Marianne Frankenhaeuser carried out groundbreaking research in biological psychology, especially in the field of stress research. Her research had a biopsychosocial perspective and by combining physiological with psychosocial data she showed how stress at work can be connected to private life and gender.
Marianne Frankenhaeuser was born in Helsinki in 1925. She was a member of the von Wright family, comprising her father Tor, mother Ragni and her elder siblings Georg Henrik and Karin. Her mother’s family came from Hälsingland, Sweden, and her father’s family belonged to the Finno-Swedish population. Both of her parents had studied at Svenska Handelshögskolan (the Hanken School of Economics) in Helsinki and were economists. In 1946 she married Bernhard Frankenhaeuser, who was a doctor. Her daughter, Carola, was born in 1949 and she too would become a doctor.
Marianne Frankenhaeuser was subject to high expectations even as a child. When she started school her brother, Georg Henrik von Wright, who was ten years her elder, had just graduated with top marks. He later became a prominent philosopher. Marianne Frankenhaeuser has described the considerable support he gave her during her school years and they maintained a close relationship, both professionally and privately, throughout their lives. Marianne Frankenhaeuser enjoyed a privileged upbringing: most of her family, relatives and friends were well-established academics, diplomats, artists and authors. As Finland was at this point war-ravaged, at the age of 14 she was sent on her own to Stockholm to find safety with Swedish relatives. She remained in Sweden for six months. Back in Finland the nights were spent in shelters and, like many others, Marianne contributed what she could by knitting socks and mittens for soldiers and by picking vegetables. She also served as a guide for groups of children who were sent to Sweden as “war children”.
In 1943, at the age of 17, Marianne Frankenhaeuser graduated from school. She then trained to become a nanny at Samfundet Folkhälsan in Helsinki. In 1946 she travelled to the USA on a stipend in order to study at Wittenberg College, and this was where she began her studies in psychology. From 1947 to 1948 she studied psychology at Oxford. She became interested in biological psychology and neuropsychology and wanted to combine psychology with medicine. She then studied psychology at Helsinki University and combined this with courses in physiology at Karolinska Institute (KI) in Stockholm. Ulve von Euler and Carl Gustaf Bernhard, both professors of physiology, were vital to her scientific development at KI.
In the early 1950s Marianne Frankenhaeuser worked as a clinical psychologist at the neurosurgical clinic of the Serafim hospital in Stockholm. At the time there were no established posts for clinical psychologists and she was thrown into exhausting clinical work with patients suffering from severe brain injuries, tumours, and neurological diseases. By taking a position as a research assistant she was able to reconnect with her research. She experimented on memory in rats as a research assistant and engaged in academic discussions about her results with well-known researchers such as Carl P. Duncan. Human psychology nevertheless remained her true interest and in 1959 she gained her doctor’s degree at Uppsala University. She used experimental research to study how the experience of time was influenced by stress levels and memory. She also studied whether activity and passivity had any impact on how the passage of time was experienced.
Marianne Frankenhaeuser continued her experimental psychological research and combined it with studies focused on and carried out during everyday life. It was important to her that her research concerned people’s experiences so that it could contribute to improving people’s lives. She also maintained her interest in issues that involved not only psychology but also medicine and physiology, which was path-breaking during the 1950s and 1960s. Research into stress and the importance of stress-related experiences became more established over time and during the 1970s Marianne Frankenhaeuser presented her research at international, interdisciplinary symposia organised in Sweden by Professor Lennar Levi.
In psychology it has been the norm to include only male participants in case studies and then to generalize the resulting outcomes and theories as pertinent to both men and women. When Marianne Frankenhaeuser’s research group presented their results in the 1970s from studies which also included women and which additionally revealed differences between the genders this proved very important for developing an understanding of how men and women perceive and react to stress. By studying the secretion of adrenaline in thirteen-year-old girls and boys as they were completing a demanding mathematics test it was revealed that in boys adrenaline levels rose noticeably but not so in girls. A truly interesting result emerged in the analysis of the differences between the groups. Boys whose adrenaline levels rose also tended to perform better than other boys in their group. However, there was no correlation between the girls’ performances and whether their adrenaline rose or not. These results contradicted the theories of performance being adrenaline-dependent as it did not apply to the girls. The outcomes also contradicted the theory that women and girls perform worse than men in demanding tasks which require logical reasoning, as well as the theory that women and girls tend to be more stressed than men and boys.
Marianne Frankenhaeuser has become known outside the research environment for the so-called Volvo project which concentrated on stress among male and female employees at Volvo’s Gothenburg division. Not only were the research results interesting, but Marianne Frankenhaeuser was also very skilled at presenting them to the general public. In her book, Kvinnligt, manligt, stressigt, 1993, she presents the concept of stress, the current research in the area and the completed Volvo project for non-academics. Both male and female middle managers and male and female non-managerial employees were studied in the project. The research group recorded not only the subjects’ physiological stress levels at work but also when they were at home. The results revealed a notable difference between male and female managers, for example that the stress level sank amongst male managers when they came home from work whilst they rose among female managers. This result was repeated in several studies of male and female managers. By combining physiological data with psychosocial analysis the research group could show that women bore the majority of the responsibility for tasks at home.
Marianne Frankenhaeuser was a manager and a leader. When the council for medical research established a research group for experimental psychology in the 1960s Marianne Frankenhaeuser was appointed its project leader. For a time she studied the impact of sex hormones on stress and also undertook research with the lecturer Anna-Lisa Myrsten on substance abuse. During the 1960s and 1970s they investigated the effect of alcohol on neuropsychological functions such as motor precision, speed and mathematical and verbal ability. Biofeedback was yet another area in which Marianne Frankenhaeuser became involved. In biofeedback training individuals receive measurements of their own physical reactions, for example to stress or fear, and can themselves aim to influence their emotional reactions. Marianne Frankenhaeuser worked on biofeedback with Professor Sven Carlsson of the psychology department at Gothenburg University and together they wrote the entry for the subject in the national encyclopaedia.
Marianne Frankenhaeuser’s research has contributed to an increased understanding of how psychological and physiological reactions should be seen in relation to each other. She also contributed to knowledge about stress and to questioning the stereotyping of gender roles and assumptions about what is masculine or feminine. Her foundation in experimental psychology made her careful to set controls for factors which could skew research results. For example, in her studies on working life and stress she monitored the educational levels and civil status of male and female participants, thereby making sure that such factors did not influence stress levels. She was also aware of class issues and asserted that stress is often caused by factors other than being in a managerial position and the pressure that pertains to it. She was far-sighted in emphasizing the stress which arises in human interactions with technology and the developing internet-based society.
Marianne Frankenhaeuser died in 2005.