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Lück, H., Volkova, M.V. (2011). Tamara Dembo: scientific portrait against background of the 20th century

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Methodology and History of Psychology. 2011. Volume 6. Issue 2
Portrait of Scientist
Scientific article
Tamara Dembo: scientific portrait against background of the 20th century
Lück, Helmut
Volkova, Marina Vsevolodovna
The article discusses the scientific biography of the outstanding female psychologist Tamara Dembo. Her career began in the early 20th century, ended in its 90s, and it reflected many of the historical and scientific-psychological tendencies of the century. She was born in the Russian Empire, emigrated after the October revolution in cultural and scientific capital of Europe – Berlin, where she was in the midst of the life of the Psychological Institute of the time of its heyday, the rapid development of Gestalt psychology, as a student of K. Lewin she was involved in the creation of his field theory and consideration of emotional and volitional processes of the individual in this context. Her dissertation research "Anger as a dynamic problem" (1931) can be regarded as the work that anticipated the emergence of several promising directions in the psychology of the 20th century, related to the study of motivation of achievement, level of aspiration, frustration, aggression, social and psychological phenomena in the experimental situation. In addition, a short-time work in the Physiological Institute at the F. Buytendijk (Netherlands) in 1929 gave her experience in conducting experimental research in the field of animal psychology, as well as interpreting the results of such research from the standpoint of Gestalt psychology. As in the case of field theory of K. Lewin, Dembo's studies were in line with the revolutionary scientific events: they showed the limitations of behaviorism, found new research trends, confirmed the results of Buytendijk's research that allowed him a few years to say the main idea of ​​a new scientific direction – ethology.
At the beginning of the 1930s due to the advent of fascism to power and the persecution of Jews, as well as the inability to return to the USSR, T. Dembo emigrated to the US where, adapting to the traditions of American psychology, still continued the tradition of the Gestalt approach and school of K. Levin and gradually immersed in the problems of socio-psychological rehabilitation of the disabled. Based on her clinical experience and teaching experience in the US universities, she contributed to the formation and institutionalization of a new field of scientific and practical psychology – Rehabilitation Psychology. In the subject of rehabilitation Dembo was very consonant with humanistic psychology, client-centered approach of K. Rogers. Serious scientific contribution of T. Dembo related to the study of socio-emotional relationships, such as happiness. On the basis of her methodical reception of the ideas of happiness the Dembo-Rubinstein method was established, well-known in several versions of Russian psychology.
If we analyze the rich and diverse scientific biography of T. Dembo, it is possible to conclude that, in fact, all her life she was engaged by one theme: how an ordinary man faces difficulties, which the environment offers him, responds to them and, in the end personally overcomes obstacles, continuing his way to a better life.
Presented information about T. Dembo as person and researcher give a better understanding of the 20th century, trends in the development of psychology as science for almost century, as well as the personality of the scientist, whose breadth and depth of strength of influence on science is still amazing today.
  • T. Dembo
  • K. Lewin
  • F. Buytendijk
  • anger as a dynamic problem
  • frustration
  • theory of field
  • relationship of researcher and respondent in experimantal situation
  • Gestalt psychology
  • animal psychology
  • ethology
  • rehabilitation psychology
  • images of happiness and unhappiness
  • socio-emotional relations
  • significance of inner resources
  • problem "to have or to be"
  • method Dembo-Rubinstein
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To cite this article
Lück, H., Volkova, M.V. (2011). Tamara Dembo: scientific portrait against background of the 20th century. Methodology and History of Psychology, 6(2), 40-73.

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