09 September 2012

"Psychological Testing and American Society": Notes to Michael M. Sokal's Excellent Edited Volume

Michael M. Sokal, Psychological Testing and American Society, 1890-1930 (New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1987).

Michael M. Sokal's edited volume Psychological Testing and American Society, 1890-1930 (1987) remains an important discussion of psychological testing and the rise of psychometrics in America. As I was reading it, I took fairly extensive notes from the work. These may well interest regular readers. Where appropriate, I provide a bit of context. My comments below are in bold.




Introduction: Psychological Testing and Historical Scholarship - Questions, Contrasts, and Context
by Michael M. Sokal

Sokal begins his introduction with the following observations:-

"Science-based technologies have done much to shape late twentieth century American society and culture." (p. 1)

And:-

"No such technology, however, has been more controversial than standardized psychological testing, and all agree that it plays a major role in current American society, particularly with respect to education and employment practices." (p. 1)

What are some of the standing controversial hypotheses:-

"On one hand, for example, Americans have the views of Arthur R. Jense of the University of California, Berkely, and Richard J Herrnstein of Harvard, who believe that tests reveal real difference in the ways in which individuals of different racial backgrounds function psychologically, and who argue therefore that the American educational system must take these differences into account." (p. 2)

Some like William Shockley, a Nobel Prize winner, advocated extreme measures as the result of these studies:-

"He [Shockley] therefore proposes, as a "thinking exercise," that each "subnormal" black man or woman - or indeed each individual with "limited mental ability" - who undergoes voluntary sterilization be paid a bounty of $1,000 for each point that his or her IQ falls below the national average of 100."  (p. 2).

Meanwhile, the other extreme has been positively biting in its criticism. In sum:-

"Some general conclusions can be distilled from these arguments, however. Most, though not all, of the critics of testing express doubts as to the testers' ability to address policy issues with disinterest. Many believe that the testers - like many intellectuals - identify themselves to closely with their work to be able to view it dispassionately. Some go further and see the testers as professional opportunists, seeking solely to reinforce their professional status and opportunistically claiming for themselves a unique expertise to which they really have no right. Some - particularly several Marxist influenced analysts of English testing - even argue that testers have often been motivated by implicit (and at time explicit) desire to reinforce class and race distinctions. Many critics thus cite the notorious work of Cyril Burt, the distinguished English tester whose publications supported the view that tests revealed significant differences in mental ability among individuals of different social classes." (pp. 3-4).

In answer to the critics, no small group have rejoined:-

"More importantly, many psychologists stress testing as the creator of opportunity, which they believe opens educational and employment doors for many whose true abilities would otherwise have been ignored. The testers give much anecdotal evidence to support this conclusion and argue that, all things being equal, tests have helped individuals more than they have hurt them." (p. 5)

The historical question worthy of addressing is thus from whence did testing come?

"Did testing emerge simply as the opportunistic ploy of psychologists seeking to bolster their professional status, or did others perceive a real social need that psychologists sought to meet. Have psychologists approached their testing programs dispassionately, or have they used their science-based technology to implement their personal views of proper social structure?" (p. 5)

Sokal's book as a whole responds to these questions, albeit in a minimal way:-

"This scholarship responds at least to some of the questions presented here and will also further our understanding of several important historical topics. These include the development and application of science in twentieth-century America, the way in which individuals scientists attempted to use their work to meet the social needs they perceived, and the concern and, at times, passion they brought to their studies." (p. 6)

Sokal then engages with other authors who have examined psychological testing, noting in particular the important work by Stephen J. Gould, The Mismeasure of Man. Gould, whom Sokal lauds, is nevertheless limited:

"In stressing several technical faults he finds in the testers' work, he sometimes seems to imply that scientists of the past should have escaped from their contexts and realized the limitations of their points of view." (p. 9)

And:-

"To be sure, Gould admits that [Cyril] Burt was "not the architect" of the examination [Britain's 11+ examination], but he still claims that "it hardly matters whether or not Burt's hand actually moved the pen." An analysis more in line with Gould's "cardinal principle" would argue that Goddard's work and the sterilization laws, Yerkes's tests and the immigration-restriction laws, and Burt's studies and the 11+ examinations reflected in each case the shared perspectives of the testers and the policy makers. But Gould seems to want the scientists and not the larger society to plead guilty here." (p. 10)

While Gould's book is unusually strong in recognizing the work of 19th century scientists in the making of tests, it slights physiognomy and also barely mentions phrenology:-

