Robert White

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ROBERT WHITE
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...
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