Hugo Münsterberg: biography of this German psychologist

Hugo Münsterberg (1863-1916), was a German psychologist and philosopher who laid many foundations of psychology applied to different fields, such as law, medicine, education, clinic, organizations, among others.

Then we will see a biography of Hugo Münsterberg, As well as some of his major contributions to psychology.

    Hugo Münsterberg: life and work of this important psychologist

    Hugo Münsterberg was born on June 1, 1836 in the current city of Gdansk in Poland (formerly Danzig, Prussia). Son of a carpenter and artist who permanently associated his profession with childcare, Münsterberg grew up surrounded by music and poetry. He quickly learned to play the cello and write poems.

    In 1882 Hugo Münsterberg graduated from high school, and in 1882 began his university studies at the University of Leipzig, where he met one of the most renowned psychologists of the time, Wilhelm Wundt. The latter invited Münsterberg to train in his psychology laboratory, and from there he began his doctoral studies in this field.

    In 1885, with research on natural adaptation, Hugo Münsterberg obtained a doctorate in psychology.

    Three years later, he also graduated as a doctor from the University of Heidelberg, And from there he began his career as one of the most important researchers and scholars for the scientific consolidation of psychology.

      Training in American psychology and German psychology

      In 1891, at one of the most prestigious congresses of psychology, based in Paris, Hugo Münsterberg met William James, who was already one of the most important philosophers and scientists of the time.

      James invited Hugo Münsterberg to collaborate as a researcher at Harvard University, In the USA. After accepting the invitation, also influenced by the low acceptance of his research in Germany, Münsterberg spent three years at this institution.

      The latter made it possible to consolidate an important link between American psychology and German psychology, which was reflected in the constant exchanges of psychologists in training, in particular from the United States towards the most important laboratories of the various cities.

      Recognition and exceptional work

      Hugo Münsterberg he was eventually named president of the American Psychological Association, In the year 1898 and, 12 years later, was appointed by Harvard University as an exchange professor at the University of Berlin.

      Münsterberg also maintained ambivalent positions regarding the participation of women in universities. While considering that there is a difference in the intellectual capacities between women and men, which prevents them from participating on an equal footing in the university; Münsterberg has supported various American psychologists in their applications for admission to Harvard University.

      This issue proved to be controversial, as it opened up the possibility of reducing gender segregation in university education in the United States.

      On the other hand, Münsterberg’s professional link with American psychology and German psychology this was problematically reflected in his political views of World War I. On the one hand, Münsterberg had feelings of loyalty to the United States, and on the other hand, he had some sympathy for German actions.

      In fact, he developed a project to bolster Germany’s image in the United States, an issue which was partly funded by various brewing companies, which Münsterberg supported while advocating against banning the consumption of d ‘alcohol.

      Hugo Münsterberg continued in the United States, working as a professor at Harvard University, where he died suddenly while teaching a class in 1916.

      Main contributions to psychology

      Hugo Münsterberg studied in different areas of psychology. mainly he has practiced in clinical, educational, organizational and forensic psychology. He is also recognized for having developed pioneering studies in psychology and cinema. We will briefly see his main contributions to psychology below.

      1. In clinical psychology

      Faithful to his training in experimental psychology, and attracted by the consolidation of applied psychology, Münsterberg worked as a clinical psychologist in his laboratory.

      For him, psychological processes always had a physical correlate located in the brainThus, psychopathology could be observed via neuronal observations, as well as behavioral observations.

      2. In organizational psychology

      Münsterberg studied pioneering subjects for psychology applied to organizations, such as fatigue, psychological and social influences of workload, effects of advertising, Attentional processes, monotony and finally psychology applied to economics.

      He also developed theories on how to improve efficiency in organizations, seen as emotional, mental and motivational elements of workers.

      3. In legal and forensic psychology

      One element Münsterberg focused on in particular was the study of eyewitness accounts, the analysis of how people see or think they have seen certain things.

      This inevitably led him to study of memory, recollections, processes of individual interpretation, And the foundations of the social influence of that. Münsterberg was one of the first psychologists to study the processes of suggestion to which people who go to confession are exposed in the legal framework.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Hugo Münsterberg (2018). New World Encyclopedia. Accessed September 14, 2018.Available at
      • Hugo Münsterberg (2018). Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 14, 2018.Available at

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