"These techniques [physiognomy] soon gave way to phrenology (which Gould mentions in passing), the most serious nineteenth-century approach to the study of individual mental ability. In America, particularly, phrenology emerged as a popular technique for the reading of a person's psychological strengths and weaknesses, and for several decades before the Civil War, Americans often called upon the phrenologist for expert guidance. Throughout the period, itinerant phrenologists traveled through the country, providing mental examinations, psychological diagnoses, and practical professional advice to those who consulted them and paid their fee. The typical phrenological reading evaluated several categories of an individuals mental "powers" - including his or her domestic, selfish, and moral feelings; self-perceptive and reflective abilities; and intellectual and literary faculties - and it suggested several "business adaptations" for which he or she was best or least studied. It even spelled out the traits the subject should look for in a spouse. The phrenologist thus served the early nineteenth century much as the consulting psychologist - using modern mental tests - serves the twentieth." (pp. 10-11)

Phrenology was particularly important because:-

"Phrenology, with its precise readings of human strengths and weaknesses, and with the specific educational, career, and matrimonial advice its practitioners gave, thus fit well within the pattern of an age that sought improvement not in the remaking of a society but rather in the remaking of the individual." (p. 11)

Phrenology gave way to craniometry:

"This science thrived in Britain and America, and its practitioners slowly broadened its focus to include the measurement of its subjects' minds as well as their bodies. One English anthropometrist, Francis Galton, looked to late nineteenth-century German psychological studies for techniques of mental measurement and thus stimulated the work of James McKeen Cattell...." (p. 12)

Why were these tests so popular with reformers and lawmakers?

"Such developments did much to gain the interest of reformers in whatever tools could be used to sort individuals, and by the 1890s most had adopted a "Progressive" point of view that led them to seek guidance in the work of scientists. The new universities of the late nineteenth century had meanwhile begun to sponsor the emergence of a "new psychology" - based largely on "scientific" approaches to psychological questions and stimulated primarily by European-trained researchers - that went far beyond the faculty psychology that had long been taught in American colleges. Those who had learned in Germany, the latest physiologically based techniques to study the mind had few qualms about applying their knowledge to measure the differences between people." (p. 12-13)

In sum, this whole book endeavors to:

"Perhaps the major contribution of this book is to show the importance of the practical realities faced by the testers, a point typically ignored by those who have previously written about testing. That is, the defenders of the tests seem to feel that they can be carried out fairly and with relatively little effort, and that with proper training for those who administer the tests most problems could easily be avoided. More serious is the fact that many opponents of testing seem to believe that the tests serve no social role other than to support the testers' inflated claims to unique professional expertise. But as this book demonstrates, testing itself emerged and evolved in response to real problems, as American society changed rapidly and the Progressives looked to science for guidance. Attacks on the testers' personal integrity and attempts to denigrate their goals thus unfairly distorts the past..." (p. 16-17).


Chapter 2: James McKeen Cattell and Mental Anthropometry: Nineteenth-Century Science and Reform and The Origins of Psychological Testing
By Michael M. Sokal

James McKeen Catell was one of the first psychologists to bring the idea of applied psychology to the American people.

"Catell was a child of the nineteenth century, and he remained rooted in it long after 1900. His important series of directories, American Men of Science clung to the genteel term used by those who avoided the neologism "scientist"; it continues today- suitably modifed for the late twentieth-century - as American Men and Women of Science. The journal Science, which he owned and edited until his death in 1944, reflected many nineteenth-century views of science. Most importantly, the way in which Catell actually did science - from his first experiments with G. Stanley Hall at Johns Hopkins in the early 1880s through his apprenticeship with Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig in the mid-1800s, to his psychological experiments at the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1890s - reflected a scientific ideology already out of date by the time he learned it." (p. 22)

Educated by a vulgar Baconian, Catell came to esposed a Comtean worldview flavored with an "experimentalist and utilitarian twist". In Europe:

"He planned to follow [Hermann] Lotze when he accepted a call to Berlin, but Lotze's death and Cattell's family concerns led him to Leipzig, where he heard Wilhelm Wundt lecture on psychology. Wundt was clearly his second choice, and he did not impress Cattell at this time. He prepared an essay on Lotze's philosophy, which helped him win a fellowship in philosophy at Johns Hopkins for the 1882-1883 academic year. Returning to the United States, he looked forward to at least a year at America's premier research university." (p. 25)

Cattell eventually worked with G. Stanley Hall, but was overshadowed by John Dewey (p. 25).

