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Geoffrey Dean and David Nias
From Correlation 16(1), 48-54, 1997 with an added section on Eysenck's birth chart.
Abstract -- Professor Hans Eysenck (1916-1997) was arguably the most influential psychologist of his time. This lengthy obituary (4400 words) traces his upbringing, his career (he took up psychology by accident), his writings (he wrote over 1000 articles and nearly 80 books), his interest in graphology, astrology and parapsychology (which led to about 5, 19 and 12 publications respectively), and his work with Jeff Mayo (zodiac zig-zag) and Michel Gauquelin (planetary effects). Eysenck was famous for his stupendous clarity and unrelenting rationalism. All statements had to be based on sound experiment and measurement. "If it cannot be measured then it does not exist", he said. Those who argued the opposite by citing, say, love or artistic taste were quickly confronted by inventories that measured exactly that, and a vast erudition seemingly always at his fingertips. Debating Eysenck was a sobering experience. His book Astrology Science or Superstition?, written with David Nias in 1982, is now dated but is perhaps still the most readable scientific account of astrology ever written. His interest in astrology helped to launch London Research Conferences and three overseas Eysenck Research Seminars. The first seminar led to the formation of the Committee for Objective Research in Astrology, with Eysenck as Chairman, to counter the generally poor quality of astrological research by providing free guidance and advice. It still exists even though few enquiries have been received, most of which did not proceed further. Eysenck was quiet and soft-spoken with just a trace of accent, always helpful and approachable, remembered by his students and colleagues as loyal even when their views differed from his own. He set an example of open-mindedness and good science that everyone can aim for but few will achieve. The response by astrologers has been generally to praise his favourable comments and to condemn him otherwise. No doubt Eysenck saw this as an example of the phrase he had framed many years earlier to characterise irrational thinkers, namely "my mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts." Eysenck's birth chart reveals little about astrology other than its ability to describe almost anything in retrospect. 15 references.
Professor Hans Jurgen Eysenck, arguably the most influential psychologist of his time, died on 4 September 1997 aged 81 after a long illness. He was for more than thirty years Professor of Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. He attracted controversy, albeit unwillingly, and called his autobiography Rebel with a Cause (1990). He pointed out that psychotherapy was no better than no psychotherapy in curing neuroses. He denied theories of the sub-conscious in favour of the role of learning. He argued that smoking did not necessarily cause lung cancer by itself but interacted with other factors such as personality. He championed Arthur Jensen's belief in inherited IQ racial differences. He supported Gauquelin's conclusion that planetary positions correlate with the personality of eminent professionals. In each of these cases (many more could be cited) he adopted a position that his opponents found outrageous.
Eysenck was born in Berlin in 1916 to gifted actor parents, his father specialising in comedy and his mother in silent films. At age 2 his parents divorced leaving him in care of his grandmother. At age 18 he left Germany because tertiary study required that he join the Nazi party, which he refused to do. He went first to France, where he studied history and literature at Dijon University. But because he liked English poetry and writing more than the French, he went on to England, where he applied to study physics and astronomy at London University. But by mistake he had not taken certain vital courses. It was either wait another year or enter the only science subject that his courses allowed, namely psychology, which he had never heard of! "Thus is one's fate decided by bureaucratic stupidity" he said. Later he came to realise that competition in physics was much fiercer than in psychology, leading to a much harder life, so he felt that the fateful decision may have been for the best.
The scientific approach to psychology
One of his major objectives was to develop a scientific understanding of personality. When he started the field was in a terrible mess, with thousands of apparently different traits each supported or condemned by various rival schools. In his first book Dimensions of Personality (1947) he developed the independent dimensions of extraversion and neuroticism. In a later book The Scientific Study of Personality (1952) he added psychoticism. Subsequently there was the Eysenck Personality Inventory (1964) for measuring E and N, and the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (1975) for measuring E, N and P, both becoming one of the most widely used personality tests in psychological research. Today, fifty years later, there is virtual consensus that there are just a handful of independent dimensions, ranging from Eysenck's three to (most commonly) five. Altogether he wrote over 1000 articles in scientific journals and nearly 80 books.
