History of psychology


After the Second World War, the fate of the country was determined by the Soviet military-political presence. In the years between 1945 and 1948, however, democracy seemed still possible for many. During these three years, psychology was the flag-bearer of social transformation, and a multi-directional development was initiated. However, 1948-49 saw the establishment of totalitarian rule, based on the Soviet Stalinist model. From then on, psychology was in complete repression, until the early 1960s. Changes came after the 1956 revolution when a period of retaliation was followed by a more relaxed “soft” dictatorship, under János Kádár.

After the war, applied psychology was rapidly reorganized; industry and big business began to use psychological expertise again, counseling and aptitude testing were once again in operation. There was also a revival of interest in psychoanalysis, and it seemed that this field could once again take up positions in universities. Psychological publishing and the dissemination of psychological knowledge to parents and educators flourished. The educational policy seemed to be continuing the rich tradition of Hungarian reformist pedagogy and child study. The reorganization of public education, including the introduction of eight grade level primary schools, became a reality. Earlier, this had been part of the reform concept of the child study movement, although not envisaged as a nationalization of the whole school system, as it happened in 1948. The promising developments, however, took a drastically different direction with the Hungarian Communist Party coming to full power.


The introduction of Stalinist-style dictatorship by Mátyás Rákosi made it clear that the direction was set by conformity to the Soviet system. This period saw a wave of emigration yet again – this time Hungarian psychology lost, among others, Paul Harkai Schiller, and the Nobel Prize-winning hearing researcher György Békésy, both left for America (along with Albert Szentgyörgyi, biochemist, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1937). Child-centered views and more broadly, independent thinking and worldviews different from Marxism-Leninism did not fit well with the ideological indoctrination pursued by the ruling communist party. In 1948, the trial of Hungarian pedology began, directed against the National Institute of Educational Sciences and its leader, Ferenc Mérei (who was a communist psychologist). The 1950 party resolution concluding the trial stated, in similar terms to the previous Soviet party resolution in 1936, that it was necessary to “neutralize the enemy” in public education and the related field of child study (pedology). Psychology was branded a “bourgeois science” and its long-established professional organizations and forums (the Hungarian Psychological Society, the Hungarian Psychological Review, the Society for Child Study, and the Psychoanalytical Society) were disbanded. The task of the remaining psychology was to serve Marxist pedagogy. In rural universities, the important representatives of psychology before 1945 (among others István Benedek, Sándor Karácsony, Dezső Várkonyi Hildebrand, Pál Cecil Bognár) became undesirable elements. At the same time, a process of “tabooing” was set in motion: those who were removed were also erased from the memory of the institutions.


In the 1950s, the only remaining “island” of psychology operated under Lajos Kardos at the University of Budapest. In the dark years, Kardos “rescued” psychology dressed in a Pavlovian uniform. He reorganized the Department of Psychology with a handful of colleagues. Kardos was an excellent researcher and at the same time well-connected to the communist party. This way he was able to maintain psychology research in the field of human and animal learning, and, through this, he rescued the academic existence of psychology. Soon political history influenced the development of psychology, again. Major events included the death of Stalin in 1953, the 1956 revolution against the communist regime and Soviet oppression, followed by a more relaxed form of the communist regime (often called “goulash communism”). Eventually, these changes led to the return of psychology, within the constraints of the system. In the academic year 1963-64, the University of Budapest became the only university in the country that was allowed to start training psychologists, starting with a very limited number of students. The Hungarian Psychological Society was able to reorganize, and the Hungarian Psychological Review was published again. Practical training in psychology took place in professional workshops, some of these were organized institutionally and others informally. A major role was played by Ferenc Mérei, who was sentenced for his involvement in the 1956 revolution and released in 1963. He was given a job at the leading mental hospital at Lipótmező, where his laboratory also served as a training center for the university. Thus, he could establish contact with young people who were training to become the next generation of psychologists, leaving a lifelong impression on them. The 1970s brought further expansion and differentiation in the form of semi-public workshops, private seminars, and “hidden networks” in hospital wards. In 1974, psychology training was launched for the first time at a rural university in Debrecen. Overall, the end of the Kádár period was characterized by an increasingly significant consolidation of psychology.


The end of state socialism in Hungary, in 1989, opened the way for the further development of psychology. Extensive catching up was needed with the developed countries. Scientific research accelerated and psychology programs were launched at universities. In line with the international system, the separation of bachelor’s and master’s degrees was introduced. A system of postgraduate training was established, and doctoral schools were created. Increasingly specialized professional organizations and training courses were formed, and the marketization of psychotherapies has accelerated. Today, psychology courses in Hungary are among those attracting the largest number of students. Psychology, as scientific knowledge and practice, valuable for individuals and society, has been integrated into the development of Hungarian society.


Máriási Dóra (2016). Amikor a pszichológia a „kommunizmus általánosan kibontakozó építésénak nagyszerű programjához” csatlakozott. Újraintézményesülés kritikai perspektívában. Alkalmazott Pszichológia, 16, 63–79.

Kovai Melinda (2016). Lélektan és politika. Pszicho-tudományok a magyarországi államszocializmusban 1945–1970. Budapest: L’Harmattan

Pléh, Csaba, Bodor, Péter és Lányi, Gusztáv (1998). Egy társadalomtudomány elnyomatása és újjászületése: A magyar pszichológia sorsa az egyéni sorsok tükrében, 1945–1970. In: Bodor, Péter, Pléh, Csaba és Lányi, Gusztáv (eds.) Önarckép háttérrel: Magyar pszichológusok önéletrajzi írásai (pp. 303–310). Budapest: Pólya Kiadó

Pléh, C. (2016). Intézmények, eszmék, sorsok a magyar pszichológia fél évszázadában 1960–2010. Magyar Pszichológiai Szemle, 71(4), 699-731.

Pléh Csaba. (2011). A magyar kísérleti pszichológia fejlődési íve 1950–2010 között. Magyar Pszichológiai Szemle, 66(4), 669–693.

Sáska Géza (2008): Alkalmazott lélektan és reformpedagógia 1945 után, 1-2. rész, Beszélő, 13:1, 13:2

Szokolszky Á. (szerk.). (2021). A pszichológia fejlődése a vidéki Magyarországon, a kezdetektől a rendszerváltás utáni évekig. JATEPress Kiadó, Szeged.