Psychobiography as a method. The revival of studying lives: New perspectives in personality and creativity research


  • Zoltán Kőváry


Psychobiography was invented by Sigmund Freud while investigating the psychological determinants of Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic creativity. Following the founder of psychoanalysis there were about 300 psychobiographic analyses published until 1960. From the 1930’s psychoanalysis also influenced the unfolding personality psychology trend called personology in the USA, led by G. W. Allport and Henry A. Murray, who also worked with life stories. However, the major methodological problems of classic psychobiography and the rising of nomothetic approaches in personality research effaced studying lives between the 1950’s and the 1980’s. The narrative turn in psychology made life story analysis accepted and popular again, and from the 90’s we can talk about “a renaissance of psychobiography”. The new endeavors encompass psychoanalytical and personological traditions and also integrate narrative perspectives. Contemporary psychobiography is constantly widening its focus: not only artists, but scientists, political and historical figures are also analyzed with more explicit methodology and comparative proceedings. In addition to the fact that psychobiography is a qualitative research method, it is very useful in exploring the psychology of creativity and personality itself and hence can be used as an instrument to train psychology students and prepare them for practical activities like psychotherapy or consultations. With the application of psychobiography the knowledge about human functioning and self-awareness is deepening, since it can be viewed as a practical realization of hermeneutical dialogue leading to the understanding of the human mind.