James McKeen Cattell

Born and raised in Easton, Pennsylvania, James McKeen Cattell attended Lafayette College, where his father (a minister) taught Latin and Greek. Following his graduation in 1880, he traveled several times to Europe for further study. In 1883, Cattell received his PhD under Wundt. He also spent a 2 year fellowship at Cambridge with Galton. 

Although a student of Wundt and founder of the first psychology laboratory for undergraduates, James Cattell was more influenced by Galton’s testing than Wundt’s experiments. Best known for coining the term “mental tests,” Cattell maintained that intelligence can be measured by sensory-motor tests (such as reaction time and hand strength). He proposed 50 tests be used for college entrance and 10 tests (a subset of the 50) be used for measuring intelligence in the general public. His efforts failed, however, because there was little correlation between the tests and no evidence that they could predict college success.

Cattell proves that not everyone has to be a great researcher or theoretician in order to impact psychology. A great organizer, Cattell founded Science Press, the Psychological Corporation, and the American Association of University Professors. In 1894, he and James Baldwin founded the journal Psychological Review. Cattell also founded, edited or owned the American Naturalist, School & Society, Science and Popular Science Monthly. He was involved in the founding of the American Psychological Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Cattell returned to the University of Pennsylvania and established the first psychology laboratory for undergraduates. In 1891, he moved to Columbia and remained there for 26 years. His application of psychology to education gave functionalism a practical usefulness that can be seen in the works of his students, including Woodworth and Thorndike. Cattell’s use of statistics and his emphasis on the importance of testing helped lead psychology toward an increased reliance of quantification.


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