Martin Irle studied Sociology, Psychology, and Education at the University of Göttingen where he graduate 1952 in Psychology. In 1955 he received his PhD from the University of Frankfurt. After jobs in personal consulting and at the Georg-Washington Institute for Comparative Social Research in Stuttgart (Germany), he became in 1957 assistant professor (wissenschaftlicher Assistent) for empirical sociology at the College of Commerce (Handelshochschule) in Mannheim – the predecessor of the University of Mannheim. Martin Irle completed his habilitation in sociology and social psychology in 1962. He held the Chair of Social Psychology at the University of Mannheim from 1964 until his retirement in 1992. He was awarded the Theodor Heuss professorship at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York in 1969 and was visiting professor at the Department of Political Science Department of the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1973.
Already as a student, Martin Irle became interested the work of Kurt Lewin. His friendship with Leon Festinger (1919-1989), who had studied under Kurt Lewin, had a particular influence on Irle's research.
Martin Irle contributed substantially to the development of social psychology in Germany. From 1968 to 1983, he headed the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 24 for "Decision Behavior" funded by the German Research Foundation, which he had initiated. At this research center the career of a whole generation of German social psychologist started. It is, therefore, still seen as one of the most successful Collaborative Research Centers in the history of the German Research Foundation (DFG). Martin Irle promoted the networking of young researchers with the most outstanding international social psychologists of the time, such as Leon Festinger, Henri Tajfel and Harold Kelley, and in this way helped his collaborators to achieve extraordinary careers. In 2005, he received the Jean-Paul Codol Award of the EASP for this achievement.
Together with Hubert Feger, Carl Friedrich Graumann and Klaus Holzkamp, he founded the Zeitschrift für Sozialpsychologie (now Social Psychology) in 1970. From 1976 to 1978 he was president of the German Society for Psychology, which has honored Martin Irle's work with an Award named after him that was established in 2016. The "Martin Irle Award" is given to psychological scientists who, as mentors, have particularly enabled and motivated students, doctoral candidates and post-doctoral fellows to pursue a scientific career in psychology.