Top Five German Psychologists and Their Theories

famous german psychologists erich fromm

German Psychologists/ Famous Psychologists from Germany

Psychology is a relatively young science with a turbulent history in terms of change in paradigms or the creation of new schools. Since the field of Psychology developed, theories and research activities increased significantly. German psychologists have always had a great influence in the development of the subject. 

Psychology as a science has evolved from Philosophy. Many of the first Psychology professors at Universities were innately Philosophers. One of the founding fathers of Psychology and the psychological experiment is Wilhelm Wundt. While Behaviorism with its objective and experimental view of Psychology was the main influence in the United States, the Gestalt Psychology, which describes human perception as the ability to identify structures and organizing principles in sensory impressions, was the main trend in Germany. Since the 60s and 70s, Cognitivism became the dominant paradigm in both US and Germany. People construct constructivist ideas and knowledge content in active exchange with the environment and in the social group. In the last couple of years, the Evolutionary Psychology increased in impotance.

Famous Austrian, Swiss and German Psychologists

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was born on May, 6 1856 in Czech Republic and has Austrian roots. He is not a German, but had a strong connection to Germany as his wife Martha was from Hamburg, where the couple also got married. Some consider Sigmund Freud as the father of Psychology and in fact, without him, Psychology as people know it nowadays, wouldn’t be the same. The outstanding student, who already finished his doctor in medicine at the age of 25, was always fascinated by the humand brain and wanted to learn more about it. One of his main achievements as a Psychologist was the establishment of the Psychoanalysis. According to Freud, it is possible to bring repressed memories and subconscious experiences back to the surface. His technique was relatively new during his creative period: the patient just had to talk about whatever comes into his mind. Besides the establishment of the Psychoanalysis, Freud also researched about several other topics and developed very interesting theories about them. Until today, he is considered as one of the most influential psychologists as well as one of the most famous therapists who ever existed.


Freud published his analysis of dreams in 1900. It assumes that a person is living out desires and impulses in his dreams, which he has to prohibit due to various reasons in real life. In any of Freuds therapies, the analysis of dreams were an important part.

Id, Ego and Super-Ego

According to Freud, the human psyche is based on a tripartite division in it, ego and superego. The “it” is the innate and therefore earliest psychic system. It simply stands for the motivations and desires of people. The super-ego is the opposite to the “it” and reflects moral values. In between “it” and superego stands the “I”, the conscious personality. The conscious personality is constantly busy between “It”, “super-ego” and in conveying the environment.

Since the three instances are permanently in a fight with each other, conflicts are inevitable. Freud believed that most psychological problems arise because of the imbalance of it, ego and super-ego.

Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm was one of the most famous humanistic German psychologists. Born on March 23, 1900 in Frankfurt at Main, the Jewish Fromm first wanted to become a lawyer, but finally changed his subject to Sociology. Fromm’s main focus was the social psychology. One of his main theories says that the individual is a social being and the interactions between individuals always marked by social taboos and requirements. Many psychoanalysts ignored Fromm’s views throughout his lifetime as they didn’t accept him as a Psychoanalyst – even though he was the first one, who considered human beings as relational beings. Furthermore, Fromm recognized a narcissm as the main cause of disorted self and perception of reality. He also published a book about Freud’s psychoanalysis, in which he described Freud’s real discoveries, but he also critices theories, which are – according to Fromm – only time-bounded.

As Fromm was from a Jewish family, he got excluced from the Psychoanalytic Association in the 1930s. Due to his “unorthodox” views, he never got a chance to become a member again.

Friedemann Schulz von Thun

Friedemann Schulz von Thun was born on August, 6 1944 in Soltau. He is a Psychologist and Communicational Scientist and especially famous for his four sides model. The communication square is based on the assumption, that every verbal expression can get interpretated by four aspects. On the tangible side, the speaker informs about the factual content. The self-revelaton includes what is seen by sending the message of the speaker. The relationship side illustrates, what the transmitter thinks in terms of the receiver. What the transmitter finally wants to express, is represented by the call side.

While the transmitter is talking through four “mouths”, the receiver is listening through four “ears”. What the transmitter is trying to express, sometimes doesnt fit to the receivers interpretation. The result are conflicts. Interpersonal contacts are the most exciting part when it comes to the four sides of a message.

In total, one of the most famous German psychologists Friedemann Schulz von Thun published three volumes of “Miteinander reden” (Talking with each other), in which he describes different types and ways of interpersonal communication.

Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Gustav Jung was born on July, 26 1875 in Switzerland. He is the founder of the analytical psychology and some of very famous concepts such as the psychological complex or extra- and introversion. In C. G. Jungs theory of personality, the “I” (I-conciousness) plays the central function in the field of conciousness of a person, while the “self” is the center of the personality. The “I” is characterized by a strong identification with the “self”. Jung also used the term “ego complex”, because he assumed that “I” consists of a complex of ideas and identifications. A conscious perception of things is his conception is only possible within this limited ego-complex.

Outside the ego-complex, there are also other I-close complexes, which belong to the area of unconciousness. According to his theory, this area is formed through two different channels. Firstly, it belongs to content that was once conscious, but eventually got displaced and (for example very early childhood memories) were therefore excluded from the “I”. The other area is the one, which was always unconsciously, thus never part of the ego-consciousness. In this context, C. G. Jung speaks about primary unconscious elements.

Wilhelm Wundt

William Wundt was born on August 16, 1832 in Mannheim and is considered as the founder of the modern Psychology. Wilhelm Wundt is especially famous for his establishment of the Psychological experiment, the creation of the first psychology lab and as the founder of the worldwide first institute for experimental Psychology in the University of Leipzig.

One of the most famous German psychologists, Wundt, started his university career in Tübingen, where he studied Chemistry, Physics, Botanic and Physiology. He later on studied Mathematics in Heidelberg, when a lecture in physical chemistry aroused his interest in this subject. When he began his work as an assitant doctor at university hospital of Heidelberg, some of his patients suffered from paralysis of the skin and muscles. Wundt diagnosed psychological causes – contrary to the then common doctrine that it must have been a physical reason. He released his first book “Contributions about the theory of sensory perception” and finally finished his PhD in 1856. After teaching Philosophy in Zurich, Wundt was trying to establish Psychology as a own science. Until today, Wundt is seen as the father of Psychology.

Featured image: Erich Fromm – Müller-May Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0 DE


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