Outside the academic world Eysenck was best known for his popular books on psychological topics. The first was Uses and Abuses of Psychology (1953), written at the invitation of Pelican Books. It was based on his lectures and took only a fortnight to write -- as with all except his earliest writings, he simply dictated each chapter as it came along, and then made an absolute minimum of changes to the transcript, arguing that too much revision spoilt the spontaneity. (Given careful thinking ahead of time, but not otherwise, he could dictate a 9000-word article in a five-hour day.) This book, together with Sense and Nonsense in Psychology (1956) and Fact and Fiction in Psychology (1965), became bestsellers, selling literally millions of copies in many translations and reprintings, and more than trebling his rather poor salary as a university professor. Other popular titles included Know Your Own IQ (1962), Check Your Own IQ (1966), Psychology is about People (1972), The Inequality of Man (1973), and his own favourite Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (1985). All were written with his usual stupendous clarity and unrelenting rationalism, because unsupported speculation was not his style. All statements had to be based on sound experiment and measurement. "If it cannot be measured then it does not exist", he said. Those who argued the opposite by citing, say, love or artistic taste were quickly confronted by inventories that measured exactly that, and a vast erudition seemingly always at his fingertips. Debating Eysenck was invariably a sobering experience.
His unswerving allegiance to the scientific method took him into a vast psychological territory whose diversity was formidable, the major areas being behavioral genetics, personality, intelligence, social attitudes, psychotherapy and Freudian psychology, behaviour therapy, sexual and marital behaviour, smoking and health, sports psychology, and (often to the surprise of his associates) the politically-incorrect areas of graphology, astrology and parapsychology. Eysenck's contributions to all these areas are described in anthologies edited by Modgil & Modgil (1985) and by Nyborg (1997).
Today, when the methods of behavioural therapy first proposed by Eysenck are widely accepted, it is hard to imagine the furore they originally created. In 1958, after his first talk on the subject to a packed house of psychoanalysts, where he contrasted the secure experimental basis and proven success of behaviour therapy against the opposite situation in psychoanalysis, "the audience seemed to erupt, jumping up and down, yelling, screaming imprecations, and waving their fists in the air ... a reductio ad absurdum of the claims made by psychoanalysts that training in psychoanalysis made people more rational" (Eysenck 1990:145-146). On the other hand, "tact and diplomacy have never been my strong points. I always felt that a scientist owes the world only one thing, and that is the truth as he sees it. If the truth contradicts deeply held beliefs, that is too bad" (1990:119).
These two major contributions (behaviour therapy and personality theory) each have associated journals founded by Eysenck, namely Behaviour Research and Therapy (1963) and Personality and Individual Differences (1980), or BRAT and PAID for short. Today both are thriving and both are leaders in their fields. Eysenck was also the founding editor of the International Series of Monographs in Experimental Psychology (1962), aimed at work too long for journals and too specialised for books. Many issues have become quite well known.
Despite his influence on clinical practice, Eysenck never practised any therapy himself. Indeed, he often said he was not a good psychologist in the layman's sense of having an intuitive understanding of other people's reactions. But the opposite prevailed in sports psychology -- as a tennis junior he was ranked No 2 in Germany, and he continued playing an hour or two of tennis or squash each weekday well into his 70s. (Interestingly, Gauquelin was also an active tennis player and achieved national ranking in France.)
Opposites also prevailed when he met Sybil, later to become his second wife. The equity theory of love and marriage says that advantages and disadvantages for both partners should be roughly equal if the partnership is to be successful. She was young, pretty, and vivacious; he was older and poverty-stricken. She was extraverted, sociable and used to going out; he was introverted, a reader of books and used to staying at home. She was extremely low on psychoticism; he was much higher. But she had virtues not normally associated with extraversion like extreme efficiency and punctuality, and had a neuroticism score compatible with his own zero score. She also had an intuitive understanding of his work, and later made significant contributions to it. Their lives became inseparable, and in over forty years of marriage they never had a serious quarrel. Eysenck always remembered their first meeting (at a daily discussion group) as if it were yesterday: "I have never believed in love at first sight, and still don't know whether it exists, but what I felt at that moment must have come pretty near to it" (1990:110).
Eysenck's interest in astrology
Each of these three areas (graphology, astrology, parapsychology) was controversial but each had a solid core of testable ideas. It was this important quality of testability, plus apparently positive results, that first attracted Eysenck's attention. He said "the main attraction of a field such as hypnosis (or parapsychology, or astrology), is the promise it contains of entirely new and extremely important knowledge that might be gained by a study of the (alleged) phenomena in question" (1990:233).
Eysenck (1986) emphasises that he came to his positive conclusions (on the Gauquelin findings, on ESP, on psychokinesis) only after carefully assessing the evidence and failing to find sources of error. He comments "it is said that one should not waste time on topics which are obviously absurd, ... I do not believe myself that a priori judgments of this kind are admissible in science; scientists have been wrong too many times in making explicit statements of this kind to be considered infallible. In any case, the time that is wasted is mine, and to waste it by reading the literature on astrology and parapsychology is probably better spent than in watching pornographic films, or becoming a football hooligan!" (1986:382-383).
