to be a profound meditation on the meaning of the life of Jesus of Nazareth within the context of Hebrew spirituality and the Biblical worldview.

How do Freud and Jung differ? ›

While Freud divided the psyche the unconscious, preconscious, and the conscious, Jung divided as the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. The main difference, when it comes to the psyche, is the inclusion of the collective unconscious by Jung.

What is Bandura theory? ›

Albert Bandura's social learning theory suggests that observation and modeling play a primary role in how and why people learn. Bandura's theory goes beyond the perception of learning being the result of direct experience with the environment.

What did Vygotsky believe? ›

He believed that social interaction plays a critical role in children's learning—a continuous process that is profoundly influenced by culture. Imitation, guided learning, and collaborative learning feature prominently in his theory.

What are the stages of Vygotsky theory? ›

Vygotsky was a key figure in Soviet Psychology who studied children and developed his own theories about how learning occurs. He believed that learning happens in three different stages: cognitive, motoric, and sociocultural.

What are the 7 theories of personality in psychology? ›

The major theories include dispositional (trait) perspective, psychodynamic, humanistic, biological, behaviorist, evolutionary, and social learning perspective.

What are the big 6 psychology? ›

Markers of six personality traits (Neuroticism, Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Openness to Experience, and Honesty-Humility) were assessed using the Mini-International-Personality-Item-Pool-6 (Mini-IPIP6; Donnellan et al., 2006; Sibley et al., 2011).

What are the 7 psychological theories? ›

The major perspectives in psychology that emerged are cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, humanistic, biological, socio-cultural, and evolutionary.

What are the 4 behavioral theories? ›

Four models that present a logical and reasonable approach to behavioral change include the Health Belief Model, the Theory of Self Efficacy, the Theory of Reasoned Action, and the Multiattribute Utility Model.

What are the 4 major fields of psychological theory? ›

Psychology includes four major areas: clinical psychology (counseling for mental and behavioral health), cognitive psychology (the study of the mental processes), behavioral psychology (understanding behavior through different types of conditioning), and biopsychology (research on the brain, behavior, and evolution).

What are the 4 personality theories? ›

Psychoanalytic, humanistic, trait perspective and behaviorist theory are the four main personality theories.

Who is the most famous psychologist? ›

1. Sigmund Freud – Freud is perhaps the most well-known psychologist in history. He explored the personality and human psyche as it relates to the id, the ego and the superego. A phrase named after him is the Freudian slip.

Who are the 4 psychologists that created stages in their theories? ›

Several famous psychologists, including Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg, describe development as a series of stages. A stage is a period in development in which people exhibit typical behavior patterns and establish particular capacities.

Who are the most famous psychologists of all time? ›

Eminent psychologists of the 20th century
  • B.F. Skinner.
  • Jean Piaget.
  • Sigmund Freud.
  • Albert Bandura.
  • Leon Festinger.
  • Carl R. Rogers.
  • Stanley Schachter.
  • Neal E. Miller.

Who was the first female psychologist? ›

Margaret Floy Washburn was the first woman to earn a doctoral degree in American psychology (1894) and the second woman, after Mary Whiton Calkins, to serve as APA President.

Who is the most well known American psychologist? ›

Psychologist and philosopher William James is often referred to as the father of American psychology.

Who is the 3 father of developmental psychology? ›

Jean Piaget: Father of Developmental Psychology.

Who was a famous modern psychologist? ›

Skinner topped a list of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the twentieth century, followed by Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud.

Who are important positive psychologists? ›

Major proponents of positive psychology include psychologists Martin Seligman (who promoted the concept as president of the American Psychological Association in 1998), Christopher Peterson, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Who is father of psychology? ›

Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (1832–1920) is known to posterity as the “father of experimental psychology” and the founder of the first psychology laboratory (Boring 1950: 317, 322, 344–5), whence he exerted enormous influence on the development of psychology as a discipline, especially in the United States.

Who is the father of child psychology? ›

Jean Piaget, (born August 9, 1896, Neuchâtel, Switzerland—died September 16, 1980, Geneva), Swiss psychologist who was the first to make a systematic study of the acquisition of understanding in children. He is thought by many to have been the major figure in 20th-century developmental psychology.

Who was the first child psychologist? ›

Jean Piaget
BornJean William Fritz Piaget9 August 1896 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Died16 September 1980 (aged 84) Geneva, Switzerland
Alma materUniversity of Neuchâtel University of Zürich
Known forConstructivism, Genevan School, genetic epistemology, theory of cognitive development, object permanence, egocentrism
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Who was the most important behavioral psychologist? ›

John B. Watson was a U.S. psychologist who is regarded as the father of behaviorism because of his publication from 1913, Psychology As The Behaviorist Views It. It is now considered a classic piece of literature in psychology.


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