Gustav Jahoda was born in Vienna. At the outbreak of WWII he joined the French army and came to the UK after his unit had retreated to the coast. At the port of St Nazaire the two last boats left France with the retreating British Expeditionary Force. Gustav chose to embark on the ‘Royal Ulsterman’. The larger of the two ships, the former cruise liner the ‘Lancastria’ received a direct hit from a German bomber. Almost all of the 3000–5000 on board died. It was the largest single-ship loss of life in British maritime history. After the war Gustav graduated from London University before obtaining lectureships at the Universities of Manchester, West Africa (Ghana) and Glasgow. In 1964 he became the founding Professor of the newly established Department of Psychology at the University of Strathclyde.
Building on his experience in Ghana, Gustav carried out pioneering research addressing significant theoretical and methodological issues. For example, in Ghana children were given a soul name according to the day of the week they were born. Monday’s child was thought to be peaceable while Wednesday’s child was believed to be aggressive and a troublemaker. After hearing such views expressed by teachers and child welfare officers, he wondered about the effect of this labelling and laboriously analysed Juvenile Court records. While Monday’s children appeared on the records significantly less often than other children, Wednesday’s children were significantly more likely to have committed crimes against the person. While Gustav thought that he had shown the effects of labelling on the children, others assumed that their beliefs about the day of birth had been proved correct! In his first book, White Man, based on his research in Ghana, Gustav turned round the commonly studied white people’s perceptions of black people and instead, he explored how white people were perceived by black Ghanaians.