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Lewis Terman: Biography & Intelligence Quotient

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  • 0:03 Who Was Lewis Terman?
  • 1:48 Intelligence Research in WWI
  • 3:29 Genius Studies
  • 4:53 Eugenics
  • 6:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Lewis Terman was an American psychologist whose early 20th century work has been profoundly influential in the field of educational psychology. Through this lesson, you'll explore his biography and learn about his contributions to the testing of intelligence quotients.

Who Was Lewis Terman?

If you've spent much time on social media sites or blogs, you've almost certainly come across ads for online IQ tests that return your results in minutes. Maybe you've even taken these tests in order to see what your IQ really is. The proliferation of these kinds of tests on the internet says a great deal about the interest and importance that people place on individual IQ. Much of the credit for that interest can go to a man by the name of Lewis Terman.

Lewis Terman was an influential American psychologist and pioneer of educational psychology. Born in Indiana in 1877, Terman's parents were farmers. Terman developed a passion for reading at an early age that sparked a seemingly insatiable pursuit of knowledge. His aptitude for education led him to enroll at the Central Normal College in Danville, Indiana, at the age of fifteen, graduating in 1894 with a BS in education and again in 1898 with a BA.

After graduating from Central Normal, Terman enrolled at Indiana University in pursuit of a graduate degree. He ultimately completed a Ph.D. at Clark University in 1905, where he studied under influential psychologist G. Stanley Hall. Terman's passion for education carried over into his early career, where he began first as a principal and eventually moved to a job as professor at the Los Angeles State Normal School. It wasn't until 1910, however, that Terman's academic career really began, when he accepted a position at Stanford University teaching educational psychology.

Intelligence Research in WWI

Terman's early work at Stanford focused on revision and further development of the Binet-Simon scale that was used at the time to measure intelligence quotients of special needs students. An intelligence quotient (IQ) is the number that represents a person's ability to use logic and reason in order to solve problems, which is measured against the statistical norm for their group. The term was first established in the initial intelligence testing of French psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon that began being used in 1905.

When the United States entered the first World War in 1917, a group of psychologists got together in order to offer their support and assistance to the effort. It was during this time that Terman used his revised scale, by then referred to as the Stanford-Binet Scale, to test the IQs of potential or incoming recruits. Terman's more developed IQ test gave the military better insight into where recruits could be best used. For example, a recruit that received a high score on their test would be marked for officer training, while those with lower scores would be assigned to lower positions.

The use of psychological testing was new during this period, and as such it received greater attention than it might have in the present. Given its comprehensive results and success rate in the military, a wider American public began to take note of the work. This increased awareness was precisely the type of support that Terman needed for him to promote the potential uses of the test in the public education system.

Genius Studies

When the Binet-Simon Scale was first developed in France in the early 20th century, its purpose was to identify children that were struggling academically or intellectually and to provide support and assistance. Terman certainly saw value in this objective, but his intentions were not directed at providing support as much as they were at classification. From his perspective, a person's IQ dictated their abilities and future. For instance, he believed that children with a lower IQ were bound for a life of manual labor and should therefore be guided in that direction and develop their skills accordingly.

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