James McKeen Cattell: Work & Impact on Psychology

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  • 0:03 Measuring Intelligence
  • 1:09 James McKeen Cattell
  • 2:06 Use of Mental Tests
  • 2:53 Professional Legacy
  • 3:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gaines Arnold

Gaines has a Master of Science in Education.

James McKeen Cattell was an early psychologist who helped guide and legitimize the field of psychology. In this lesson, we'll explore how his mental tests set the groundwork for intelligence testing.

Measuring Intelligence

Among the many questions that foster psychological research is this one: Is intelligence measurable? Is it possible to determine, by some concrete method, how intelligent an individual is? The Internet abounds with different sites that say they can accurately determine an individual's intelligence quotient (IQ); however, there is always a great deal of error associated with their tests. The intent of these tests is to sell you something else in the future, making them unreliable. Most people who take them will fall somewhere in the average range, so the question remains: Can intelligence be measured?

Early psychologists thought that it was possible. Starting with Wilhelm Wundt, a famous German psychologist, a great deal of experimentation went into perfecting intelligence tests. By testing for knowledge, memory, and other individual factors, psychologists sought a formula that could determine how well a given individual's mental processes worked. In the United States, James McKeen Cattell was at the forefront of intelligence testing.

James McKeen Cattell

James McKeen Cattell was a scientist who was also trained in psychology. People from other fields still regarded psychology as a thought exercise related to philosophy or the complete nonsense of phrenology (the study of the skull's contours as a means to determine behavior and personality). Cattell worked with other psychologists to legitimize his calling, studying first with Wilhelm Wundt in Germany, and then moving back to the United States after a brief stint in England. While in the US, Cattell became one of the first presidents of the American Psychological Association, working to help psychologists fund research. He believed that research would soon determine that the mind and all its properties could be broken down into global units. This approach would provide psychological research with the same foundations enjoyed by those who could parse their research into exact measurements (such as mathematicians, physicists, and geologists).

Use of Mental Tests

Cattell's study of the human mind was an attempt to find a concrete basis for intelligence. Cattell was convinced that he could find tangible and measurable units that could be used to quantify intelligence through the use of mental tests.

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