Eysenck, Hans


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Hans Jurgen Eysenck, the son of gifted actor parents, was born in Berlin in 1916 and brought up in Germany, mainly by his grandmother. He grew up to detest the Hitler regime and was described in school, despite his Christian background, as a 'white Jew'. He left Germany in 1934 to continue his education in Britain, and ultimately to graduate with consid erable distinction from Cyril Burt's psychology department at University College London. After a difficult early war period as an 'enemy alien' - during which he completed his PhD thesis - he had the good fortune to impress and be employed by Aubrey Lewis, a distinguished psychiatrist and director of the wartime emergency hospital at Mill Hill, which had strong links with the Maudsley Hospital at Camberwell, where the Institute of Psychiatry was later established. All of Eysenck's subsequent research flows directly from his work at Mill Hill, which was also the source of his lifelong insistence on the interdependence of experimental and clinical psychology. Considering his background and enduring attitudes, it is ironic that Eysenck came to be reviled as a racist and even physically attacked by unthinking students for his alleged views about race and intelligence. Following an English tradition stemming from Francis Galton and continued by the London school of ps ychology in which he had been trained, he carried out statistical analyses of the correlated test scores of relatives of varying degree, including twins reared together and apart, in order to assess the genetic and environmental contributions to individual differences in human abilities and personality characteristics. His findings tended to indicate strong genetic influences, and this ran counter to contemporary attitudes, especially in the United States, concerning the malleability of human nature. The techniques of analysis became a matter of scientific controversy, which grew more heated when th ey were applied to postulate innate intellectual differences between races, first by Jensen, a former colleague, and then by Eysenck himself. But the scientific disputation was mild compared to the ideological condemnation, which ranged from the argument that certain value-loaded areas of study should not be subjects for research to extremes of personal calumny. At the same time, frankly racist groups took remarks out of context to use as propaganda. Eysenck, who also wrote of the dangers of opposing the 'Zeitgeist', claimed that he wrote his Race, Intelligence and Education (1971) as a brief factual account to reduce the emotional content of the debate evoked by Jensen. In it he stated that direct genetic evidence could not be used to establish racial differences. Nevertheless, he relished polemics. No one was more able to see the weaknesses of both sides of an argument, or to exploit the weaknesses in his opponent's case while camouflaging those in his own. The same enjoyment of battle was evident in Eysenck's lifelong devotion to sport. An all-round athle te, he was a particularly strong tennis player who enjoyed a daily game for most of his life. The controversial aspects of Eysenck's career and his competitive spirit might be thought to reflect a dogmatic, difficult and unfriendly personality. On the contrary, he was a warm and devoted family man, generous and extremely loyal to all his students and colleagues, even when their views were very different from his own. This was well illustrated by his spirited defence of the posthumously suspected scientific integrity of Sir Cyril Burt. Behind the communicator lay an equally prolific researcher, devoted to a strict objective and empiri cal approach to the problems of psychology. He always claimed that his youthful intention had been to become a physical scientist but that he was diverted into psychology by the matriculation requirements of the University of London. Like his writings, his research covered a great range, but always related to his continually evolvin g theory of personality, which involved the interacting influences of inherited biological individual differences, learnt behaviour and cultural influences. His experimental analyses of 'dimensions' of personality, such as 'extroversion/introversion' (terms he coined) and 'neuroticism/stability', were extremely influential, and students and collaborators from all over the world were attracted to his department. Among the closest of his collaborators was his second wife, Sybil. Intellectually, Eysenck's strengths and weaknesses both derived from his unswerving allegiance to th e linear thinking of classical science and a commitment to developing his particular line of theory. This took him a very long way along narrow but vastly ramifying paths. He was insufficiently concerned to understand the integrative complexity of human beings, but he map ped an immense area of psychological territory. It was characteristic that he took pleasure in extending that territory into fringe areas provided they were susceptible to quantitative exploration. For example, he found evidence to support basic astrological notions. He was always interested in the practical application of his findings as well as in pure research. A lthough no therapist himself, he provided much of the intellectual force behind the highly successful development in Britain of the active approach to the treatment of emotional disorders, based on learning procedures which came to be known as 'behaviour therapy'. This contrasted in many ways with the then dominating interpretative procedures of psychoanalysis. I n similar manner, he fostered within his department a section concerned with the practice of and training in clinical psychology. Eysenck died in 1997. Source: The Times, September 9th 1997.