I. Life Robert W. White, a Harvard psychologist who brought a historian’s perspective to the study of personality, died on February 6, 2001 at a nursing home in Weston, Massachusetts at the age of 96 and lived in Brookline, Massachusetts. Dr. White was among the early American proponents of personality psychology, which seeks to understand the sum of an individual’s emotions, interests, behavior and other characteristics, especially as they affect relationships with others. A former historian, Dr. White specialized in ”the study of lives,” and in books like ”Lives in Progress” (1952) gave biographies of ordinary people and discussed how biology, psychology and culture had influenced their personalities.
With other psychologists at Harvard in the 1930’s, most prominently Henry A. Murray, Dr. White helped promote personality theory, whose emphases ran counter to those of the dominant school at the time, experimental psychology, said William McKinley Runyan, a research psychologist at the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California. ‘Personality psychologists were trying to expand the boundaries of psychology,” Dr. Runyan said, by studying individual lives. Dr. White was interested in learning how normal people coped with the world, and he argued that they were driven not just by the impulses of sex and aggression emphasized by Freud, but also by desires to be competent and influential. He also wrote ”The Abnormal Personality,” the standard textbook on abnormal psychology for generations.
Robert Winthrop White was born on October 17, 1904, in Brookline, Massachusetts, to William Howard White, a prosperous Boston lawyer, and Katharine Dana White. The family had multigenerational roots in New England and provided a proper Bostonian cultural environment for their three children, of whom Bob was the youngest. He had a lifelong love of music and unusual skill at playing the piano and organ. Starting at the age of 19, he spent many years as a church organist. In 1925, he earned a history degree from Harvard and spent the next few years teaching at the University of Maine.
But under the influence of Donald MacKinnon, a prominent psychologist who was also teaching there, he decided, as he said in his 1976 book, ”The Enterprise of Living,” to change ”from the history of nations to the history of individual lives. ” He returned to Harvard to study under Dr. Murray, taught psychology at Rutgers and then obtained a doctorate from Harvard in 1937. Dr. White became acting director of the psychological clinic at Harvard during World War II and then head of the clinical psychology program and chairman of the social relations department. He became professor emeritus in 1969.
II. Works A. Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence, 1959, “It is a crucial step in replacing the narrow, drive-reduction conception of human motivation that prevailed in neo-behaviorism reinforcement theory with more appropriate conceptions of human agency; it crystallizes widespread dissatisfaction and offered the alternative of intrinsic motivation toward effective engagement with the environment. ” B. Competence and the Psychosexual Stages of Development, 1960, “It shows the human motivation mainly in terms of tension reduction – the reduction of libidinal drive through psychoanalytic theory.
C. Ego and Reality in Psychoanalytic Theory, 1963, “It also shows the human motivation mainly in terms of tension reduction – the reduction of libidinal drive through psychoanalytic theory. ” D. Lives in Progress: A study of the Natural Growth of Personality, 1952, “It is an approach to the Study of Lives that is still used by teachers of undergraduate courses wherein Dr. Robert Winthrop White detailed the lives of three individuals, looking at the ways of biology, psychology and culture that had formed their personalities. E. The Abnormal Personality, 1948, “Developmental approaches that could understand young people and holistic treatment of personality; he use this in treating cases of psychiatric disorder as whole persons suffering psychological distress in the context of their lives, not just as illustrations of diagnostic categories. ” F. Explorations of Personality, 1938, “Dr. Robert Winthrop White conducted a study of hypnotic susceptibility that became the basis of his Ph. D. dissertation. ” G.
The Enterprise of Living, 1968, “It serves as the culminated idea of his first book entitled Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence. ” III. Contributions Robert W. White was a major contributor to the holistic personological tradition in psychology. He also played a signal role in replacing the narrow drive-reduction conception of human motivation characteristic of both neo-behaviorism and psychoanalysis with perspectives that included provision for intrinsic motivation and human agency.
In academic psychology, his classic 1959 paper, “Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence,” was a crucial step in replacing the narrow, drive-reduction conception of human motivation that prevailed in neo-behaviorism reinforcement theory with more appropriate conceptions of human agency. His paper crystallized widespread dissatisfaction and offered the productive alternative of intrinsic motivation toward effective engagement with the environment. In it, White proposed a new concept: effectance motivation.
Effectance was described as a “tendency to explore and influence the environment. ” White suggested that the “master reinforcement” for humans is personal competence. He defined competence as “the ability to interact effectively with the environment. ” White pointed out several ways competence motives were different from Hullian motives. Unlike biological motives such as hunger and thirst, competence motives are never really satisfied. They serve to enhance the abilities of the organism, rather than to regulate a biological process.
