Marie Jahoda was born to an upper middle-class Jewish family in Vienna, Austria. As a teenager, she became active in the Socialist Party. She earned a teaching diploma from the Pedagogical Academy of Vienna, and in 1933, earned a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna. With her first husband Paul Lazarsfeld, a sociologist, and Hans Zeisel, she wrote a now-classic study of the social impact of unemployment on a small community, Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal (in English, The Sociography of an Unemployed Community, 1933). That same year, the couple divorced and Lazarsfeld moved to the USA. Marie was imprisoned in 1937 by the Austrian fascist regime and released on condition that she leave the country. She went to England, where she remained during World War II. After the war, she went to the USA in part to be reunited with her daughter Lotte. There she worked as a professor of social psychology at New York University and as a researcher for the American Jewish Committee and Columbia University. She wrote the two-volume text Research Methods in Social Relations. In 1955, she was elected the first woman president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. She then returned to England and became a well-known social psychologist. In 1958, she married as her second husband Austen Albu, a Labour politician, whom she had met during the war.
Between 1958 and 1965, at what is now Brunel University, Prof. Jahoda was involved in establishing psychology degree programs and founded the Research Center of Human Relations. She became professor of Social Psychology at the University of Sussex, where she retired in 1972. Among her other books were Freud and the Dilemmas of Psychology (1977) and World Futures: the Great Debate (1978), co-edited with Christopher Freeman. She was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992.