"Cattell decided to return to Europe to earn a doctorate with Wundt in experimental psychology. He spent almost three years at the University of Leipzig, from November 1883 through June 1886." (p. 25).

In Leipzig, Cattell worked on a dissertation eventually entitled "The Time Taken up by Cerebral Operations" (p. 26).

"Cattell initially looked to a career in neurology as a means of capitalizing on this early work. Thus from Leipzig he went to St. John's College, Cambridge, to study medicine. However, his father soon arranged for him a lectureship in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and he quickly abandoned his medical studies. He matured socially at Cambridge, from October 1886 through December 1887 and from April through December 1888; he became engaged to a young English woman whome had had met while she studied music at Leipzig; and he spent much time making acquaintances among the intellectual aristrocracy. Most importantly, he fell under the direct influence of one of the members of the group, Francis Galton. Although he never studied formally with Galton, the rest of his career reflected in many ways Galton's understanding of science." (p. 26)

Cattell was fascinated by Francis Galton's work but the two men had not yet met.

"Despte the fact that Cattell had read Galton's articles as early as 1884, Galton apparently made the first contact between the two men. His earliest anthropometric work had concentrated on physical and physiological characteristics, and he soon looked beyond these for a way to investigate psychological differences. For several years he had considered the reaction-time experiment as such a technique. Perhaps Galton found Cattell's name in the literature, or perhaps mutual acquaintances such as Alexander Bain mentioned the young American to him. In any event, by October 1885 the two men had exchanged letters about reaction-time apparatus at the Anthropological Institute." (p. 27)

Cattell became professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1889.

"Within a year, he had established a research program on "mental tests and measurements," which he later claimed coined the term "mental tests" now in common use. He explicitly ignored the simple measurements of bodily dimensions that had been much a part of Galton's program; instead, he concentrated on procedures to examine both physiological and psychological characteristics." (p. 29)

Cattell's major interest was in the measurement of individual differences. But like Galton, Cattell brought these interests to a public hungry for psychological self-help.

"Cattell was not alone in sensing a public need that could be tapped by mental testing in the 1890s. By that decade, some scientists working in physical anthropometry began to claim that they could measure "The Physical Basis of Precocity and Dullness," and though others, like anthropologist Franz Boas, disputed their claim, their studies continued throughout the decade. Within the discipline that was just beginning to identify itself as psychology, testing boomed." (p. 30)

Among those popularizing psychology was Joseph Jastrow:

"Under Jastrow's direction in 1893, the two streams of interest in anthropmetric mental testing converged at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. At this World's Fair, Frederic Ward Putnam, curator of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, planned a Department of Ethnology that was to include a Section of Physical Anthropology under the direction of Franz Boas. Part of Boas's plan was to carry out a program of anthropometric measurements on visitors to the fair, including as many foreign visitors as possible, and on the members of the Indian tribes brought to Chicago for the occasion. Jastrow, Boas, and Putnam saw no reason to limit the program to physical antropometry and extended it to mental tests." (p. 31)

Cattell hoped that his program would serve practical ends.

"In many ways, then, he resembled the mid-nineteenth-century phrenologists who tried to change the world by remaking those who lived in it, and whose influence waned as legal action replaced moral suasion as the primary technique of reform. Cattell would have denounced any attempt to classify his work with that of the phrenologists, whom he saw as little more than frauds. But throughout his life he remained a nineteenth-century man in more than his vocabulary." (p. 34)

Cultural interest in anthropometric testing waned after the 1890s. Many critiqued it, including James Mark Baldwin and Hugo Munsterberg. Most denied that psychological processes were measurable. But in a more important sense, Cattell's work was superseded by the work of Alfred Binet.

"Cattell, of course, abandoned his career as an experimental psychologist, but he continued his activity within the American psychological community. For example, in the 1920s he founded The Psychological Corporation. From about 1900 on, he was better known as an editor and as an entrepreneur of science than he was as a psychologist. In many ways, his later career is more interesting than his earlier one, though as his experience with The Psychological Corporation shows, it may not have been any more successful."  (p. 38).

Whither anthropometrics?

