Michael Argyle (psychologist)

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Michael Argyle (11 August 1925, Nottingham – 6 September 2002) was one of the best known English social psychologists of the twentieth century. He spent most of his career at the University of Oxford, and worked on numerous topics. Throughout his career, he showed strong preferences for experimental methods in social psychology, having little time for alternative approaches such as discourse analysis.


Michael Argyle was born on 11 August 1925. He studied mathematics at university and served in the Second World War, later going on to gain a First in Experimental Psychology from the University of Cambridge in 1950. Two years later, he became the first lecturer in social psychology at the University of Oxford. At the time, Oxford University was, along with the London School of Economics, one of only two universities in the United Kingdom to have a department of social psychology. Argyle lectured for many years at Oxford University as Reader in Social Psychology. After his retirement, he became Professor Emeritus at Oxford Brookes University. One of the co-founders of the journal British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Argyle regularly attended social psychology conferences, and had a great passion for Scottish country dancing.

Argyle died on 6 September 2002, at the age of 77, of injuries suffered in a swimming accident, from which he never fully recovered.


Some of Argyle's best-known contributions were to this field. He was especially interested in gaze. One of his best-known books relevant to this field, The Psychology of Interpersonal Behaviour, became a best-seller. Argyle made contributions to many fields in psychology, including:

Nonverbal communication[edit]

The Psychology of Religion[edit]

Argyle, a committed Christian, published empirical works on the psychology of religion. His early work in this field was summarized in his book Religious Behaviour (1958). He later collaborated with Benjman Beit-Hallahmi to produce a later book, "The Psychology of Religious Beliefs, Behaviour and Experience" (1997). Both books show Argyle's commitment to empiricism in psychology, and list results of surveys into topics such as beliefs in the afterlife or frequencies of religious experience in the general population.

The Psychology of Happiness[edit]

One of Argyle's most notable later contributions was to the psychology of happiness. Keen that more research should be done in this field, he published "The Psychology of Happiness" in 1987, 2nd edition 2001. In this book he listed and discussed empirical findings on happiness, including that happiness is indeed promoted by relationships, sex, eating, exercise, music, success, etc., but probably not by wealth.

The Psychology of Social Class[edit]

Although social class is a concept largely studied by sociologists, Argyle's later work showed increasing interest in promotion of socio-psychological perspective on social class. Differences in religious involvement across social class and patterns of social relationship across social class are areas of interest to social psychologists here, and these fields show Argyle was keen to link this area to other areas which he had studied.


plus numerous edited books, chapters, and articles in learned journals

Further reading[edit]

Robinson, P. (2003). In Memoriam: Michael Argyle. Social Psychological Review, 5 (1) 3-7.