Sir Francis Galton: Intelligence, Eugenics & Fingerprints

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tara DeLecce

Tara has taught Psychology and has a master's degree in evolutionary psychology.

During his time, Sir Francis Galton was a very influential anthropologist and explorer who inspired much research on complex ideas such as intelligence and heredity. Read on to learn more about this important yet controversial figure who was the cousin of Charles Darwin.

Sir Francis Galton

Francis Galton (1822-1911) was known for pursuing a diverse number of disciplines such as anthropology, statistics, geography, and psychology. He was born in Britain and was the cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton was considered a child prodigy and was reading Shakespeare at the age of six. He studied medicine at the University of Cambridge, but after earning a master's degree abandoned his studies to go traveling, after which he earned a reputation for being a great explorer. He then settled down in Britain to pursue various scientific endeavors. He was considered so impressive by the scientific community and Britain in general that he was knighted. The following sections of this lesson will focus on his most significant work.

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  • 0:00 Sir Francis Galton
  • 0:53 Fingerprints
  • 1:27 Measuring Intelligence
  • 1:56 Eugenics
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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During his anthropological studies, Galton noticed a great degree of individuality amongst fingerprints. He was the first to comprehensively examine fingerprints and scientifically determine that they could be used for purposes of identification. In his anthropological laboratories, he collected over 8,000 sets of fingerprints and published many scholarly papers about fingerprint classification, which was later adapted by E.R. Henry. This research was the foundation for use of fingerprints for forensic purposes in crimes.

Measuring Intelligence

One of the topics that Francis Galton was best known for was his work with intelligence. He believed that many aspects of human nature, including intelligence, could be measured scientifically. In a time before I.Q. tests, Galton attempted to measure intelligence through reaction time tests. For example, the faster someone could register and identify a sound, the more intelligent that person was.


Galton believed that intelligence and most other physical and mental characteristics of humans were inherited and biologically based. It was this idea that led Galton to develop his most controversial concept of eugenics, which is the selective breeding of humans deemed to have the most desirable traits and discouraging those with less desirable traits from breeding. This selective breeding would lead to an overall improvement of the human species. People would be more intelligent, physically stronger, and less susceptible to genetic and other types of diseases.

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