"Despite the death of the anthropometric mental testing itself - in many ways the product of a nineteenth-century scientific ideology - continued into the first years of the twentieth century. As Americans sought sources of social authority, they perceived mental testing as too valuable a tool to be completely abandoned, even it anthropometric mental testing appeared to have extreme limitations." (p. 39)


Chapter 3: The Debate over Diagnosis: Henry Herbert Goddard and the Medical Acceptance of Intelligence Testing
By Leila Zenderland

The opening salvo: 


"In may 1910 the American Association for the Study of the Feebleminded, the predecessor of the American Association on Mental Deficiency, quietly adopted intelligence testing as its main criterion for diagnosing mental subnormality. Although dominated by physicians, the Association accepted the new measures at the urging of psychologist Henry Herbert Goddard, the first American to appreciate the ideas of Alfred Binet" (p. 46).

This essay is about Henry Herbert Goddard, the man who popularized IQ in the United States. And the debate of diagnosis of mental defectiveness was as important as the debate of its conditions.

"In this historical instance, diagnoses influenced not only individuals, but the shape of the psychological profession. In fact, it was through their new roles as diagnosticians that psychologists such as Goddard first reached positions of social power - positions that made their ideas about heredity or environment meaningful." (p. 47)

Goddard did not have the intellectual pedigree of many of his colleagues. He did, however, have a PhD.

"...Goddard became on of the first Ph.D.'s to devote his full attention to problems of birth defects, brain damage, and learning disabilities that afflicted children like those living at Vineland [a training school for boys and girls of defective intelligence in New Jersey] - the same problems being studied by institutional physicians." (p. 48)

His work was not particularly glamorous:-

"And so in the years that many of his contemporaries were studying "neuroasthenics," those fashionable sufferers from "weak nerves," Goddard dedicated himself to the less glamorous field that called itself "psycho-asthenics," the study of "weak minds". (p. 48)

It was a new field.

"By the century's end, the creation of large institutions provided physicians with ample opportunity to observe an increasing number of mentally handicapped individuals. Institutional physicians formed their own professional organization, the Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Persons, in 1876. The met annually, published their proceedings, and began their own professional journal, the Journal of Psycho-Asthenics, in 1896." (p. 49)

Goddard long believed that his population had few traits that could be described as typical. He noted epileptics, deaf-mutes, blind children, and some paralyzed too. And they had also a range of medical histories. What is striking about these observations, is that:-

"Physicians could categorize some common physical types. They recognized the "cretins," for example, identifiable by their bodily proportions and growth deficiencies, as well as the "hydrocephalics" and "microcephalics," identifiable by their large or small heads respectively. Some recognized the children with Asiatic eyes that Dr. J. Langdon Down had first described and christened "Mongolians."" (p. 51)

Other children hurt themselves. And still others seemed incapable of understanding basic educational lessons or those who showed savant-ism (p. 52).

"By 1908 physicians had yet to find a system that met any, much less all, of these needs. In the absence of consensus, each institution adopted its own system of diagnosing and subdividing its charges. Most called severely impaired cases "idiots," those less impaired "imbeciles," and those only mildly impaired by a variety of other labels. Because there were no common criteria to distinguish between categories, however, a child could be classified as an idiot in one in institution and an imbecile in another." (pp. 53-54)

Zenderland suggests that this lack of standards made general practitioners and physicians confused. (A point, however, should be made here - there is no reason to believe that they were confused. People tend to know what they mean, even if what they mean is different from what other people mean.) In any case, numerous nosological systems sprang up. William Ireland, for example, had an extremely sophisticated one by 1877. His system, however, was controversial, and partly because it was unclear whether or not idiocy should be "medicalized".

"Idiocy is not a disease, the French psychiatrist Jean Esquirol had maintained, but a condition in which the intellectual faculties "have never developed sufficiently for the idiot to acquire the knowledge which other individuals of his age receive when placed in the same environment." (p. 56)

Esquirol suggested and found enthusiasts for the idea of using language as the basis for classifying differences in intelligence.

"Other psychiatrists, while agreeing with the need to classify cases by degree rather than cause, were less impressed with systems based on language. "The parrot can be taught to articulate," Daniel Hack Tuke concluded, "but in intelligence is far below the elephant, which cannot." Reflexes, Tuke suggested, were more reliable indicators of mental impairment than speech. He proposed a classification system based upon the quality of motor control." (p. 57)

The British took psychiatric classification in a different direction.

