Egon Brunswik

Egon Brunswik

Egon Brunswik (1903-1955) was a psychologist who made contributions to functionalism and the history of psychology.

Early life and career

Brunswik was born in Budapest. He graduated from the Theresianische Akademie, training in mathematics, science, classics, and history, in 1921. He enrolled as a student of psychology at the University of Vienna, where he became an assistant in Karl Bühler's Psychological Institute (student colleagues included Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Konrad Lorenz) and received a PhD in 1927. While a graduate student in psychology, he also passed the state examination for Gymnasium teachers in mathematics and physics.

Brunswik met Edward C. Tolman in Vienna during 1933, and in 1935/1936 received a Rockefeller fellowship that enabled him to visit the University of California. He remained at Berkeley where he became an assistant professor of psychology in 1937 and a full professor in 1947.

In 1937, Brunswik married Else Frenkel-Brunswik (also a former assistant in Buhler's institute), who became well known as a psychoanalytically oriented psychologist and investigator of the authoritarian personality. Brunswik became an American citizen in 1943.

Early career

Brunswik established the first psychological laboratory in Turkey while he was visiting lecturer in Ankara during 1931-1932. He became Privatdozent at the University of Vienna in 1934. In 1933, however, Edward C. Tolman, chairman of the department of psychology at the University of California, spent a year in Vienna. He and Brunswik found that although they had been working in different areas of psychological research, their theories of behavior were complementary.



Brunswik's work in Vienna had culminated in the publication of "Wahrnehmung und Gegenstandswelt" in 1934. All of his subsequent work was devoted to the extension and elaboration of the fundamental position set forth in this book, namely, that psychology should give as much attention to the properties of the organism's environment as it does to the organism itself. He asserted that the environment with which the organism comes into contact is an uncertain, probabilistic one, however lawful it may be in terms of physical principles. Adaptation to a probabilistic world requires that the organism learn to employ probabilistic means to achieve goals and learn to utilize probabilistic, uncertain evidence about the world. His "probabilistic functionalism" was the first behavioral system founded on probabilism an approach that is attracting increasing attention in the fields of learning [Citation |last=Estes |first=William Kaye |authorlink=William Kaye Estes |date=1959 |contribution=The Statistical Approach to Learning Theory. Volume 2 |pages=380-491 |editor-last=Koch |editor-first=Sigmund |title=Psychology: A Study of a Science |location=New York |publisher=McGraw-Hill] , thinking [Cite book |last=Bruner |first=Jerome s. |authorlink=Jerome S. Bruner |coauthors=J. J. Goodnow, G. A. Austin |isbn=0887386563 |title=A Study of Thinking |date=1956 |location=New York |publisher=Wiley] , decision processes [Citation |last=Edwards |first=Ward |contribution=Behavioral Decision Theory |title=Annual Review of Psychology |pages=473-498] , perception [Citation |last=Postman |first=Leo |date=1963 |contribution=Perception and Learning |volume=5 |pages=30-113 |editor-last=Koch |editor-first=Sigmund |title=Psychology: A Study of a Science |location=New York |publisher=McGraw-Hill] , communication [Citation |last=Miller |first=George A. |date=1953 |contribution=What Is Information Measurement? |title=American Psychologist |pages=8:3-11] and the study of curiosity. [Cite book |last=Berlyne |first=D. E. |date=1960 |title=Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity |location=New York |publisher= McGraw-Hill] Brunswik's emphasis on the importance of the environment is reflected in the increasing development of "psychological ecology." [Citation |last=Barker |first=Roger Garlock |authorlink=Roger Barker |date=1960 |contribution=Ecology and Motivation. Volume 8 |pages=1-49 |editor-last=Jones |editor-first=Marshall |title=Nebraska Symposium on Motivation |location=Lincoln |publisher=Univ. of Nebraska Press]

History of psychology

Brunswik wrote a great deal about the history of psychology. His historical analysis is remarkable for its development in structural terms rather than in the customary longitudinal recapitulation of names, dates, and places. It consists of a general identification of the kinds of variables that have traditionally been employed in psychological theory and research and a description of the changes in the emphasis of these variables over time.Fact|date=March 2008 Brunswik's theory stems as much from his analysis of the history of psychology as it does from his research. His historical as well as his theoretical analysis also led him to criticize orthodox methods of experimental design (particularly the "rule of one variable") and to suggest methods for avoiding what he believed to be an unfortunate artificiality inherent in classical experimental procedures.Fact|date=March 2008

Other work

Brunswik's main field of empirical research was perception, but he also brought his probabilistic approach to bear on problems of interpersonal perception, thinking, learning, and clinical psychology.Fact|date=March 2008 His research findings were published in "Perception and the Representative Design of Experiments" (1947), which also includes Brunswik's methodological innovations and related research by others.

A feature of Brunswik's work is its coherence. Each theoretical, historical, and research paper is explicitly and tightly integrated with every other one. Brunswik's cast of mind compelled him to fit together with precision his conceptual framework, his methodology, and his views of the history of psychology. In 1952, he presented an overview of the field of psychology in "The Conceptual Framework of Psychology".


Brunswik's ideas received wide attention during his lifetime and continue to do so. The extent of his direct influence on psychology, however, remains doubtful. Although his ideas are powerful and his research complicated and ingenious, the scope, depth, and integration of his work make it formidable.Fact|date=March 2008 His unorthodoxy tends to discourage the timid and to offend those who think it mistaken.Fact|date=March 2008 However, his history, theory, and methodology struck at key problems in psychology which remain unsolved, and it is too soon to appraise with finality Brunswik's contribution to their eventual solution.

The application of his ideas in decision analysis helped improve the decisions of experts in a variety of fields including cancer prognosis, oil trading, and evaluation of candidates for graduate schools or employment. [Citation |last=Keindorfer |title=Decision Sciences: An Integrative Perspective |publisher=Cambridge University Press |date=1993] . A specific, practical method for the application for Brunswik's models have been documented in the book "How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business" by Douglas Hubbard. [Cite book |last=Hubbard |first=Douglas W. |title=How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business |publisher=John Wiley & Sons |date=July 2007]

ee also

*Decision making
*Functional psychology


*1934 "Wahrnehmung und Gegenstandswelt: Grundlegung einer Psychologie vom Gegenstand her". Leipzig: Deuticke.
*1937 Psychology as a Science of Objective Relations. "Philosophy of Science" 4:227-260.
*1943 Organismic Achievement and Environmental Probability. "Psychological Review" 50:255-272.
*(1947) 1956 "Perception and the Representative Design of Psychological Experiments". 2d ed., rev. & enl. Berkeley: Univ. of Calif. Press.
*1952 "The Conceptual Framework of Psychology". Univ. of Chicago Press.
*1955 Representative Design and Probabilistic Theory in a Functional Psychology. "Psychological Review" 62:193-217.
*List of classic papers (From 1995 Brunswik Society Newsletter)
*Complete list of all of Brunswik's papers


Further reading

*Hammond, Kenneth R. (editor) 1966 "The Psychology of Egon Brunswik". New York: Holt.
*Hammond, Kenneth R. & T. R. Stewart (ed.) 2001. "The Essential Brunswik". Cary, NC: Oxford University Press.

External links

* [ The Brunswik Society]

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