They are not based on a state of biological deprivation. Rather, they help an organism improve itself. Competence motivation is visible in children. Toddlers try to act powerful and capable, big and grown up, almost as soon as they understand the concepts. Children of all ages try to exercise control over some domain of objects (whether it is a doll house, a collection of cars, or something else). Healthy, normal children commonly wish to be regarded as knowledgeable and capable beyond their years. In general, people who have a special talent love to exercise it.
People like a subject or a game that “plays to their strengths” because it makes them feel competent. Competency motivation emerges as a critical factor in career success (Bales, 1984). A survey of successful entrepreneurs—people who started their own businesses—showed two factors that were even more important than competitiveness or grades in school. The important factors were (1) an appetite for hard work, and (2) an enjoyment of mastering skills. They were powerful predictors of financial success. Notice there is a subtle and possibly important difference between (1) seeking life ctivities which “play to your strengths,” which is certainly natural if people want to feel competent, and (2) the enjoyment of mastering new skills described above as typical of successful entrepreneurs. These are not the same thing. If you merely seek situations that make you feel competent, you are likely to exercise old skills, and you are unlikely to advance. The people who succeeded as entrepreneurs were those who sought competency in new skills. At midcentury, psychoanalytic theories also saw human motivation mainly in terms of tension reduction—the reduction of libidinal drive.
White developed the implications of his ideas for psychoanalysis in two subsequent publications that became important texts in psychoanalytic training: “Competence and the Psychosexual Stages of Development” (1960) and “Ego and Reality in Psychoanalytic Theory” (1963). As a leading contributor to the holistic personological tradition in psychology, White understood that there is no adequate substitute for studying persons in depth: Research focused on single variables or on clinical syndromes inherently misses the organization and interconnectedness of the features of individual personality.
His approach to the study of lives is exemplified in his 1952 book, Lives in Progress: A Study of the Natural Growth of Personality, which is still valuable to teachers in undergraduate courses half a century after its publication. Drawing on his studies at the Harvard Psychological Clinic, he provided life histories of two men and one woman, interspersed with chapters delineating social, psychobiological, and developmental approaches that could be used in understanding these young people.
His holistic treatment of personality was also reflected in his immensely popular 1948 textbook, The Abnormal Personality, in which he treated cases of psychiatric disorder as whole persons suffering psychological distress in the context of their lives, not just as illustrations of diagnostic categories. In the Explorations project, White conducted a study of hypnotic susceptibility that became the basis of his Ph. D. dissertation. He soon became Murray’s indispensable first mate, complementing Murray’s mercurial brilliance with a steadier hand at the helm. He also contributed the only full-length study to the published volume.
When Murray left to finish writing Explorations and later pursued his assessment work in World War II, White served as acting director of the clinic, with an appointment as instructor, then lecturer, in the Psychology Department. Robert White dealt a big contribution to psychology especially in humanistic perspective and personality especially on young people; he is also a clinical psychologist. Until now, White’s contribution on psychology is still recognized on used by many psychologists and also applied to many psychology books over the world.
IV. Interpretation Dr. Robert Winthrop White, who did a big contribution in psychology, had done a big transformation on the field. Dr. Robert did really a history on the subject especially on the fields of humanism, personality, and even behaviorism. Actually, Dr. Robert Winthrop White has no interest in the field of psychology until his college friend Donald McKinnon introduced to him the ideas of Henry A. Murray, a popular psychologist, and he was interested about the subject alone and started reading psychology books, information, and journals then finished his Doctorate degree in the subject in Harvard University.
Dr. Robert Winthrop White’s contributions did a great impact on the field of psychology. Some were disgusted with his theories especially when it comes to hypnosis but then, as we going to compare to those who agreed and were amazed, we could notice that there is a big gap, definitely a big one because many who are recognized and aware on his contributions, precisely many agreed, and I’m one of them. Dr. Robert Winthrop White’s contributions and works had helped many individuals especially Special Education teachers and even other modern psychologists today.
One is his book entitled “The Abnormal Personality” in which it has an emphasis on developmental approaches that could understand young people and holistic treatment of personality that is used by many individuals, teachers, doctors, medical workers, and psychologists in his time and even until today. White’s first book, “The Abnormal Personality: A Textbook,” published in 1948, presented an account of disordered behavior, focusing primarily on neuroses and giving lesser attention to psychoses.