Eysenck's positive conclusions arose even though the claims seemed at first unlikely to be true. The result was appreciable cognitive dissonance: "I do not enjoy having to defend empirical findings which go counter to my own instinctive beliefs. I would much rather be in a position to disprove all parapsychological and astrological claims: life would be so much easier if we could cosily go to sleep in the shadow of orthodox science!" But the facts decided the issue: "I certainly did not come to positive conclusions in these matters simply in order to annoy orthodox scientists. ... Perhaps strong innate feelings for the underdog have something to do with it; I believe that these fields have been decried by orthodox scientists without specialist knowledge of what has been done in them, and this I consider to be insupportable" (1986:384).
Eysenck was involved with astrology mostly during 1975-1985, ten years after he became involved with parapsychology. His interest in astrology was aroused by the findings of Michel Gauquelin (1926-1991). Over the years Gauquelin had disconfirmed many of astrology's claims, but one curious finding persisted. At the birth of eminent professionals such as soldiers and painters, certain planets tended to prefer or avoid the areas just past rise and upper culmination, roughly one fifth of the total. The surplus or deficit could not be explained by demographic or astronomic artifacts and was typically 10 to 25 per cent more than expected. (This may seem like a lot but the corresponding effect size, which for thirty years nobody bothered to calculate, was only 0.02 to 0.05.) To add to the puzzle, the effect disappeared if the professionals were not eminent. The usual explanations such as sampling errors did not apply because Gauquelin used large samples with N sometimes exceeding 3000, the results were highly significant with p often below 0.0001, and the effect seemed to replicate. Eysenck was impressed, and gave a favourable review of the Gauquelin results in the now-defunct magazine New Behaviour (1975).
In the same article Eysenck took issue with Karl Popper's argument that astrology, like psychoanalysis, is a pseudoscience because it consists of untestable assertions. Eysenck argued that, on the contrary, astrology does make testable assertions such as those linking planetary positions and personality, hence "there should be no difficulty in arranging an experiment to test the hypothesis quite unambiguously." In giving Gauquelin's research as an example, Eysenck commented "I think it may be said that, as far as objectivity of observation, statistical significance of differences, verification of the hypothesis, and replicability are concerned, there are few sets of data in psychology which could compete with these observations. ... I think we must admit that there is something here that requires explanation." This is a good illustration of Eysenck's insistence on giving priority to facts over mere opinion.
At the time of his New Behaviour article Eysenck was also becoming involved in a test of sun signs. In 1971, the British astrologer Jeff Mayo had sent Eysenck a study of 1795 subjects in which their mean scores on Mayo's extraversion questionnaire were plotted against sun sign. The results showed a zig-zag pattern completely in accordance with astrology. Eysenck was intrigued and made the EPI available to Mayo for further tests. Then in 1973, quite independently of Mayo, the British sociologist Joe Cooper showed Eysenck a study of Bradford University students in which their mean E scores were plotted against sun sign. The results showed the same zig-zag pattern.
The outcome was a paper by Mayo, White & Eysenck (1978) detailing the EPI results for 2324 subjects, followed in the same journal by a paper by Smithers & Cooper (1978) detailing the EPI results for 559 students. In each case the result was a zig-zag pattern in agreement with astrology. However, the difference in mean E score between odd and even signs was only 0.7, which is very small compared to the mean E score of about 13 and SD of about 4, and is much smaller than the claims of sun-sign astrology would suggest. In due course this led to over a dozen replications, most of them positive, the mean effect size being 0.09.
Advance notice of the Eysenck paper was hailed by astrologers as "possibly the most important development for astrology in this century" (Phenomena 1977, 1, 1). But Eysenck later discovered that the effect disappeared when people unfamiliar with sun-signs were tested, so it had a simple explanation -- prior knowledge of astrology. Ask Sagittarians (who are supposed to be sociable and outgoing) whether they like going to parties, and astrology might tip their answer in favour of yes rather than no. The same bias applies to the other signs, who are supposed to be alternately E+ and E-, hence the zig-zag. The bias may be unconscious and very slight but in large samples it can attain impressive significance, as in the Mayo study where p = 0.000005 (although reported by convention only as p = 0.0001) for N = 2324.
