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James McKeen Cattell
Psychologist, Publisher, and Editor
- Lafayette, BA in 1880 & MA in 1883.
- Studied in Europe with Wundt in Leipzig
and Lotze at Gottingen 1880.
- Johns Hopkins University, 1882-1883
- Leipzig as Wundt's assistant, Ph.D. in
- Researcher and Lecturer in Experimental Psychology, St. John's College,
- Lecturer in Psychology, Bryn Mawr, 1887
- Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 1888
- Department Head of Psychology, Anthropology, and Philosophy, Columbia
- President of the American Psychological Association, 1895
- Presider, Ninth International Congress of Psychology, New Haven, Connecticut,
James McKeen Cattell is an important figure in psychology and the study
of human intelligence for several reasons. While at Leipzig, working under
Wundt, he was the first American to publish a dissertation, Psychometric
Investigation. After his return from Europe, perhaps no other
person contributed more to the strengthening of American psychology in
the late 1890s and early 1900s. He was involved with the formation of
many major publications, including co-founder and co-editor of The
Psychological Review (1894-1903), editor and publisher of the Journal
of Science (1894-1944 ), founder of the Psychological Corporation
(1921), and founder of the Science Press (1923), among many others. He
was similarly involved with major professional organizations, including
the American Psychological Association, the American Association of University
Professors, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
One of Cattell's goals was to have psychology viewed as a science on
par with the physical and life sciences. As he noted in his presidential
address to the American Psychological Association,
In the struggle for existence that obtains among the sciences psychology
is continually gaining ground.... The academic growth of psychology
in American during the past few years is almost without precedent....
Psychology is a required subject in the undergraduate curriculum ...,
and among university courses psychology now rivals the other leading
sciences in the number of students attracted and in the amount of original
work accomplished. (1896, p. 1)
In that address, Cattell provides additional evidence of the growth of
psychology as a science, including a favorable comparison of the major
academic journals (e.g., all three general science journals at the time
published psychological studies, and the field boasted two specialty journals
compared to three for mathematics, two for chemistry, geology, and botany,
and one for physics), the historical basis of psychology ("we may
take pride in the beginnings of psychology whose foundations were more
securely laid by Aristotle than those of any other science" [pp.
2-3]), and the strength of psychology in other countries.
Cattell believed that the continued growth of psychology was dependent
on the field's acceptance of quantitative methods similar to those used
in other sciences. This belief was somewhat controversial: Although psychological
laboratories were flourishing in the United States, the philosophical
underpinnings of psychology led some to question the validity and, indeed,
the necessity of psychological measurements. But Cattell felt that experimental
approaches to psychology, especially those involving "psycho-physical"
measurement, were critical to the rise and continued success of academic
I venture to maintain that the introduction of experimentand measurement
into psychology has added directly and indirectly new subject-matter
and methods, has set a higher standard of accuracy and objectivity,
has made some part of the subject an applied science with useful applications,
and enlarged the field and improved the methods of teaching psychology.
In conclusion, I wish to urge that experiement in psychology has made
its relations with the other sicence more intimate and productive of
common good. (pp. 13-14)
Cattell's approach to psychophysical measurement (often referred to as
anthropometric testing) was influenced by his brief work with Francis
Galton in England before Cattell returned to the United States from
his European studies. Cattell describes his laboratory's measurement work
in his 1890 article
in Mind (which includes an appendix by Galton) and his 1896 article
with Livingston Farrand (Sternberg  includes a brief summary of
the 1890 article). Although it is widely believed that Cattell's goal
was to measure intelligence or a similar construct with these tests, his
goals appear to have been related for the most part to his goal of strengthening
psychology's scientific credentials:
We do not at present wish to draw any definite conclusions from the
results of the tests so far made. It is of some scientific interest
to know that students entering college have heads on the average 19.3
cm long, ... that they have an average reaction-time of 0.174 sec.,
that they can remember seven numerals heard once, and so on with other
records and measurements. These are mere facts, but they are quantitative
facts and the basis of science. Our own future work and that of others
must proceed in two directions.... [a] To what extent are the several
traits of body, of the senses and of mind interdependent? ... What can
we learn from the tests of elementary traits regarding the higher intellectual
and emotional life? [b] On the other hand we must use our measurements
to study the development of the individual and of the race, to disentangle
the complex factos of heredity and environment. (Cattell & Farrand,
1896, p. 648)
As Cattell's thinking about these psychophysical measures developed,
he appears to have viewed the data as evidence of a unitary intellect.
This view was somewhat controversial, especially in light of the dissertation
research of Clark Wissler, one of Cattell's
laboratory assistants. Wissler found little evidence of general intellectual
ability, since the correlations of the various psychphysical tests with
each other and with external criteria (e.g., grades) were low. Controversy
exists about both the quality of Wissler's research and both Wissler's
and Cattell's reactions to it, but Wissler's work is often considered,
in the words of Sternberg (1990), the "coup de grace" for anthropometric
testing (p. 72).
Cattell's use of statistical methods and quantification of data helped
in the development of American psychology as an experimental science.
He was one of the first psychologists in America to stress the importance
of quantification, ranking, and ratings. An outgrowth of this work, his
experimentation with psychophysical testing, was influential in the popularization
of mental testing within the psychological laboratory. However, anthropometric
testing in general became controversial with the publication of Wissler's
work (see the related Hot Topic).
- Cattell, J. M. (1890). Mental
tests and measurements. Mind, 15, 373-380.
- Measurements of the accuracy of recollection. Science (1895).
- Statistics of American psychologists. American Journal of Psychology
- The conceptions and methods of psychology. Popular Science
- The school and the family. Popular Science Monthly (1909).
- Psychology in America. Science (1929).
- Baldwin, J. M., Cattell, J. M., & Jastrow, J. (1898). Physical
and mental tests. Psychological Review, 5, 172-179.
- Cattell, J. M. (1896). Address of the president before the American Psychological Association, 1895. Psychological Review, 3 (2), 1-15 (in PDF format; large file size: 3.4 MB. Will open in new window).
- Cattell, J. M. (1896). Physical and mental measurements of the students of Columbia University. Psychological Review, 3 (6), 618-648 (in PDF format; large file size: 5.6 MB. Will open in new window).
Biographical Dictionary of North American and European Educationists
(1997) Woburn Press, London
Cattell, J. M. (1896). Address of the president before the American Psychological
Association, 1895. The Psychological Review, 3(2), 1-15.
Cattell, J. M., & Farrand, L. (1896). Physical and mental measurements
of the students of Columbia University. The Psychological Review, 3(6),
Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (1995) Grolier Electronic Publishing,
Sternberg, R. J. (1990). Metaphors of mind: Conceptions of the nature
of intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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Content questions: Dr. Jonathan
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16 May 2013