Little Known Facts About Famous Psychologists

While people sometimes think that learning about the history of psychology is boring, some of the most famous figures in psychology actually led fascinating lives and did remarkable things. From Jung to Freud to Allport and beyond, there is a lot to learn about some of psychology's greatest thinkers. Were you aware of any of these little-known facts?


Freud Once Tried to Psychoanalyze Gordon Allport (And Got It Wrong)

freud at desk
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Psychologist Gordon Allport was one of the founding fathers of personality psychology and played a major role in the development of early psychology in the United States. He was also a big fan of Sigmund Freud. As a young man, he made the journey to Vienna, Austria to meet the great psychoanalyst.

Feeling a bit intimidated, Allport sat down and nervously told Freud about a boy he had seen on the train to Vienna. The boy, Allport told Freud, was afraid of getting dirty and refused to sit where an unclean-looking man had previously sat. Allport theorized that the child had acquired the behavior from his mother, who appeared to be very fussy and domineering.

Freud studied Allport for a moment and then suggested, "And was that little boy you."

Allport loved to tell the story and believed that Freud's attempt to turn a simple observation into an analysis of Allport's supposed unconscious memory of his own childhood was a perfect illustration that sometimes psychoanalysis simply tried to dig too deeply.


Carl Jung Had an Affair With One of His Patients

spielrein plaque
OTFW / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Until fairly recently, few people were familiar with the name Sabina Spielrein. She was admitted to a mental hospital at the age of 19 after suffering from symptoms of hysteria. She became a patient of Jung's and he described her as "dreamy" and voluptuous."

Not only did the two become lovers, but Spielrein had an important influence on the development of psychoanalysis. Jung first wrote to Freud to ask for advice about Spielrein's case and the two became ​fast friends and intellectual confidants. The two wrote case studies about Spielrein and corresponded frequently about her case.

Spielrein went on to become an important psychoanalyst in her own right. She is credited with introducing psychoanalysis in Russia and for the introduction of the death instincts, a concept that Freud would later adopt and claim.

Unfortunately, Sabina Spielrein's legacy was lost to history for decades following her murder by Nazi's in 1942. It wasn't until the 1970s when her papers and the letters she exchanged with Jung were translated and published that her influence became known. In 2011, A Dangerous Method, a film about her life and affair with Jung, was released, bringing much wider recognition of her name.


Wonder Woman Was Created by a Psychologist

wonder woman
Carrie MacPherson / Getty Images

Wonder Woman is a famous and beloved comic book character, but many people might be surprised that she was actually created by a psychologist named William Moulton Marston. Marston is remembered for creating the systolic blood pressure test which later became an important element of modern polygraph tests.

William Moulton Marston also famously took a feminist stance in his psychological work, suggesting that women were more reliable, honest, and faster working than men.

Moulton had noted that all of the great comic book characters of the day (Superman, Batman, Captain America, etc.) were typified by "blood-curdling masculinity." He conceived the idea of a female superhero that instead relied on her strength and love to combat evil.

Yet another surprising fact: Marston was in a polyamorous relationship and based the character of the two women he was romantically involved with, his wife Elizabeth and their lover Olive Byrne.


Alfred Adler's Ashes Were Lost for 70 Years

Alfred Adler
Dr Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Austrian physician and psychiatrist. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images

Alfred Adler was a neo-Freudian psychologist perhaps best known for his theory of individual psychology and for developing the concept of the inferiority complex. Following his death in 1937 after suffering a fatal heart attack in Scotland while on a lecture tour, his family lost track of his cremated remains. It wasn't until 2007, 70 years after his death, that his ashes were finally discovered at a crematorium in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 2011, Alder's ashes were finally returned and interred at his place of birth, Vienna, Austria.


Sigmund Freud Probably Slept With His Sister-In-Law

Sigmund Freud in office
Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in his office in Vienna, Austria circa 1937.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Sigmund Freud left a life in a science lab behind in order to find a career that allowed him to marry his love, Martha Bernays, but scholars have long believed that Freud had also carried on an affair with his sister-in-law, Minna. Former friend and disciple Carl Jung claimed that Minna had confessed the affair to him and some researchers even believe that Minna may have become pregnant by Freud and had an abortion.

In 2006, experts finally found what they believed to be proof of the affair. On August 13, 1898, Freud and Minna Bernays checked into a hotel in the Swiss Alps and registered as a married couple.

More than just a tawdry bit of gossip, the affair offers an interesting insight into Sigmund Freud's own psychology — a man whose theory was so centered on sexual drives and unconscious motives. He often speculated on the sexual behavior of others, yet it appears he was far less scrupulous in his own actions.

These are only five little know facts about some famous psychologists. Pretty amazing! These facts offer great insight into the history and development of psychology. But there are plenty more awesome facts and stories to uncover! Be sure to check out our biographies of important psychologists and our section on the history of psychology for more.


Adler, M. (2011). On life and ideas: A relative's ashes reclaimed. NPR. Retrieved from

Blumenthal, R. (2006, Dec. 24). Hotel log hints at desire that Freud didn't repress. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Joyce, N. (2008). Wonder Woman: A psychologist's creation. Monitor on Psychology. 39:11, 20.

Kennedy, M. (2014, Jan. 15). Urn containing Sigmund Freud's ashes smashed during theft attempt. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Was this page helpful?