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Pierre Marie Félix Janet

French psychologist particularly well-known for his work on psychopathology and psychotherapy.

Born in Paris on May 28, 1859, Pierre Janet spent his childhood and youth in that city. His bent for natural sciences led him to pursue studies in physiology at the Sorbonne at the same time that he was studying philosophy, for which he received a master's degree in 1882. Janet then left Paris for Le Havre and for seven years taught philosophy there in the lycée.

Janet, however, wanted to study medicine and at the hospital of Le Havre began to do research in hypnosis, using the well-known medium Léonie. Through these studies, the first of this sort, Janet came into contact with Jean Martin Charcot, but after reading Charcot and Hippolyte Bernheim he thought these investigators did not sufficiently take into consideration the psychological factors involved in neurotic phenomena. This forced Janet to undertake a deep psychological study of the neuroses, in particular of hysterical neurosis.

In his doctoral thesis in 1889 entitled "L'Automatisme psychologique" (Psychological Automatism), Janet devised an inventory of the manifestations of automatic activities, thinking that it would help him in studying the "elementary forms of sensibility and conscience." At the age of 30 he returned to Paris, and Charcot appointed him director of the laboratory of pathological psychology at the Salpêtrière hospital. Janet completed his medical studies, and in 1893 he published his medical dissertation entitled "The Mental State of Hysterics."

Janet was by temperament a naturalist, and during all his life he improved his herbarium. He had the same acquisitive attitude toward mental patients, from whom he collected thousands of precise and detailed observations.

Pierre-Marie-Félix Janet (Corbis-Bettmann. Reproduced with permission.)

However, in his books he attempted to give a more theoretical and depth interpretation of a few particular cases. From 1902 until 1934 he taught at the Collège de France.

Janet's works are numerous, and many of his writings have been translated into English. Among his books one can cite Névroses et idées fixes (1902); Les Obsessions et la psychasténie (1903); The Major Symptoms of Hysteria (1907, symposium undertaken in the United States); Les Médications psychologiques (1919); De l'angoisse à l'extase (1926); Les Débuts de l'intelligence (1935); and L'Intelligence avant le langage (1936).

Janet characterized his dynamic psychology as being a psychology of conduct, accepting the schema of a psychology of behavior while integrating in his schema conscious processes acting as regulators of action. Janet's work has often been compared to the work of Freud, and his influence has been great in both North and South America.

Well after Janet had retired, he continued to teach and to give conferences, manifesting a great vitality until the time of his death on Feb. 23, 1947.

Further Reading

Murchison, Carl, et al. A history of psychology in autobiography. 4 vols. 1930-1952.

Wolman, Benjamin B., ed. Historical roots of contemporary psychology. 1968.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaFamous Psychologists & Scientists