"The introduction of sociological criteria into medical systems was even more apparent in the classification adopted by the Royal College of Physicians in London in 1908. In starkly Spencerian language, British doctors defined mental deficiency in terms of fitness for surviving. Idiots, the lowest group, were those "so deeply defective ... as to be unable to guard themselves against common physical dangers." The highest grade was "capable of earning a living under favorable circumstances, but is incapable ... of competing on equal terms with his normal fellows...or managing himself and his affairs with ordinary prudence." While the British medical establishment had reached consensus by adopted the language of evolutionary sociology, however, American physicians remained divided." (p. 58)

Henry Herbert Goodard was looking for a solution to these issues. He made a grand tour of European institutions for the feebleminded in 1908 where he first encountered the work of Alfred Binet. Goodard and Binet's careers would thereafter be linked together. Both men were also somewhat marginal figures in their own national contexts.

"Although Binet's tests were eclectic, the majority assessed judgment skill. Such skills could be quantified, he demonstrated, not be counting seconds or centimeters but by counting the number of correct answers to a series of questions of increasing degrees of difficulty - questions designed to be graded with as little subjectivity as possible. Binet's real breakthrough came in 1908, when he added the idea of establishing numerical norms for every level of a child's mental growth, based on samples of children's responses. By comparing an individuals child's test results with norms established for children of his age, one could determine the child's relative "mental level". (p. 62-62)

Goddard was impressed by the way Binet had circumvented physiology and pathology with psychology.

"Even after he began using Binet's tests, Goddard still hoped that psychophysical measurements might prove useful indicators of mental abilities.... After all, he explained, psychologists no longer considered mind an entity in itself; instead it was the sum of processes, including movements that "we certainly can and do measure." (pp. 63-64)

Goddard presented a paper entitled "Four Hundred Feebleminded Children Classified by the Binet Method" which stimulated rapid acceptance of Binet's standards:

"An idiot was now defined as one testing between 0 and 2 years of mental age on the Binet scale; an imbecile as one testing between 3 and 7; and a "moron," Goddard's new term for the highest group, as one testing between 8 and 12. The concept of "mental age", moreover, appealed to physicians, for it objectified subnormal child development." (p. 65)

What people may not appreciate from this story is that it was a quiet victory for applied psychology. It suggested that psychological inspection paralleled medical inspection (p. 66). Medicine had not found an equivalent solution to the problem of diagnoses and classification of mental function. Psychology did.

Chapter 4: Robert M. Yerkes and the Mental Testing Movement
By James Reed

This essay focuses on American psychologists during and after World War I, and in particular Robert M. Yerkes.

"For Robert M. Yerkes (1876-1956), the leader of the team of psychologists who tested 1.7 million United States army recruits, the Great War was a fabulous opportunity to show the value of psychology in the management of human resources." (pp. 75-76)

Most historians agree that the army testing program was significant. (p. 76)

"The war changed the image of testers and of the tested. Intelligence tests were no longer things given by college professors and resident examiners like Henry H. Goodard to crazy people and imbeciles in psychopathic institutes and homes for the feebleminded, but legitimate means of making decisions about the aptitudes and achievements of normal people - an  essential means of making objective judgments about individuals in mass society." (p. 76)

Yerkes major competitor was Lewis Terman.

"Yerkes and Terman regarded their tests as a means of liberating gifted individuals from the tyrannies of ascribed status based on class or race or ethnicity. They did not expect, however, to find much gold among the masses. They believed in equality of opportunity, not equality, and they shared with other American Galtonians the assumption that "civic worth" or "mental ability" or "IQ" were inherited biological capacities distributed unevenly among classes and ethnic groups." (p. 77)

Yerkes had not prior to the War received much support for his brand of psychology.

"Yerkes called himself a "psychobiologist" at a time when psychology at Harvard was still an orientation within the Department of Philosophy. Yerkes was convinced, however, that evolutionary naturalism was the model that provided means for understanding human experience in both its biological and social aspects." (p. 78)

What was Yerkes ultimate goal?

"...Yerkes defined his intellectual mission as the mapping of the uncharted regions between mind and body. He would delineate the relationship between "material" and "mental" evolutionary processes. The study of mind needed a methodology and subjects for study equivalent to the fossils of paleontologists. Yerkes believed that simpler forms of life might be viewed as living fossils and began the task of tracing the phylogenetic development of human intellectual capacity back through lower forms of life to its origins with studies of the behavior and "mental life" of frogs, jelly fish, crustaceans, worms, mice, crows, pigs, raccoons - and eventually insane persons, school children, soldiers, orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas." (p. 79)

In this sense, Yerkes was a true Darwinian - not a Galtonian or a Watsonian. He was little respected. The mass testing of recruits was also therefore a bit beyond his typical research program. He preferred to work on animals - not people. Through politicking and other various efforts, however, Yerkes eventually came to dominate military psychology.