White had no formal training in psychopathology, and his approach reflected an emphasis upon the development of the neuroses in explicitly Neo-Freudian terms. Biological factors were mentioned, but the major emphasis was on the putative role of defense mechanisms in the genesis of symptoms. The book remained a standard text in the field through five editions. Dr. Robert Winthrop White intent is to write about abnormal people in a way that will be valuable and interesting to students new to the subject. A first course in abnormal psychology is not intended to train specialists.
Its goal is more general: it should provide the student with the opportunity to whet his interest, expand his horizons, register a certain body of new facts, and relate this to the rest of his knowledge about mankind. I have tried to present the subject in such a way as to emphasize its usefulness to all students of human nature. I have tried the experiment of writing two introductory chapters, one historical and the other clinical. This reflects my desire to set the subject-matter in a broad perspective and at the same time to anchor it in concrete fact.
Next comes a block of six chapters designed to set forth the topics of maladjustment and neurosis. The two chapters on psychotherapy complete the more purely psychological or developmental part of the work. In the final chapter the problem of disordered personalities is allowed to expand to its full social dimensions. Treatment, care, and prevention call for social effort and social organization. I have sought to show some of the lines, both professional and nonprofessional, along which this effort can be expended.
From the outset of his work in personality White was disenchanted with quantitative methods that produce cross-sectional findings from tests and questionnaires, preferring instead the detailed study of individual life histories. In this, his views and techniques resembled those of his colleagues in the Department of Social Relations Henry Murray and Erik Erikson, and, to some extent, Gordon Allport. His goal was to understand what he termed the “shape of personality” by examining the complex details of individual lives. Understanding was to be achieved by the hermeneutic analysis of life histories.
Analysis was guided by the presuppositions of dynamic psychology, and conducted with the premise that personality inevitably changed over the life span and could not be captured by a static description of individuals at a specific point in life. His work did not fit comfortably with the then prevailing emphasis upon measurable stable traits of personality and temperament, with probable specific genetic origins and only minimally modifiable with the passage of time. Dr. Robert Winthrop White’s contributions were really fascinating because of the changes that he had done in the field of psychology.
Another is the classic article for Psychological review that is written by Dr. Robert Winthrop White in the year 1959 which is entitled Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence in which he proposed a new concept on it, entitled effectance motivation. As stated, effectance is described as a “tendency to explore and influence the environment. Another is the master reinforcement for humans which is the personal competence. He defined competence as “the ability to interact effectively with the environment. ” In this article, Dr. Robert Winthrop White wants us to be motivated not only within ourselves or with our fellowmen, but also to be motivated together with the environment that GOD had created for all of us. He wants us to explore and influence the environment in order to improve ourselves, our ability to work effectively with the environment and its resources, and also the ability to interact effectively with the environment in order to be a global competitive professional and to have the ability to socialize with other people without being dumb.
Therapy for me has a psychosocial foundation, assisting people to live their potential,” Dr. Robert Winthrop White is really amazing because he chose to be psychologist not to earn money, wealth and fame but to help humans to live on their fullest potential in order to be actively vivacious. Another book that he written are Competence and the Psychosexual Stages of Development, 1960 and Ego and Reality in Psychoanalytic Theory, 1963, where t shows the human motivation mainly in terms of tension reduction – the reduction of libidinal drive through psychoanalytic theory. These books of Dr. Robert Winthrop White is pretty much useful and helpful that is being used today because it has a big help to those who were teaching sex education and also psychologists and psychology instructors and professors. “I have training and a broad interest in theory from Morita therapy, Gestalt, cognitive/behavioral therapy, family therapy, and mediation. “My work draws from the richness and variety of my own life experience and training, and its goal is to empower the individual or couple to manage their own lives. ” This byline of Dr. Robert Winthrop White hooked-up my eyesight because it really proves that he don’t need the money, wealth and fame from being a psychologist but to help humans change and manage their own lives … Dr. Robert Winthrop White really had done many contributions in Psychology especially in the fields of humanism, personality, clinical, and even hypnosis.
Even though many don’t agree on him and on his contributions, still, many had agreed, maybe majority agreed to him and no doubt, he made a history on the field of psychology. In the very first place, my reactions on the works and contributions of Dr. Robert Winthrop White is just simple, he is incredible, very amazing Psychologist and a person indeed, precisely, definitely, absolutely and without a doubt … 😀 His goal was to understand what he termed the ‘shape of personality’ by examining the complex details of individual lives.
Understanding was to be achieved by the hermeneutic analysis of life histories. Great Job Dr. Robert Winthrop White!! … Thank you very much for the effort and ample of time that you’ve exerted just to read my reaction about Psychologist Dr. Robert Winthrop White. For whomever you are reading my reaction, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading and didn’t find any feeling of boredom.