Birth of Bruno Bettelheim

Birth of Bruno Bettelheim

Bruno Bettelheim

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Religious History
History of Science

Bruno Bettelheim is born in Vienna, Austria. His family is Jewish, but he grows up in a secular home. This doesn't matter to the Nazis, of course, who send him first to Dachau and later to Buchenwald.

Bettelheim is freed during a general amnesty in 1939, at which point he flees to the United States. He will, however, make use of his knowledge of the Nazis and concentration camps in his studies of the effects of stress on personalities, the behavior of groups, and ways to help individuals defend themselves against the destructive tendencies of large institutions and groups.

Over the course of his career, Bruno Bettelheim will be one of the leading figures in the application of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis to the understanding of mass society. One of his most influential articles will be "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations," in which he explores how stress affects one's personality and how this, in turn, affects the behavior of groups.

In 1950, he and Morris Janowitz will publish Dynamics of Prejudice, a study on how the experiences of World War II has affected young veterans. Contrary to ideas being promoted by Theodor Adorno, another intellectual who fled Nazi persecution, Bettelheim will not believe that there is any sort of uniquely authoritarian personality which tends to adopt prejudicial beliefs and attitudes.

Instead, Bettelheim will focus on how social controls and situations can encourage the development of prejudice in people. He will conclude that the levels of prejudice expressed in a society are produced by social and psychological factors such as education, social position, family background, social mobility and general social interactions.


Bruno Bettelheim Documentary Horizon 1986

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