"In retrospect, Yerkes's greatest coup as a scientific bureaucrat and promoter was not in getting the Surgeon General to find a place for psychologists in the army, although that was a notable accomplishment, nor in writing tests, recruiting several hundred officers and technicians, and administering examinations to over 1.7 million individuals, despite fierce competition for resources and status from army officers and psychiatrists, although that too was a notable accomplishment. His most remarkable achievement was the myth that the army testing program had been a great practical success and that it provided a "goldmine" of data on the heritability of intelligence." (p. 84)

In most respects, the army testing program was a failure.

"The fact that the data gathered from the examinations has been cited so often and for so long in support of the Galtonian paradigm is a commentary on the will to believe among psychometricians and others who ought to know better. The tests may have predicted "practical soldier value," with a bit less precision than traditional army procedures, but there was and is no way to separate the influence of learning acculturation, class, racial caste, or motivation from native ability in evaluation of performance on the army examinations." (p. 85)

But in other respects, Yerkes research on animal intelligence - studies that came after this period - showed both genius and commonsense. His later work was better. (p. 87). The failure of the army study reveals much about Yerkes commitment to proving the value of psychology for society.

"By claiming that an inherited capacity accounted for the correlations between social status, ethnicity, and test scores, psychologists seemed to demonstrate that they were the equals of other natural scientists in their capacity to identify a fundamental law of nature and to predict its influence on human affairs." (p. 89)

And perhaps more importantly....

"He was guided by some large and abstract assumptions - faith in Darwin, faith in scientific method, faith in the promise of human engineering, but the specifics of his research - the subjects, the methods, the interpretations - often reflected pragmatic responses to a complex of stimuli, including professional mentors, institutional situations, and perceived social needs of opportunities." (p.89)

Chapter 5: Lewis M Terman and Mental Testing: In Search of the Democratic Ideal
By Henry L Minton.

This chapter focused on Lewis Terman's contribution to mental testing. Mental testing was already being greatly used.

"Intelligence tests would also make it possible to detect milder degrees of mental defect, and thus correct the tendency of older methods of diagnosis to overlook the majority of higher-grade defectives. This group of defectives posed a particular threat to society, because of their potential for crime, pauperism, and industrial inefficiency." (p. 100).

Mental testing was on everyones mind in 1922 because the results of the military testing became widely known. Walter Lippman, for example, denigrated them in The New Republic (p. 102) and argued that the interpretations were simply false.

"Lippmann contended that as the child grows up he or she spends less time in the home and more time in the school and playground. He therefore concluded that Terman's data were "a rather strong argument... for the traditional American theory that the public school is an agency for equalizing the opportunities of the privileged and the unprivileged." Despite the fact that Lippmann was quite technically sophisticated in many of his criticisms, Terman in his published reply recommended that Lippmann, as a layman, should stay out of issues he was not informed about. Terman, in fact, was quite evasive...." (p. 103)

Terman - setting a noteworthy pattern "dismissed his critics as being unscientific" and argued for a hereditary view. Later, however, he became more responsive to environmental influences. Ultimately, however:-

 "Terman, Whipple, and other army testers - Yerkes, Goddard, and Thorndike - were committed to a biologically rooted democratic model of meritocracy. Bagley, Dewey, Judd, and Baldwin held to a contextual, sociohistorical model of democratic egalitarianism." (p. 105)

What did it mean to be a Darwinian psychologists in this world? One view was meritocratic; the other was egalitarian. (We still fight about this today.)

"There were, however, two interpretations: (1) "social Darwinism" which was committed to a biologically deterministic point of view regarding social phenomena, and (2) "reform Darwinism," which emphasized the role of social forces in shaping society.

To an historian today, Terman emerges as unable to see beyond his own middle class reality. It was easy for him to be a meritocrat - he knew next to nothing about living in the slums or being a minority in racialist America.


Chapter 6: Was Early Mental Testing (a) Racist Inspired, (b) objective science, (c) a technology for democracy, (d) the origin of multiple-choice exams, (e) none of the above? (Mark the RIGHT answer).
By Franz Samelson.

