James McKeen Cattell

James McKeen Cattell

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James McKeen Cattell American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

, was the first professor of psychology in the United States at the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

 and long-time editor and publisher of scientific journals and publications, most notably the journal Science
Science (journal)
Science is the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is one of the world's top scientific journals....

. He also served on the board of trustees for Science Service, now known as Society for Science & the Public
Society for Science & the Public
Society for Science & the Public , formerly known as Science Service, is a 5013 non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of science, through its science education programs and publications, including the weekly Science News magazine.Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the organization...

, from 1921-1944.

At the beginning of his career, many scientists regarded psychology at best a minor field of study, or at worst a pseudoscience
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status...

 such as phrenology
Phrenology is a pseudoscience primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules...

. Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, Cattell helped establish psychology as a legitimate science, worthy of study at the highest levels of the academy. At the time of his death, the New York Times hailed him as "the dean of American science." Yet Cattell may be best remembered for his uncompromising opposition to American involvement in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. His public opposition to the draft led to his dismissal from his position at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, a move that later led many American universities to establish tenure
Tenure commonly refers to life tenure in a job and specifically to a senior academic's contractual right not to have his or her position terminated without just cause.-19th century:...

 as a means of protecting unpopular beliefs.

Early life

Born in Easton
Easton, Pennsylvania
Easton is a city in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, United States. The population was 26,800 as of the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Northampton County....

, Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

 in 1860, Cattell grew up the eldest child of a wealthy and prominent family. His father, William Cassady Cattell, a Presbyterian minister, became president of Lafayette College
Lafayette College
Lafayette College is a private coeducational liberal arts and engineering college located in Easton, Pennsylvania, USA. The school, founded in 1826 by James Madison Porter,son of General Andrew Porter of Norristown and citizens of Easton, first began holding classes in 1832...

 in Easton, Pennsylvania shortly after James' birth. William Cattell could easily provide for his children, as he had married Elizabeth "Lizzie" McKeen in 1859; together they shared Lizzie's substantial inheritance. To this picture of the family's success one could add political power as well, as James' uncle Alexander Gilmore Cattell represented New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 in the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...


Cattell entered Lafayette College in 1876 at the age of sixteen, and graduated in four years with the highest honors. In 1883 the faculty at Lafayette awarded him an M.A., again with highest honors. Despite his later renown as a scientist, he spent most of his time devouring English literature
English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....

, although he showed a remarkable gift for mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 as well.

Cattell did not find his calling until after he arrived in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 for graduate studies, where he met Wilhelm Wundt
Wilhelm Wundt
Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt was a German physician, psychologist, physiologist, philosopher, and professor, known today as one of the founding figures of modern psychology. He is widely regarded as the "father of experimental psychology"...

 at the University of Leipzig
University of Leipzig
The University of Leipzig , located in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university in Germany...

. Cattell left Germany in 1882 to study at Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

, but returned to Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

 the next year as Wundt's assistant. The partnership between the men proved highly productive, as the two helped to establish the formal study of intelligence. Under Wundt, Cattell became the first American to publish a dissertation in the field of psychology. The title of his German dissertation was Psychologische Untersuchungen (Psychometric Investigation). The dissertation was accepted by the University of Leipzig in 1886. More controversially, Cattell tried to explore the interiors of his own mind through the consumption of the then-legal drug hashish
Hashish is a cannabis preparation composed of compressed stalked resin glands, called trichomes, collected from the unfertilized buds of the cannabis plant. It contains the same active ingredients but in higher concentrations than unsifted buds or leaves...

. Under the influence of this drug, Cattell once compared the whistling of a schoolboy to a symphony orchestra. While recreational drug use was not uncommon among early psychologists, including Freud, Cattell's experimentation with hashish reflected a willingness to go against conventional opinion and morality.

The main street in the College Hill Neighborhood of Easton, Pennsylvania, home to Lafayette College, is named after Cattell.

Academic career

After completing his Ph.D. with Wundt in Germany in 1886, Cattell took up a lecturing post at the University of Cambridge in England, and became a 'Fellow Commoner' of St John's College, Cambridge. He made occasional visits to America where he gave lectures at Bryn Mawr
Bryn Mawr College
Bryn Mawr College is a women's liberal arts college located in Bryn Mawr, a community in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, ten miles west of Philadelphia. The name "Bryn Mawr" means "big hill" in Welsh....

 and the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

. In 1889 he returned to the United States to take up the post of Professor of Psychology in Pennsylvania, and in 1891 moved to Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 where he became Department Head of Psychology, Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

, and Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

; He became President of the American Psychological Association
American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists in the United States. It is the world's largest association of psychologists with around 154,000 members including scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. The APA...

 in 1895.

From the beginning of his career, Cattell worked hard to establish psychology as a field as worthy of study as any of the "hard" physical sciences, such as chemistry or physics. Indeed, he believed that further investigation would reveal that the intellect itself could be parsed into standard units of measurements. He also brought the methods of Wilhelm Wundt and Francis Galton
Francis Galton
Sir Francis Galton /ˈfrɑːnsɪs ˈgɔːltn̩/ FRS , cousin of Douglas Strutt Galton, half-cousin of Charles Darwin, was an English Victorian polymath: anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, proto-geneticist, psychometrician, and statistician...

 back to the United States, establishing the mental testing efforts in the U.S.

