Hometown: Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Member since: 1986 (International Affiliate).
Occupation: Emeritus psychology professor at the University of Amsterdam. He's written 38 journal articles and five books, mostly about human emotion.
"I think the major aspect of emotions is not so much autonomic arousal and it's not even emotional feeling," he says. "The major aspect of emotion is the aspect of passions that urges people to do things."
How he came to psychology: In 1945, at age 18, Frijda was jailed by the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands. He wrestled with a range of overwhelming emotions as his aunts and uncles were sent on to death camps and his brother was shot while fighting in the resistance. "It was a rather special situation that I stayed in prison and was not sent on to the destruction camps," he says. "It was mainly because I denied I was Jewish.
"I thought often and deeply about how to deal with the emotions I had during those difficult times. And the only way to manage, I realized then, was to put them away as much as I could, particularly these feelings about uncertainty and distress about my family, who were murdered in the war."
His early research: After the war, Frijda studied the psychology of emotion at the University of Amsterdam. He was particularly interested in how people could identify emotions on the faces of others. For his master's thesis, he gave his girlfriend a pair of new nylon stockings and filmed her joyful reaction. "I recorded her expression and then I showed the film clips and photos taken to other subjects, and they had to tell me what [she] was experiencing," he says.
Major culture shock: While Frijda has spent most of his life in Amsterdam, he did a postdoc at Harvard in 1957. That year, he discovered that there's little under the surface of Americans' pleasantries.
"Whenever I came to the office in the morning, the secretary said in a very joyful tone, 'How are you, Mr. Frijda?'" he recalls. "When I started to answer, she immediately lost interest."
Passion: Frijda is an avid cultivator of heirloom roses, particularly those first grown in the 14th and 15th centuries.
"They have a naturalness, an insouciance, that modern roses don't have," he says. "The modern roses that you buy in shops are showy but they don't smell .... These old roses have an informality and a lovely smell. When I come out of my house in the morning and into the garden overwhelmed with these smells, I feel great joy."
Each month, "Random Sample" profiles a randomly selected APA member. You might be next.
Letters to the Editor
- Send us a letter