As we have learned mental testing originated in eugenics. Objective testing was supposed to aid meritocracy. But did it? That is a hard question to answer. One development was particularly important and worthy of historical analysis:

"I am referring to the humble yet all-pervasive multiple choice question and its variants - an invention ingenious in its simplicity - which was the indispensable vehicle for the dramatic growth of mass testing in this country in the span of a few years. It had not existed before 1914; by 1921 it had spawned a dozen group intelligence tests and provided close to two million soldiers and over three million schoolchildren with a numerical index of their intelligence; it was also about to transform achievement test in the classroom." (p. 115-116)

It was introduced to make mental testing much easier. And people soon realized the importance of multiple choice testing for educational purposes (p. 117).

"The enormous publicity given to the army intelligence tests soon led to what Stephen Leacock satirized as the "testing craze." The early twenties spawned more than a dozen group intelligence tests, fulfilling Terman's dream of "a mental test for every child." (p. 119).

Indeed the multiple choice test "efficient, quantitative, objective, capable of sampling wide areas of subject matter and easily generating data for complicated statistical analyses" would become the model for American education. The original appeared in "Kelly's Reading Test" (p. 122).

"[F. J. Kelly] had dreamed up a small and not particularly complicated modification. But its impact, one might argue, was enormous, as pervasive and formative for the American education system as any of the more eye-catching substantive results of intelligence tests. The technology it unleashed transformed the content and style of teaching, learning, and grading, contributing powerfully to the peculiarly fragmented form of American mass education. No matter what the educational rhetoric proclaimed, at the operative level this technology did not place the emphasis on the production of coherent ideas, nor on their reproduction, but on the "multiple-guess" recognition of small pieces of mostly factual, and often trivial information. Intolerant of idiosyncrasy and individuality, it carried the latent message that the goal of learning was the identification of the one "wholly right" answer as defined by a seemingly impersonal, "objective," yet often quite arbitrary authority. (p. 122-123).

A brilliant line follows:

"But lest anyone think that the development of this mass production method was inevitable in any large education system, a comparative perspective proves instructive. European systems have not utilized such methods at all, at least not until long after the culture of Camels and Coke had conquered the world; when, as in Norway, a system eventually attempted to introduce them, a heated public debate over such testing procedures ensued. This piece of educational technology is as American as the assembly line, and perhaps as alienating." (p. 123)



Chapter 7: The Manager, the Medic, and the Mediator: The Clash of Professional Psychological Styles and Wartime Origins of Group Mental Testing
By Richard T. Von Mayrhauser

This chapter sets up a fascinating comparison between Walter Dill Scott and Robert Mearns Yerkes and begins with an executive council meeting at the Hotel Walton in Philadelphia.  

"The uniqueness of the this occasion was not lost on the APA's president, Robert Mearns Yerkes, who had requested the conference, and who believed that it would "probably be the most important meeting of the sort ever held." Here was the chance for psychology to shed its esoteric image and prove its intellectual value and practical usefulness to American society." (p. 129)

Who was Walter Dill Scott?

"From the outset of his career, Scott's interests and associations led him back and forth between the business world and academia. In the first decade of this century he published the first psychologies of advertising and public speaking, and at the beginning of the second decade he shifted his concerns to the psychology of vocational selection and management." (p. 129)


Who was Robert Yerkes?

A Lawrence Lowell was president of Harvard in 1909, and "Lowell led Harvard away from Eliot's focus on pure research as the primary university purpose, returning the school to more traditional professorial duties. For Yerkes, this mean a greater teaching load, less time for his research and prolific publishing, and increased anxiety over institutional support for his program in comparative psychology. President Lowell suggested to him that  "the path to professorship lay" in a more human-focused psychology, but Yerkes was reluctant to modify his research to suit the Harvard president." (p. 131)

The startling feature of both men is that neither was inclined to celebrate the advent of group testing. 