In 1917, Cattell was fired from Columbia University for opposing the United States’ conscription policy during World War I. Years later he sued the university and won an annuity. In 1921, he used the money that he had gained from the settlement in order to start The Psychological Corporation
Harcourt Assessment
Harcourt Assessment was a company that published and distributed educational and psychological assessment tools and therapy resources and provided educational assessment and data management services for national, state, district and local assessments...

 to foster his interest in the field of applied psychology. Because he was never able to really explain how psychologists can apply their work, the organization failed until taken over by other psychologists who had experience in applied psychology. Towards the end of his life, Cattell still edited and published his journals. To help himself in the process, he created the Science Press Printing Company in order to produce his journals. He continued his work on the journals until his death in 1944 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Eugenicist Beliefs

Cattell as a eugencist was heavily influenced by the research of Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

. His theory of evolution motivated Cattell’s emphasis on studying “the psychology of individual differences”. In connection to his eugencist beliefs, Eugenics
Eugenics is the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population", usually referring to human populations. The origins of the concept of eugenics began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance,...

 being the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population, usually referring to human populations." Cattell himself found that “in my statistical studies I found that one who wanted to become a scientific man had the best chance if he chose a professor or a clergyman as father...My father was both a professor and a clergyman. Catell believed that he himself had “inherited ability" but he also provided credit to the influence of his environment, saying "it was my fortune to find a birthplace in the sun. A germplasm fairly well compounded [good genes] met circumstances to which it was unusuallly fit to react”. Cattell’s strict eugencist ideology even motivated him to offer his own children monetary gifts of $1,000 if they would only marry the offspring of a university professor or academic professional.

Mental Tests

Cattell admired the methods and ideals for psychological research of fellow eugenics believer, Francis Galton, and Cattell’s work with studying the psychology of individual differences, and specifically with study of distinguished, intelligent men (also referred to as men of science) played a significant role in introducing and emphasizing the experimental technique and importance of methodology in experimentation in America. Regarding the beginnings of his mental tests, in Leigzig, Cattell independently began to measure “simple mental processes” and in addition he began to do research on the psychological affects of “stimulant and intoxicating drugs” used “hashish, morphine, opium, and other psychedelic and narcotic drugs, in part for the sensation and in part of interest in what they do to the mind”.

This early research of Cattell was preliminary in his specific assessments of mental processes, unaffected by drug usage. Cattell received permission from Wundt at Leipzig (as Wundt’s first laboratory assistant) to independently research individual differencesindividual differences
Individual differences psychology
The science of psychology studies people at three levels of focus captured by the well-known quotation: “Every man is in certain respects like all other men, like some other men, like no other man" ....

Between 1883to 1886, Cattell comprised and had published nine articles discussing human reaction time rates and individual differences regarding this topic . As professor at U. Penn, Cattell’s laboratory began doing tests and measurements on ten volunteer students and for the first time introducing the term “mental tests” as a general term for his set of tests which included measures of sensation, using weights to determine just noticeable differences, reactive time, human memory span, and rate of movement Cattell believed his tests were demonstrating intelligence levels through these physical and mental tests. Clark Wissler, a student of Cattell, and further psychological research proved these mental tests were however shown not to have developed validity in measuring intelligence and were eventually rendered irrelevant with the development of Alfred Binet’s intelligence measurements.


Cattell was well known for his involvement in creating and editing scientific journals. Cattell purchased Science from Alexander Graham Bell In 1895 who had founded it in 1883. He was so involved in owning and publishing journals, that his research productivity declined. He founded the journal Psychological Review
Psychological Review
Psychological Review is a scientific journal that publishes articles on psychological theory. It was founded by Princeton psychologist James Mark Baldwin and Columbia psychologist James McKeen Cattell in 1894 as a publication vehicle for psychologists not connected with the Clark laboratory of G....

in 1894 along with James Mark Baldwin
James Mark Baldwin
James Mark Baldwin was an American philosopher and psychologist who was educated at Princeton under the supervision of Scottish philosopher James McCosh and who was one of the founders of the Department of Psychology at the university...

. He also acquired the journal Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

and, within five years, made it the official publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1895-1900. In 1904, he also founded Popular Science Monthly, which later became Popular Science
Popular Science
Popular Science is an American monthly magazine founded in 1872 carrying articles for the general reader on science and technology subjects. Popular Science has won over 58 awards, including the ASME awards for its journalistic excellence in both 2003 and 2004...

. In 1915 he founded and edited Scientific Monthly
Scientific monthly
Scientific Monthly was a science magazine published from 1915 to 1957. Psychologist James McKeen Cattell was the original founder and editor. In 1957 Scientific Monthly was absorbed by Science....


Cattell's influence on promoting the field of psychology as valuable scienctific research was strongly shown in his scientific editing of Science maganzine for nearly fifty years.Regarding his impact on the psychological scientific community's development, it was stated “There is no denying that Cattell’s editorship significantly enhanced psychology’s visibility and status among the older sciences.

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