Who Wants to be a Psychologist?

The following is an excerpt from a fascinating (and often humorous) autobiographical piece that Dr. Robert Hogan wrote for the Journal of Personality Assessment in 2006. During the course of the article, Hogan describes his upbringing, his education, and the curiosity and conviction that led to a life-long career as a preeminent personality psychologist.

My parents were from farm families in the Texas panhandle; they moved to Los Angeles during the great depression of the 1930s with little money or prospects. I was born there in 1937. When I started kindergarten, the little girls could already read, and I realized that they knew something I didn’t. They still do.

In 1942, we moved 50 miles east of Los Angeles to the hard scrabble town of Fontana. Henry Kaiser had built a steel mill there and staffed it with ethnic families from the rust belt—tough, no nonsense people with strong religious convictions. Money was always a problem at home, and I was encouraged to start working early—but such is the tradition of farm families who can’t survive without a stern work ethic. I found my first paying job when I was 13 and have continued to work since then.

By the second grade, I was a voracious reader. School, however, was boring, and I was an indifferent and disruptive pupil for several years; I became quite familiar with paddles and principal’s offices. From early childhood, however, I was fascinated by “animal behavior” and spent a lot of time gathering and watching insects and various critters. In the sixth grade, I started a Biology Club and persuaded other kids to bring in specimens—mostly desert reptiles. In high school, I discovered girls, alcohol, and geometry and found them all as interesting as animal behavior but for different reasons.

I began reading evolutionary theory (George Gaylord Simpson), which seemed intuitively correct and thrillingly controversial from the perspective of Christian fundamentalism— which I had abandoned when I was 10. During the summer before the 12th grade, I read Freud’s (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams, and I was hooked. Many of Freud’s claims were implausible, but the idea that the mind can operate outside awareness seemed obvious, and the notion that one could trace errors and mistakes that seemed random back to underlying erotic preoccupations was a revelation. I wanted to be a psychologist and decode the secrets of other people—to what purpose, it wasn’t clear.