"For instance, Yerkes, the man who rose quickly and boldly to professional leadership and who had hoped to secure implementation of his own genetic psychological ideals and methods as the dominant wartime psychological purpose, was predisposed against group testing; and Scott, the psychological leader who had pioneered in group exam methods before the war and who later became the most influential psychologist among military officials during the war, was excluded from the famous meeting of psychologists in late May at Vineland, New Jersey, where his colleagues developed the notorious group test "Alpha". (p. 134)

Yerkes, however, was a real political insider. He was also jealous of his power. Scott has all kinds of suggestions:-

"Scott changed the subject again, to the topic of "special tests to determine fitness" for such positions as artillery man, pilot, etc. in which neither he nor Yerkes's researchers were involved, and again deferred to Yerkes: "It seems to me that you should appoint individual men to take up one of these topics." While Scott's letter posed less of a threat to Yerkes's leadership than Bingham's circular, it still represented a second councilor's attempt to share in the formulation of the central purpose of wartime psychology. Yerkes wanted that power vested in himself as president, but he still needed to consider the suggestions of Scott and Bingham, who, with the addition of but one other vote, could block authorization of presidential power" (p. 136).

Many of these facts became obvious to Scott.

"Scott left the Walton when he realized that Yerkes was committed to installing a psychological style and purpose that would, Scott believed, severely limit the contribution of the profession. Yerkes insisted that the primary function of the tests was to diagnose mental incompetence, and, according to Scott, Yerkes pressed the medical metaphor further with the proposal that "all of the work should be done under the direction of the Surgeon-General and therefore under the direction also of the Psychiatrist." (p. 140)

Yerkes ambitions became clear.

"As an "objectivist" researcher at Eliot's university, Yerkes wanted psychology to become a branch of practical biology, that is, medicine. The achievement of officer status in the war provided an opportunity to elevate the profession and President Yerkes simultaneously, and not only for reasons of self-promotion." (p. 142)

Scott had different views.

"Scott had established himself as an applied psychologist, specifically in the area of motivation. From his doctoral thesis through his works on advertising and public speaking, Scott was concerned to discover the rational or suggestive ways in which persons cause each other to act. In the second decade of his career, he expanded his interest in exhortation and suggestion to include the isolation of qualities that allowed for the successful inducement of employees as well as customers. Although Scott's interest in motivation remained the prime source of his study of vocational selection, another source was his effective merger of William James's moral psychology with Frederick W. Taylor's efficiency-oriented "scientific management". In an optimistic, popular article of 1911, Scott expressed the belief that the mental habits of white-collar workers could be organized the same way that Taylor had systematized the physical tasks of blue-collar workers. The way to make thought-labor more efficient, following James's analysis of habit and Taylor's simplification of labour into particularized muscle movements, was to eliminate superfluous thinking, which often accompanied white-collar work in the form of self-consciousness or daydreaming." (p. 146)

In short, theirs were different visions.

"The adaptability and pluralism of Scott's intelligence testing allowed him to remain independent within academia, while the reductionism of Yerkes's "general intelligence" program encouraged closer affiliation with biology, or, in the practical context of wartime, medicine. For this reason Scott viewed Yerkes's idea of working "under the direction...of the Psychiatrist" as a surrender - not an achievement - of professional prestige. On the lever of professional jealousy, Scott was not the only psychologist who was wary of the doctor of neurology, which "psychiatrist" still connoted in 1917; meanwhile, psychiatrists had little to gain from extending recognition to psychologists." (p. 147)


Chapter 8: Applied Science and Public Policy: The Ohio Bureau of Juvenile Research and the Problem of Juvenile Delinquency, 1913-1930
By Hamilton Cravens

The big message is this:

"In the first decade and a half of the mental testing movement, almost all psychometricians insisted that the tests measured innate intelligence of groups and individuals. By the later 1920s, of course, they had retreated fromt his high ground to the extent of admitting that adequate tests of inborn intelligence of groups or races had not yet been devised, but they retained their faith in the tests' general validity and in their ability to measure an individual's native intelligence, which is another way of saying that they believed their technics were a valuable resource for the creation of public policy." (p. 158-159)


What follows is a fascinating discussion of how Goddard and others helped psychology become in applied science that informs public policy. It ends on the provocative point:-

"Since the 1870s professionals in America had insisted to those in public life that social policy required the values of technical expertise, namely objectivity, rationality, and selflessness, not to mention the professional services of the experts themselves. By the early twentieth century this campaign was yielding results for professionals in many distinct areas of of expertise. It was to be expected that not all such campaigns succeeded according to the most sanguine projections of their leaders and followers. Contention and half loaves, not linear progress, was the real experience of most of the professions, their own accounts of these struggles notwithstanding." (p. 185)




1 comment:

  1. This science thrived in Britain and America, and its practitioners slowly broadened its focus to include the measurement of its subjects' minds as well as their bodies.Hmm great and informative article. This is it admin. Nice work.

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