Donald MacKinnon, ‘Station S’ Spy Psychologist During WWII, Dies at Age 84


Donald W. MacKinnon, the psychologist who directed the mysterious “Station S” during World War II where this nation’s saboteurs and spies were screened, has died.

The retired University of California, Berkeley, professor was 84 when he died last Tuesday in a Stockton hospital from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, the university reported Monday.

Most recently MacKinnon was known as the founder and leading researcher at Berkeley’s Institute of Personality Assessment and Research. He established it in 1949 and served as its director until his 1970 retirement. He took to the institute the skills and research techniques he had learned during World War II.


He had been chosen by the Office of Strategic Services at the start of the war to work out of a secluded Maryland farmhouse where 2,300 prospective spies were given extensive personality tests and subjected to intensive field trials.

The best of that group went on to infiltrate German and Japanese lines.

His 1948 report based on those experiences, “Assessment of Men,” remains a classic in the field of personality testing.

MacKinnon was a professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania until joining the UC Berkeley faculty in 1947. Two years later he founded the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

In 1959, after a series of tests, he announced that creative writers and scientists resembled conservative businessmen, rather than Bohemians. Among the writers participating in that study were Truman Capote, William Carlos Williams and MacKinlay Kantor.

In 1961 he issued a report saying that engineering students were materialistic, power hungry and lacking in creativity.

MacKinnon wrote “In Search of Human Effectiveness” in 1978, describing the search for and identification of creative people. In 1981 he was given the Murray Award, one of the top honors in psychology, for his contributions to personality research.