On This Day … 12 June

People (Births)

  • 1912 – Carl Hovland, American psychologist and academic (d. 1961).
  • 1962 – Jordan Peterson, Canadian psychologist, professor and cultural critic.

People (Deaths)

  • 2012 – Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen, Danish-German psychoanalyst and author (b. 1917).

Carl Hovland

Carl Iver Hovland (12 June 1912 to 16 April 1961) was a psychologist working primarily at Yale University and for the US Army during World War II who studied attitude change and persuasion. He first reported the sleeper effect after studying the effects of the Frank Capra’s propaganda film Why We Fight on soldiers in the Army. In later studies on this subject, Hovland collaborated with Irving Janis who would later become famous for his theory of groupthink. Hovland also developed social judgment theory of attitude change. Carl Hovland thought that the ability of someone to resist persuasion by a certain group depended on your degree of belonging to the group.

Contributions to Psychology

Psychological research was Hovland’s intellectual joy. Especially in his early career, his investigations covered many topics. His papers in psychological journals included a study of test reliability, a major review of the literature on apparent movement, as well as his four classical papers on conditioned generalisation from his doctoral dissertation.

Hovland began to emphasize micro-level analysis of propaganda and its effects. Hovland’s army experiments were the beginnings of that micro-level analysis of an individual. Hovland’s “core conceptual variable was attitude”.

Hovland believed that if he was able to recognise the attitude an individual has towards a trigger, he would be able to predict the behaviour and actions of an individual over time. However, there were many studies that argued the contrary and showed that “an attitude toward a person or object does not predict or explain an individual’s overt behavior regarding that person or object”. This revelation of low correlation did not necessarily render findings useless but instead led to further research on how under certain circumstances it was possible to change a person’s behaviour via their attitudes.

While Hovland focused on an individual rather than a group level, he began to take into consideration interpersonal communication in the form of persuasion. Specifically, Hovland was responsible for carrying out a series of studies that contributed to the “cumulative understanding of persuasion behavior that has never since been matched or even rivaled”.

To test and apply his theorisation Hovland worked proposed the SMCR model. The SMCR model consists of four components – source variables, message variables, channel variables, and receiver variables. By manipulating each of these variables, Hovland was able to advance his “message-learning approach to attitude change”. There were problems with his particular approach, however, in that by focusing on a single dimension of the SMCR model, Hovland was unable to do more than isolate a factor rather than study the synergy between the different variables.

Jordan Peterson

Jordan Bernt Peterson (born 12 June 1962) is a Canadian professor of psychology, clinical psychologist, YouTube personality, and author. He began to receive widespread attention in the late 2010s for his views on cultural and political issues, often described as conservative.

Born and raised in Alberta, Peterson obtained bachelor’s degrees in political science and psychology from the University of Alberta and a PhD in clinical psychology from McGill University. After teaching and research at Harvard University, he returned to Canada in 1998 to join the faculty of psychology at the University of Toronto. In 1999, he published his first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, which became the basis for many of his subsequent lectures. The book combined information from psychology, mythology, religion, literature, philosophy, and neuroscience to analyse systems of belief and meaning.

In 2016, Peterson released a series of YouTube videos criticising the Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (Bill C-16), passed by the Parliament of Canada to introduce “gender identity and expression” as a prohibited grounds of discrimination. He argued that the bill would make the use of certain gender pronouns into compelled speech, and related this argument to a general critique of political correctness and identity politics. He subsequently received significant media coverage, attracting both support and criticism.

Afterwards, Peterson’s lectures and conversations – propagated especially through podcasts and YouTube – gradually gathered millions of views. He put his clinical practice and teaching duties on hold by 2018, when he published his second book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Promoted with a world tour, it became a bestseller in several countries. Throughout 2019 and 2020, Peterson’s work was obstructed by health problems in the aftermath of a severe benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. In 2021, he published his third book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, and returned to active podcasting.

Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen

Margarete Mitscherlich-Nielsen (née Nielsen; 17 July 1917 to 12 June 2012) or the “Grande Dame of German Psychoanalysis” as she was often referred to as, was a German psychoanalyst who focused mainly on the themes of feminism, female sexuality, and the national psychology of post-war Germany.

Contributions to Psychology

From the 1960s, alongside the protagonists of the Frankfurt School, the Mitscherlichs played an important part in post-war Germany’s intellectual debates, employing psychoanalytic thought for explaining the causes behind Nazi Germany and its aftermath in German society to the present day. The first major book they wrote together was Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern. Grundlagen kollektiven Verhaltens (The Inability to Mourn: Principles of Collective Behaviour), first published in 1967, discussing why the Holocaust, the war crimes, and the sentiment of guilt on the offender’s part were not dealt with adequately in post-war German society.

Subsequently, Margarete Mitscherlich’s interest in feminist positions grew, as she became friends with German feminist journalist Alice Schwarzer, contributing to her magazine EMMA. In the first issue of the journal in November 1977, she confessed: “Ich bin Feministin” (“I am a feminist”). At the time, she also took an active part in legal actions against anti-women depictions in popular German media. Her book Die friedfertige Frau. Eine psychoanalytische Untersuchung zur Aggression der Geschlechter (The peaceable sex: On aggression in women and men), first published in 1987, is Mitscherlich’s most successful book to date, dealing with the roles women play in politics. Specifically, she discussed specific psychological cases pertaining to the potential for human aggression, the socialization of women, narcissism, loneliness, parenthood, and anti-Semitism within her writing. In the follow-up Die Zukunft ist weiblich (The future is feminine, 1987) Mitscherlich pleaded for values to become more feminine, even men’s values. She is notable for the highly politicised nature of her work when many of her peers considered neutrality an essential element of psychoanalysis.

Until well into her nineties, Mitscherlich worked as a psychoanalyst, advising younger colleagues and commenting political developments in the press. In her latest book, published in 2010, aged 93, Die Radikalität des Alters. Einsichten einer Psychoanalytikerin (The Radicality of Age. Insights of a Psychoanalyst) she reflects upon her own experience of ageing. She famously claimed that Germans cannot mourn.

Mitscherlich was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2001. She received the Ehrenplakette der Stadt Frankfurt am Main in 1990 and the Tony-Sender-Preis der Stadt Frankfurt am Main in 2005.

Mitscherlich has a son who was born in 1949, a lawyer and executive manager. She lived in the Frankfurt Westend until her death. She died, aged 94, in Frankfurt.