John W. Atkinson (1923-2003)
John “Jack” Atkinson began his undergraduate training in 1941 at Wesleyan University, where he graduated with honors in 1947 following a 4 service in the Army during World War II. During his undergraduate work, Atkinson was mentored by David McClelland whom he continued to work with throughout his career. After receiving his B.A. he moved to Michigan where he received his M.A. at the University of Michigan in 1948 and his Ph.D. in 1950 under psychology. He received an honorary doctoral degree in philosophy from the RuhrUniversity in Bochum, Germany.
Atkinson spent his career at the University of Michigan, where he was awarded professor in 1960. He retired in 1985 as professor emeritus. He taught several courses including motivation but was noted for his excellent mentoring ability. He helped found the Michigan undergraduate honors program and helped his students publish their research on a regular basis.
His research interests included human motivation, achievement, and behavior. He worked closely with McClelland on validating the Thematic Apperceptive Test as a measure of motivation. He and McClelland’s work is documented in the book The Achievement Motive (McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953). He also worked closely with Birch to develop mathematical equations to measure motivation in Dynamics of Action (1970). He was also one of the first researchers to use computer simulations as a measurement tool. His research followed the trend in psychology in two ways: 1) he was using new technological advancements in his research 2) his work with the TAT came directly after the war where it was commonly used. He was awarded several fellows, most notably William James Fellow of the American Psychological Society (1989).
Atkinson was born in Jersey City, New Jersey and married his high school sweetheart, Mary Jane. Together they had three children: Ann, David, and William, and at the time of his death he had several grandchildren. In his personal time he enjoyed playing golf and spending time with his family.