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Influential Female Psychologists: Contributions & History

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  • 0:00 Women in Psychology
  • 0:39 Karen Horney & Melanie Klein
  • 1:52 Anna Freud & Mary Ainsworth
  • 3:04 Sandra Bem & Eleanor Maccoby
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns
Learning about women in psychology is an important part of understanding the history of the field and its most important influences. This lesson gives you an overview of some of the most influential female psychologists.

Women in Psychology

When we think of famous psychologists, it is possible that few women will be on our lists. However, this has more to do with the fact that women are underrepresented in the history of many academic disciplines than with actual contributions. In fact, many influential women have contributed to the development of psychology. This lesson will help you close the historical gap by telling you about women who have played important roles throughout the history of psychology. You will learn about six influential female psychologists, their ideas, and the ways that they contributed to the field.

Karen Horney & Melanie Klein

Karen Horney was born in 1885 in Germany and later moved to the United States. Trained as a psychoanalyst, or a psychologist following Freud's theory of the unconscious, she broke with dogmatic Freudian thought later in her career. In particular, Horney is known for founding feminist psychology, a woman-oriented repudiation of Freud's theory of penis envy. She did not believe that men and women had inherent psychological differences but, rather, believed that these differences could usually be attributed to society and culture.

Melanie Klein, born in 1882, was also a well-known psychoanalyst who made profound contributions to the application of psychoanalysis to work with children. Klein believed that children should be analyzed using play techniques, and she thought that most of Sigmund Freud's theories regarding infantile sexuality could be applied to helping children overcome neurosis and deal with difficult symptoms. Klein famously developed the idea of projective identification, in which people play out their emotional experiences on others and, thus, come to know more about their unconscious. Klein also believed in the importance of the clinician monitoring effect of patients as a way of understanding their early experiences.

Anna Freud & Mary Ainsworth

Sigmund Freud's youngest daughter, Anna Freud, born in 1895, had a powerful influence on the development of psychoanalysis and particularly the ways that it was used to treat children. She treated children who were traumatized by loss and violence during World War II, theorizing that children required psychologists who could act as strong pedagogical figures and moral models. Anna Freud lectured frequently for teachers and parents, bringing psychoanalytic theory into the educational realm. She is also known for her ideas about defense mechanisms. She believed that much of human psychology had to do with the structures people create to defend themselves against difficult feelings.

Mary Ainsworth, born in 1913, is best known for her contribution to the development of attachment theory, or a set of ideas about how children form attachments to their primary caregivers and how the specific nature of these attachments play out in their daily lives. Ainsworth developed a procedure called the strange situation, where parents and children were observed in unfamiliar environments with an eye toward figuring out what kind of attachment they had. She theorized that children with secure attachments were more developmentally comfortable and adaptable.

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