David C. McClelland (May 20, 1917-March 27, 1998) was an American psychologist, the author of several books and the creator of a new system for scoring the Thematic Apperception Test and later tests based on the TAT. McClelland was a prolific author in his field and published works from the beginning of the 1950s through the 1990s. Books by McClelland include Studies in Motivation, Talent and Society: New Perspectives in the Identification of Talent (coauthored with Alfred L. Baldwin, Urie Bronfenbrenner, Fred L. Strodtbeck and D. Van Nostrand) and Personality, coauthored with William Sloane and The Achieving Society, coauthored with D. Van Nostrand.
McClelland was born in Mt. Vernon, New York. A year after receiving his bachelor of arts degree in 1938 from Wesleyan University, McClelland got his MA from the University of Missouri. The psychologist earned his PhD from Yale University.
McClelland taught at both Connecticut College and then at his alma mater, Wesleyan University, before he joined the faculty of Harvard University in 1956. The psychologist was affiliated with Harvard for three decades and served as the chairman of the Department of Social Relations. In 1987, McClelland moved to Boston University where he received the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions.
In the book Personality, 1951, McClelland and coauthor William Sloane explore theories about the psychology of personality. The two psychologists attempt to describe shared, common personality traits. The book does this by describing a single personality, named Karl, to show how each new construct had its effect on this individual.
Studies in Motivation, Appleton-Century Crofts, 1955, was McClelland's successful attempt at isolating the psychology of motivation as a separate study discipline for psychologists. Prior to the publication of this work, psychologists saw motivation as a tool to help clarify other issues, but not as a subject of interest in and of itself. In part, this was due to the fact that motivation was seen more as just one of a very few primary drives or instincts such as, for instance, hunger. The subject was glossed over in the psychologist's curriculum as part and parcel of other subjects.
McClelland, on the other hand, felt there was a need to study motivation as a distinct aspect of human behavior since motivation is implicated in every human activity and decision. The psychologist's feeling was that the study of motivation had been so cursory that the facts relevant to understanding motivation issues had been restricted. Studies in Motivation was an attempt to break with tradition for the sake of learning more about human behavior.
McClelland drew on the work, sketchy as it was, of other psychologists before him, to paint a basic picture of the psychology of motivation. He used Freud, to discuss unconscious motivation, Russell A. Clark to understand how sexual motivation affects fantasy, and James Olds to study the physiology of reward as a motivational force.
Talent and Society: New Perspectives in the Identification of Talent, 1958, was an attempt by McClelland and his coauthors to learn more about identifying talent. When the coauthors considered the issue, they found they did not have a definition of what it meant to identify talent. They set out to determine what it was they had come to study.
The authors also focused on the ways in which then current methods for identifying talent were flawed. This helped the psychologists to pinpoint why the subject necessitated further study. Finally, the authors of the book hoped to come up with better, more appropriate methods for identifying talent.
In The Achieving Society, 1961, McClelland and Van Nostrand explored the behavior of entrepreneurs. The book details how men act within the world of finance and how they behave economically. There is an attempt to understand how behavior and the economy impact on each other.
In applying his theories to the field, McClelland began by working with owners of small businesses. The psychologist attempted to train these business owners to think in terms of achievement and to change their behavior so that it would be oriented toward achievement. Later, McClelland explored motive and used similar training methods to help reform alcoholics. After a time, McClelland worked with middle-management and even executives in industry, employing the basic mechanics of these same methods.
McClelland offered a summary of his approach to counseling in an article he wrote in 1965. Offer feedback about thinking patterns (motives) and behavior. Encourage goal-setting; plan for experimental thinking and new behavior; try to create support systems such as support groups, study groups or learning teams; and reevaluate by reviewing progress toward goals from time to time.