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Elizabeth Duffy



Training Location(s):

PhD, Johns Hopkins University, (1928)

MA, Columbia University, (1926)

BA, Women’s College, University of North Carolina, (1925)

Primary Affiliation(s):

University of North Carolina, (1925)

Columbia University, (1926)

Johns Hopkins University, (1928)

Sarah Lawrence College, (1929-1937)

Women’s College, University of North Carolina, (1937-1970)

Women’s College, University of North Carolina, (1937-1970)

Media Links:



Career Focus: Experimental psychology; behavioral psychology; cognitive psychology.


A native of North Carolina, Dr. Elizabeth Duffy was born in 1904 and grew up in New Bern, a picturesque town situated at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent Rivers. She received her B.A. in 1925 from the Women's College of the University of North Carolina and a year later, she earned the Master of Arts Degree from Columbia University. Duffy received her Ph.D. in 1928 from John Hopkins University at the age of 24!


Duffy's first academic position was in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, where she was a professor for 8 years, from 1929 to 1937. Later in 1937, she returned to the Women's College of the University of North Carolina where she worked as a scientist, a researcher, and a professor from 1937 to 1970. She was particularly interested in helping women get into graduate school and pursue the academic careers of their choice. In her productive time at the University of North Carolina, Dr. Duffy served as president of the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology and as President of Division 1 (General Psychology) of the American Psychological Association in 1961-62. She was the third woman to serve in this position after Edna Heidbreder (1949-50) and Anne Anastasi (1956-57).


One of Duffy's best known books, Activation and Behavior was published in 1962. Her research interest was in motivation and emotion viewed in terms of energy mobilization, activation and arousal. Observations of children provided the basis for her early writings on energy mobilization and behavior. Her other major publications include; Emotion: An Example of the Need for Reorientation in Psychology, published in 1934; Level of Muscular Tension as an Aspect of Personality, published in 1946; Leeper's Motivational Theory of Emotion" published in 1948; A Systematic Framework for the Description of Personality, published in 1949; The Concept of Energy Mobilization, published in 1951, and Psychological Significance of the Concept of Arousal or Activation, published in 1957.


Duffy was an important figure in psychology in terms of her tremendous efforts to unify and integrate psychology with other sciences such as biology and physics (as in her famous book-Activation and Behavior, and her other theoretical writings that have significantly influenced psycho-physiological research). Dr. Elizabeth Duffy- a distinguished researcher and psychologist- died at her home in Greensboro, North Carolina on December 19, 1970.


by Zahra Shabzandehdar Nakhjiri (2010)

To cite this article, see Credits


Selected Works:
By Elizabeth Duffy

Duffy, E. (1962). Activation and behavior. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons Inc.


Berrien, F. K., Bucklew, J., Courts, F. A. & Duffy, E. (1961). The lectureship program of Division 1. American Psychologist, 16, 86.


Duffy, E. (1957). The psychological significance of the concept of arousal or activation. Psychological Review, 64, 265-275.


Duffy, E. (1951). The concept of energy mobilization. Psychological Review, 58, 30-40.


Duffy, E. (1949). A systematic framework for the description of personality. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 44, 175-190.


Duffy, E. (1948). Leeper's 'Motivational Theory of Emotion'. Psychological Review, 55, 324-328.


Duffy, E. (1947). Review of foundations of the measurement of values: The methodology of location and quantification. Psychological Bulletin, 44, 209-291.


Duffy, E. (1946). Level of muscular tension as an aspect of personality. Journal of General Psychology, 35, 161-171.


Duffy, E. (1934). Emotion: An example of the need for reorientation in psychology. Psychological Review, 41, 184-198.

About Elizabeth Duffy

Eason, R. G. (1971). Elizabeth Duffy 1904-1970. Psychophysiology, 8, 793.