Death of Bruno Bettelheim, Austrian Psychologist

Death of Bruno Bettelheim, Austrian Psychologist

Bruno Bettelheim

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Bruno Bettelheim commits suicide. Bettelheim studied the effects of stress on personalities and how this, in turn, affected the behavior of groups. Due to his experiences at the hands of the Nazis, he was particularly interested in ways to help individuals defend themselves against the destructive tendencies of large institutions and groups.

Bruno Bettelheim was an Austrian-born psychologist who was arrested by the Nazis after Germany annexed Austria and was even held for a time at Dachau and Buchenwald. After he was released in 1939 he emigrated to the United States and became a citizen in 1944. Over the course of his career Bettelheim would become one of the central figures in the application of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis in the understanding of mass society.

One of Bettelheim's most influential articles was "Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations, " in which he studied the effects of stress on personalities and how this, in turn, affected the behavior of groups. Because of his experiences at the hands of the Nazis, he was particularly interested in ways to help individuals defend themselves against the destructive tendencies of large institutions and groups.

In 1950, he published with Morris Janowitz the book Dynamics of Prejudice. This was a study on how the experiences of World War II had affected young veterans. Contrary to the prevailing notion fostered by Theodor Adorno, another intellectual who fled Nazi persecution, Bettelheim did not believe that there was a uniquely authoritarian personality which tended to adopt prejudicial beliefs and attitudes.

Instead, Bettelheim examined the ways in which various social controls and social situations fed the development of prejudice. He believed that the level of expressed prejudice was a function of social and psychological factors like education, social position, family background, social mobility and general social interactions.

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