Frank X. Barron, pioneer in the psychology of creativity, dies at 80

Frank X. Barron, a World War II veteran and a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, died October 6 following complications from a fall. Barron was an internationally influential figure in the study of human personality for nearly half a century. He was 80 years old.

Editor's Note: This obituary was prepared by the family of Frank X. Barron

The pioneering studies of creative writers, architects, research scientists, and mathematicians, which he designed and carried out with other gifted colleagues at the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research at UC Berkeley in the 1950s and '60s, still stand as classics in the field of creativity research.

Barron was an imaginative designer of innovative personality measures and scales that have helped deepen our understanding of personality and personality functioning. His analysis of ego strength as the power to rally from setbacks and hardship anticipated many aspects of what contemporary psychologists now study under the label of psychological resilience. His work played a crucial role in helping to shift personality psychology's focus away from psychopathology toward psychological health and personal vitality.

His American Psychological Association citation in 1969 for the Richardson Creativity Award honors him: "For his insightful studies of the creative process and of the creative person. For his conceptualization of several significant variables of personality, for his development and standardization of tests to measure those dimensions of personality, and for his researches which have demonstrated their functional role in the creative person: the disposition to originality, preference for complexity, independence of judgment, esthetic sensitivity, ego-strength, and psychological health. For his contributions to our understanding of the psychology of imagination, of the needs for order and disorder as motives in creativity, and of the role of diffusion, integration, and enduring attention in the creative process, especially as these have been revealed in the creative writer. And for the elegance and grace with which he has reported his findings and discussed their implications for the nurturing of creative talent."

Barron's publications were many. Creativity and Psychological Health (1963) is considered one of the world's major works on the topic of creativity. Creativity and Personal Freedom (1968) and Creative Person and Creative Process (1969) report much of his published work. Other works include Scientific Creativity (1963, with C. W. Taylor), Artists in the Making (1972), The Shaping of Personality (1979), No Rootless Flower: An Ecology of Creativity (1995), and an anthology, Creators on Creating (1997). A festschrift in his honor, Unusual Associates, was published in 1996. A book of poetry, Ghosts, will be published posthumously.

Barron was a Guggenheim Fellow, Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and SSRC Faculty Research Fellow; he received the American Psychological Association's (APA) Richardson Creativity Award (1969) and Rudolf Arnheim Award for outstanding contribution to psychology and the arts (1995). He was also president of APA's Humanistic Division from 1989 to 1990. He contributed to Scientific American, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Science, Contemporary Psychology, Journal of Personality, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, and other scholarly journals in psychology and education. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, La Salle College, in 1979.

After coming to Santa Cruz in 1969, Barron taught courses in personality and human creativity, where he charmed hundreds of students with his breadth of knowledge, subtlety of mind, and love of language. He also helped establish UCSC as a campus where serious courses in the psychological study of creativity are routinely offered to undergraduates, where creativity research is a respected enterprise, and where students and faculty alike understand that human creativity can contribute to psychological health, personal freedom, and social well-being. He was a fellow of Porter College and served as chair of the UCSC Psychology Board of Studies, now the Psychology Department.

Born in the coal-mining town of Lansford, Pennsylvania, he graduated in 1942 as a philosophy major from La Salle. His interest turned to psychology following a summer job as an attendant in a hospital for the mentally ill:

"On the ward there was hurt and pain so big and so deep that speech could not express it. I had been interested in philosophy, and suddenly philosophy came alive for me, for here the basic questions of human existence were not abstractions: they were embodied in human suffering" (Barron, 1990).

That year he began his master's degree studies in psychology at the University of Minnesota. WWII intervened, and he served the U.S. Army in Europe as a medic. He returned to complete his M.A. in 1948. He received his Ph.D. in 1950 from the University of California, Berkeley, and taught at Harvard, Bryn Mawr, University of Hawaii, Wesleyan, and from 1969 until his retirement in 1992 at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He developed much of his work as a founding member of the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research at UC Berkeley from 1949 to 1968.

During a 1979 discussion of his work, Barron cited a willingness to take risks as a common characteristic among highly creative individuals: "Creativity requires taking what Einstein called 'a leap into the unknown.' This can mean putting your beliefs, reputation, and resources on the line as you suffer the slings and arrows of ridicule." Barron went on to note: "Other common attributes are a strong motivation to bring order and definition to the world, as well as independent judgment. Creative people are able to go against the mainstream. While in many ways they can be quite conventional, they tend to rebel against conformity as they accompany their own private visions down lonely, untrod paths."

Barron, with twinkling eyes, gentle heart, humor, fiery spirit, floppy hats, and poems for all occasions, will be missed. Three days before his passing, creating until the end, he began outlining a program of research on attitudes towards death, with belief in life after death as a central variable. On the last day, with his family around, he had this to say: "Amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing." Thank you Frank, for all you shared and the gifts you left.

Barron is survived by his wife of 42 years, Nancy Jean Barron; his son, Frank Charles Xavier Barron; and his daughters, Brigid Jessica Sarah Barron and Anthea Rose Maeve Barron.

A mass will be held Saturday, October 12, 2002, at 11:30 a.m. at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz, California. Contributions for a student research award in Barron's honor may be directed to the UCSC Foundation, care of John Leopold, Social Sciences 1, Faculty Services, University of California, Santa Cruz, 95064. Please include "Frank Barron Memorial Award" in the check's memo line.


A photo of Frank Barron will be available soon on the UCSC download site at: