Symbol opinion vote Comment: needs condensations, with greater emphasis on later work using the theory by others DGG ( talk ) 10:19, 19 December 2013 (UTC)

Symbol opinion vote Comment: Currentyl sourced to writings by Murray. Article will need to be re-written to describe how independent secondary sources view/report the theory. Sionk (talk) 17:07, 16 December 2012 (UTC)

Murray’s Theory of Personality, also called personology, is a system for understanding human personality put forth by Henry Murray. It is explained in his book, Explorations in Personality, written in 1938.[1] According to his ideas, an individual's personality develops dynamically as each person responds to complex elements in his or her specific environment. Murray viewed an individual's entire life as one unit, and pointed out that although a specific element of a person's life can be studied through psychology, this studied episode gives an incomplete picture of the entire life unit. To properly analize the entire life cycle, Murray favored a narrative approach to studying personality, which he called "personology". The personological system has been used as an approach for multiple academic disciplines: philosophy, humanism, biological chemistry, and societal and cultural studies.

Murray’s theory of personality is rooted in psychoanalysis, and the chief business and aim of personology is the reconstruction of the individual's past life experiences in order to explain their present behavior. To study personality, Murray used free association and dream analysis to bring unconscious material to light.


There are five principles of personology: (1)Cerebral physiology, rooted in the brain, governs all aspects of personality. (2) People act to reduce physiological and psychological tension to gain satisfaction, but do not strive to be tension-free, and rather cycle between seeking excitement, activity and movement in their lives and then relaxing. (3)An individual's personality continues to develop over time and is influenced by all of the events that occur over a person’s lifetime. (4) Personality is not fixed and it can change and progress, and (5)Each person has some unique characteristics and others which are shared by everyone.

Needs and Motivations

An important part of the personological system is the individual’s needs and motivations, which interact with the environment to produce an individual’s behavior. Although the origin of a person’s needs are internal, the environment can provoke them, which again reflects the personological system’s emphasis on the relationship between internal forces and one’s environment. Also important is the individual's perception of the environment, as his or her needs act on the brain region that organizes this perception.[2]

Below is a comprehensive list of Murray’s needs: [3]

Need Description
Affiliation Need to be near and enjoyably reciprocate with another
Autonomy Need to be free and independent of others
Dominance Need to control or influence others
Exhibition Need to be seen and heard, to entertain and entice
Harm-Avoidance Need to avoid injury, take precautions
Nurturance Need to help, console, comfort, nurse the weak
Order Need for organization and neatness
Play Need for enjoyment and fun
Sex Need to for an erotic relationship
Succorance Need to be nursed, loved, controlled
Understanding Need to speculate, analyze, generalize

According to Murray, needs are a hypothetical concept. Each needs has a quantitative energy component as well as a qualitative directional component. Needs are dynamic, and are immediate results of one’s current situation (either internal or external). Therefore, needs only exist for a moment. However, needs succeed one another and, if similar to one another, create a pattern of needs. These similar needs are labeled as class of a need, as described by the table above.

Environmental Press

According to Murray, an environmental press is the push of a situation. These are directional forces on a person that arise from other people and events in the environment. It is an effect that can be exerted in a positive or negative direction from one subject to another. It often comes in form of either a threat for harm or a chance of benefit. An example of an evironmental press is when a student sees his friends get good grades in school. This might act as a press that inspires that student to work harder for better grades. With age and experience, an individual learns and remembers ways to react to similar environmental presses.


Themas are the combination of needs and presses typical for an individual, and can be seen in everyday life. Murray defines a thema as “the dynamical structure of a simple episode, a single creature-environment interaction.” An individual’s themas all together help to construct one’s identity. To determine one’s themas, Murray used his measurement of a Thematic Apperception Test (also referred to as a TAT). The purpose of the TAT is “diagnostic and differentiate one group from another by indicating the tendency or trend of the subjects of one group to attribute to or to project onto the characters in their protocol stories certain types of moods, attitudes, personality traits, and emotional states or qualities which the subjects of the other group did not attribute to or project onto the characters into their protocol stories.” In this test, the subject produces fantasies in response to pictures, which he is asked to regard as if they were illustrations in a story. Through the test, the dynamic case history of the individual becomes possible. The leading concepts that arise from a TAT test include: need or instinct, press, thema, libidinal drives and their stages of development, abnormal adjustment as a result of fixation at a stage of development, ego-defense mechanisms and symptoms as an expression of failure to adjust adequately, and various complexes. The past plays a highly significant role in shaping personality.The TAT is a projective test, therefore it provides ambiguous stimuli to an individual, and the results are interpreted subjectively based on how the test-taker interprets the neutral stimuli.

Other forms of personality measures that utilize pictures/drawings include the the Rosenzweig Picture-Frustration Study, the Revised Bender Visual-Motor Gestalt Test, and the House-Tree-Person Drawing Technique.

Application of the Personological System to Research Studies

As previously noted, Henry Murray's view of the personological system as present within an individual's entire life lead him to have a narrative and interpretive style of research study. The relationship between an individual's needs, environment, and subsequent perceptions was often used when explaining the results of his data. A few examples of research studies lead by Henry Murray, as well as other studies that utilize the personological system, are as follows:

"The Effect of Fear upon Estimates of the Maliciousness of Other Personalities"[4] In this study, Henry Murray explored an individual's emotional state, specifically fear, upon perceptions of the personalities of others. Projection, an individuals subjective truth seen as objective in the external environment, is a key component of the study. The individual's creation of an interpretation of the environment parallel's the personological system's creation of themas. The findings of the study noted that after a fear-invoking event, participant's perceived faces in photographs to be more malicious. The results of this study can be directly explained through Murray's personological system. The fear-provoking activity increased the participants' need for harm-avoidance. Therefore, when creating interpretations of their external environment, the participants perceived the faces in the photographs to be more malicious in pursuit of self-protection.