Just before the Mayo study appeared, Recent Advances in Natal Astrology was published. This was the first critical scientific review of the research basis to astrology. To ensure accuracy it involved a total of fifty-four collaborators, one of whom was Eysenck, who assisted with the sections on personality and psychology. The availability of this review and the encouraging results of the Gauquelin, Mayo and Cooper studies prompted Eysenck to take his interest further. He facilitated the use of the Institute of Psychiatry by astrologers and psychologists for a joint weekend research seminar in May 1979 (Gibson, 1981:209). The seminar was a success and by 1996 nine more had been held. The first four were held at the Institute of Psychiatry, the rest (from 1986) were held elsewhere in London. Attendance has varied from a high of 110 in 1981 to a low of 45 in 1989, with a mean of 70, of which typically 15 are speakers.
The interest of Eysenck in astrology led to three "Eysenck Research Seminars" being organised by astro-sympathisers at Long Beach, Freiburg and Naples in 1986, 1987 and 1988 respectively. The first had a dozen speakers but attracted only 25 people, despite being timed to follow two major US astrology conferences of the traditional kind, each of which attracted about 1000 people. Nevertheless the seminar was significant because it resulted in the formation of the Committee for Objective Research in Astrology (CORA), with Eysenck as Chairman, and twelve others (astrologers and academics) chosen for their expertise. CORA was set up to counter the generally poor quality of astrological research by providing free guidance and advice. It still exists even though few enquiries have been received, most of which did not proceed further.
Astrology: Science or Superstition?
Eysenck (left) and Nias in 1992 in the Institute tea rooms, for 30 years the traditional place for meeting Eysenck.
Apart from reviewing the evidence for astrology, Eysenck & Nias made two original and important refutations, both of which were subsequently confirmed by others. First, the Mayo zodiac effect was shown in two separate studies to be an artifact of prior knowledge. Second, the claims of John Nelson (that planetary positions can be used to predict shortwave radio quality with about 90 per cent accuracy) were shown to rest on an artifact in calculating the accuracy rate.
With respect to other claims, Eysenck & Nias were able to point to various non-astrological explanations, for example much of the acceptance of astrological readings was explained by the Barnum effect. But they remained puzzled by the Gauquelin findings, agreeing with the now-famous quote of Arthur Mather (1979): "Both those who are for and against astrology (in the broadest sense) as a serious field for study recognize the importance of Gauquelin's work. It is probably not putting it too strongly to say that everything hangs on it."
Overall, the astrology book reflected Eysenck's skill in explaining complex issues in everyday language. As one of the quotes on the back cover puts it: "No scientist of our time, that I have ever read, can match Hans Eysenck in marshalling relevant data, presenting them lucidly, and drawing from them plausible conclusions." For example, on the argument that no factor in a birth chart shall be judged in isolation, and that judging all factors collectively is too subtle a process to be investigated scientifically, an argument which can occupy astrologers for several pages, it is all over in one paragraph:
"But this [argument] misses the point. If the most basic tenets of astrology are true, they should be detectable in their own right, regardless of other subtleties. To take an analogy, suppose we were investigating the belief that there is a connection between diet and body weight. Of course many other factors come in, such as genetic make-up, age, exercise, health and so on. Nevertheless, if we took a large enough sample, we should certainly expect to see indications that fat people tended to be well fed and starving people tended to be thin. If astrology is true, it must pass that kind of test" (p.31).
In general Eysenck's contributions to astrological research were his insistence that there was an effect to be explained, his insistence that matters be resolved by appropriate experiments, and his refusal to be satisfied with dismissive explanations. In short, he set an example of open-mindedness and good science that everyone can aim for but few will achieve. Unsurprisingly, the response by astrologers has been generally to praise him when his comments were favourable to astrology, and to condemn him otherwise. For example, when he delivered his revised verdict on the Mayo study during the 1979 astrology conference at the Institute of Psychiatry, "there was a strong feeling among some of the astrologers that Eysenck had first beguiled them with his patronage, and then betrayed them by bringing forward some ugly facts" (Gibson 1979:210). Similarly, in response to an article by Eysenck on research methodology in astrology, the astrologer Sandra Ellis (1982) commented "I am puzzled why some astrologers ... feel a need to be accepted by self-styled sole proponents of rationality." No doubt Eysenck saw this as an example of the phrase he himself had framed many years earlier to characterise irrational thinkers, namely "my mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts."
