Bühler, Charlotte (1893–1974)

Twentieth-century developmental psychologist Charlotte (Malachowski) Bühler was born in Berlin, Germany, on December 20, 1893. Her comprehensive investigations of infants' and young children's motor control, mental performance, and social development broke new ground by documenting individual levels of mastery, providing data for establishing norms, and confirming that very young children are active, intentional beings. Bühler is best known for her developmental theory that emphasizes growth and purposeful activity throughout the lifespan. She investigated adolescents' quest for self-determination, a quest that generally marks the transition from ADOLESCENCE to healthy adulthood. Bühler designed an autobiographical method that provides insight into an individual's path towards fulfillment. She also collaborated with like-minded psychologists to establish humanistic psychology in North America.

Charlotte Malachowski's interest in human development first became evident in high school as she investigated adolescent thinking. Later she pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Munich under Oswald Kulpe, an expert in thought processes. After Kulpe's untimely death, she continued her university studies with his chief assistant, Karl Bühler, whom she married in 1916, before completing her Ph.D. in 1918.

In 1922 the Bühlers accepted positions at the University of Vienna, which became their research base until 1938. In Vienna, Charlotte Bühler founded a child-study laboratory devoted to comprehensive, innovative, and often naturalistic investigations of the development and familial relationships of infants and children. During that period, she also served as Rockefeller Fellow at Columbia University (1924 to 1925), as Guest Visiting Professor at Barnard College (1929), and as child-study consultant in several Western European countries, including England and Norway.

Like American developmentalist ARNOLD GESELL, whom Bühler respected, she stressed rigorous observation of infants' and children's unique, biologically rooted patterns of attaining sequentially attained competencies–such as sitting and walking–that all healthy children achieve. Bühler also admired psychoanalyst SIGMUND FREUD for clarifying the complexities of everyday human activity by providing a fresh way of thinking about them. She applauded Sigmund and ANNA FREUD's recognition of the importance of the early years, which Anna Freud studied firsthand while striving, like Bühler, to improve the lot of children.

In 1940, following the Nazi takeover of Vienna, Bühler moved to the United States. She found the first few years after her move extremely difficult. However, a happy, fruitful period dawned after Bühler settled in Los Angeles, California, and became a naturalized American citizen. From 1945 to 1953 she served as clinical psychologist at the Los Angeles County General Hospital. She taught during the same period at the medical school of the University of Southern California. From 1953 to 1972 she maintained a private practice in Los Angeles. Her close friendship with Abraham Maslow and their collaboration with other psychologists led in 1962 to founding the Association of Humanistic Psychology, which launched the humanistic movement in North America.

In later life, Bühler continued to improve and revise her theory of lifelong development. According to Bühler, healthy human beings actively strive toward fulfillment and growth from infancy onwards. Four basic tendencies (the need for satisfaction, self-limiting adaptation, creative expansion, and upholding the internal order) work together to foster the finest fulfillment outcome that a person is able to achieve.

Bühler returned to Germany in 1972 and died in Stuttgart on February 3, 1974. The Archives of the American Psychiatric Association in Washington, D.C., and the Archives of the History of American Psychology in Akron, Ohio, contain additional information about her.

See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Child Psychology; Child Study; Life Course and Transitions to Adulthood; Theories of Childhood.


Bühler, Charlotte. 1930. The First Year of Life. Trans. Pearl Greenberg and Rowena Ripin. New York: John Day Company.

Bühler, Charlotte. 1937. From Birth to Maturity: An Outline of the Psychological Development of the Child. Trans. Esther and William Menaker. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co.

Bühler, Charlotte, and Herbert Goldenberg. 1968. "Structural Aspects of the Individual's History." In The Course of Human Life, ed. Charlotte Bühler and Fred Massarik. New York: Springer.

Bühler, Charlotte, and Marianne Marschak. 1968. "Basic Tendencies of Human Life." In The Course of Human Life, ed. Charlotte Bühler and Fred Massarik. New York: Springer.

Gavin, Eileen A. 1990. "Charlotte M. Bühler (1893–1974)." In Women in Psychology, ed. Agnes N. O'Connell and Nancy Felipe Russo, pp. 49–56. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.