"Family Planning in a Rural Nurse-Midwifery Program"[5] This article is a discussion about the Frontier Nursing Service, a postpartum and family planning care service for rural women. Infant immunization, use and choice of maternal contraceptives, and sterilization are discussed. The popularity of the Frontier Using Service over time is also mentioned. The discussion concludes an increase in acceptance of contraceptive use over time, and notes that the nurse-midwife can have a very beneficial role for family planner services for poor women. Although most births now occur in hospitals, the role of the midwife is essential for providing quality care to women in need. This discussion reflects some interesting insights of Murray's personological system. As birth control and hospital use become more popular, it becomes an environmental press for pregnant women in regards to the decisions they will make about giving birth. Pregnant women also have a heightened succorance need, which is well-balanced with the nurse-midwife's high need for nurturance. Perhaps if a pregnant women has a higher order need, she would choose a hospital instead of the Frontier Nursing Service. In contrast, the close personal attention provided by the Frontier Nursing Service has great appeal for a pregnant women with a stronger need to be nurtured.

"Studies of Stressful Interpersonal Disputations"[6] In this study, Murray examined stressful interpersonal disputes. He studied subjects' reactions in a heated debate in which they were personally insulted. He defines anger as a state of excitation in certain regions of the brain, which produces various manifestations. These include covert manifestations, physiological manifestations, and overt manifestations. Covert manifestations involve experienced or felt anger, for example thinking aggressive words or thoughts. Physiological manifestations are automatic excitations and are physical symptoms that include heart and respiration rate. Finally, overt manifestations are able to seen and heard in videos of the debates and involve aggressive words, and vocal quality changes such as raised voice. He examined physiological manifestations of anger by tracing heart rate and respiration rate. He found that anger and anxiety are positively correlated with increased heart and respiration rate. The observed anger and subsequent actions of the subjects during the debate can be explained by Murray’s personological systems theory. The environmental press of the stressful debate situation involving the lawyer being offensive to the subject caused the subject to react by getting angry and more aggressive. Two of Murray’s needs, dominance and exhibition, relate to the study. Subjects tried assert their need for dominance, or control or influence of others, by arguing their points in hopes that their ideas would dominate their opponent’s. Subjects also showed their need for exhibition, or to be seen and heard, by raising their voices to try and get their opponent to listen to them.

"The Development of Extraordinary Moral Commitment"[7] This study examined people who show particularly high morality in their everyday lives. It looked at the environmental contexts that support this moral development. Researchers concluded that as a person develops, social influence and experiences in environmental contexts transform an individual’s morality. This finding relates to Murray’s personological systems theory because it involves an individual’s personality changing and developing over time. Murray said that personality is dynamic and influenced by events that occur in one’s lifetime. This study supports these ideas by concluding that social events lead to the development of the personality characteristic of morality in a person.


Murray's personality theories have been questioned by some psychologists,[8] and extended by others, such as D. C. McClelland.[9]


  1. Phebe Cramer (2004). Storytelling, Narrative, and the Thematic Apperception Test. Guilford Press. pp. 11–. ISBN 978-1-59385-071-5. 
  2. Ram Nath Sharma, S.S. Chandra; S.S. Chandra (1 January 2003). General Psychology 2 Vols. Set. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. pp. 490–. ISBN 978-81-269-0303-0. 
  3. Howard S. Friedman; Miriam W. Schustack (2012). Personality: Classic Theories and Modern Research. Pearson Allyn & Bacon. ISBN 978-0-205-05017-8. 
  4. Murray, Henry A. (1958). The Effect of Fear upon Estimates of the Maliciousness of Other Personalities in Understanding Human Motivation. Cleveland, OH, US: Howard Allen Publishers. pp. 327–342. 
  5. Beasley, W.B. Rogers; Murray (1973). "Henry A". Family Planning Perspectives 5 (2): 117–123. DOI:10.2307/2133766. PMID 4805725. 
  6. Murray, Henry A. (1963). "Studies of stressful interpersonal disputations". American Psychologist 18 (1): 28–36. DOI:10.1037/h0045502. 
  7. Colby, Anne; William Damon (1995). "The Development of Extraordinary Moral Commitment". Cambridge Studies in Social and Emotional Development: 342–370. Retrieved November 27, 2012. 
  8. Obeying the Voice of God: Jack MacDonald's Journey. Brian Van Brunt. 1 January 2008. pp. 11–. ISBN 978-0-9778545-1-6. 
  9. Michael Paschen; Erich Dihsmaier (22 July 2013). The Psychology of Human Leadership: How To Develop Charisma and Authority. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 233–. ISBN 978-3-642-37054-0. 
  • Millon, Theodore. On the history and future study of personality and its disorders, Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 8 (2012): 1-19.
  • Sydney Ellen. "Henry Murray: Personology." Theories of Personality. By Duane Schultz. N.p.: Cengage Learning, 2008. 181-203. Print.
  • John Barresi*, Tim J. Juckes,Personology and the Narrative Interpretation of Lives, Journal of Personality, Volume 65, Issue 3, pages 693–719, September 1997
  • FRY, FRANKLYN D., Journal of Psychology, 35 (1953) p.181
  • Hutt, Max L., Buck, John N., 636-701. New York, NY, US:Ronald Press Company, 1953.

External links

  • Murray HA, ed. 1938. Explorations in Personality. New York: Oxford Univ. Press
  • Murray, Henry A.View Profile; Rosenzweig, Saul; Hutt, Max L.; Buck, John N.. In Contributions toward medical psychology: Theory and psychodiagnostic methods, Vol II, by Murray, Henry A., Rosenzweig, Saul,

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