A most accessible professor
Although Eysenck wrote several papers on research methods in astrology, he was doubtful that research could be taught via cookbooks. The things most needed were motivation and critical thinking, and these were best obtained by interaction with informed and enthusiastic others. For many years from the 1950s he and Sybil held informal supper evenings at their home, described by an associate as "a Hansel and Gretel sugar house of red and pink and yellow" (1990:154) and a pleasant 20-minute walk from the Institute, to which all staff and students (typically a dozen, rarely more than twenty) were invited to discuss current work. Rather than sell particular ideas, Eysenck would help them answer their own questions, pointing out any particular difficulties they needed to address, and inviting critical comment from the others. In this way people discovered things for themselves and became runaway enthusiasts. As noted by Arthur Jensen, "rarely have I encountered a group of researchers more involved and excited in what they were doing." Of course this was psychology, not astrology, but the same principle applies. As Eysenck himself said, "I organized my life around research, putting almost everything else aside; this you must do if you want to get anywhere" (1990:279).
Eysenck's preference for things that could be measured is shown by page 284 of his autobiography, which lists members of British psychology departments with the most citations in the 1985 Social Sciences Citation Index (which counts the number of times their work is cited by others). He was far in front with 813 citations. The next nearest had 251. Internationally, Eysenck became the world's most cited living psychologist, and (after Freud and Piaget) the most cited psychologist of all time. There can be few astrological researchers to whom he was not an inspiration. He will be sorely missed.
Eysenck was twice married and is survived by his second wife Sybil, a son from his first marriage (now Professor of Psychology at Royal Holloway College), and three sons and a daughter from his second. In the UK, obituaries appeared on 8 September 1997 in the Independent and the Times, on 10 September 1997 in the Daily Telegraph, and in the November issue of The Psychologist.
Birth chart of H J Eysenck
Birth chart of H.J.Eysenck (tropical zodiac, Placidus houses)
At first sight Eysenck's birth chart appears to be an uncanny match to his contrasting public and personal sides mentioned by his biographer, who describes Eysenck as having a quiet, soft-spoken personal manner that is nothing like his public image of extreme tough-mindedness. But if as a control we take the exactly opposite personality, namely loud, outgoing, easily upset, submissive and lacking in confidence, inspection of astrology textbooks shows that the first three of these traits are exactly matched by the above "loud" configuration, and the rest by the "quiet" configuration, especially as the Sun and Moon are in Pisces, indicating sensitivity and passivity. Therefore Eysenck's chart reveals little about astrology other than its ability to describe almost anything in retrospect. (This section adapted from Nias & Dean 1986:369-370.)
ReferencesDean GA, Nias DKB & French CC (1997). Graphology, astrology, and parapsychology [Eysenck's involvement in]. In Nyborg (1999) 511-542. Includes a list of Eysenck's publications in these areas.
Dwyer T (1986). Editorial comment. Astrological Journal, 28(3), 114.
Ellis S (1982). Eysenck methodology (letter). Astrological Journal, 24(3), 198-200.
Eysenck HJ (1975). Planets, stars and personality. New Behaviour, 29 May, 246-249.
Eysenck HJ (1986). Consensus and controversy: Two types of science. In Modgil & Modgil (1986) pp 375-398.
Eysenck HJ (1990). Rebel with a Cause: The Autobiography of Hans Eysenck. Allen, London.
Eysenck HJ & Nias DKB (1982). Astrology: Science or Superstition? Temple Smith, London, and St Martin's, New York.
Gibson HB (1981). Hans Eysenck: The Man and His Work. Peter Owen, London.
Mather A (1979). Response to reviews of Recent Advances. Zetetic Scholar, 3/4, 96.
Mayo J, White O & Eysenck HJ (1978). An empirical study of the relation between astrological factors and personality. Journal of Social Psychology, 105, 229-236.
Modgil S & Modgil C (eds) (1986). Hans Eysenck: Consensus and Controversy. Essays in Honour of Hans Eysenck. Falmer, Lewes UK, 421 pp.
Nias DKB & Dean GA (1986). Astrology and parapsychology [Eysenck's involvement in]. In Modgil & Modgil (1986) 357-371.
Nyborg H (ed) (1997). The Scientific Study of Human Nature: Tribute to Hans J Eysenck at Eighty. Pergamon, Oxford, 640 pp.
Smithers AG & Cooper HJ (1978). Personality and season of birth. Journal of Social Psychology, 105, 237-241.
Reports of the Eysenck astrological research seminars appear in Correlation, 1986, 6(2), 5-6; 1987, 7(1), 2; 1988, 8(1), 3-4; and in Astro-Psychological Problems, 1986, 4(3), 4-6; 1987, 5(2), 4-5 with pictures; 1988, 6(3), 9-17 including panel discussion.
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