Monday 10 August 2015

Psychological predictions from long ago: Terman 1930


Young Elijah Armstrong, like any upstanding Californian, is usually to be found on a surfboard, or later surrounded on the beach by admiring young ladies, but from time to time he is able to tear himself away from such hedonistic pursuits so as to send me little snippets of what must seem to him to be ancient history.

Here is Lewis Terman in 1930 replying to a request for his views about current psychological positions and movements. Then afterwards Elijah, Panjoomby and I discuss the accuracy of Terman’s predictions. This gives you an insight as to what the three of us regard as light relief from blogging:

In response to the Editor's request for a statement of my position with reference to current psychological issues and movements, I venture to offer the following credos, which range all the way from tentative beliefs to fairly positive convictions:

That mental testing is in its merest infancy and will develop to a lusty maturity within the next half century; that its developments will include improved tests of general intelligence (in the reality of which I believe), tests of many kinds of special ability, and tests of personality traits which no one has yet even thought of measuring;

That within a few score years school children from the kindergarten to the university will be subjected to several times as many hours of testing as would now be thought reasonable;

That educational and vocational guidance will be based chiefly on test ratings, and that Hull's proposal to measure every important ability and personality trait and to "grind out" a hundred or more occupational success predictions for every youth is practicable and will be realized;

That public vocational testing bureaus, employing methods of the kind referred to in the preceding paragraph, will be operated for the benefit of adults of all ages and both sexes;

That it will some day be possible to identify, largely by means of tests, the pre-delinquent and the pre-psychotic, and that effective preventive measures will result from this advance;

That matrimonial clinics will become common and that couples in large numbers will submit themselves to extensive batteries of ability, personality, interest, and compatibility tests before deciding to embark together;

That mental testing is destined to exert a profound influence on economic theory, industrial methods, politics, and the administration of law;

That the major differences between children of high and low IQ, and the major differences in the intelligence test scores of certain races, as Negroes and whites, will never be fully accounted for on the environmental hypothesis;

That mental testing will be more and more recognized as an integral part of experimental psychology, and that this recognition will be reflected increasingly in undergraduate instruction;

That psychiatry will not be pulled out of the mire until it lays down the requirement of two or three solid years of training in psychology, including psychobiology, mentality and personality testing, and statistical methods;

That psychology will, in time, give us a new type of biographical literature in which the interpretation of a subject's life will be based largely upon quantitative measurements of abilities, personality traits, and interest-attitudes;

That contrary to what would be suggested by an examination of the courses in teachers colleges and schools of education, psychology offers almost the sole basis for a science of education;

That the revival of associationism and the vogue given it during the last quarter century by the "bond" psychologists has about run its course;

That the Watsonian brand of behaviorism is a cult, and that its presumption in claiming the whole of psychology and in basing a theory of child training and a denial of heredity on a few minor experiments in the emotional conditioning of infants is ridiculous;

That the method of introspection has not been and never will be rendered obsolete by objective psychology, and that much greater use should be made of it in experimental learning and mental test construction than is customary at present;

That Gestalt psychology, even though its formulations are largely a matter of renaming old concepts, is exerting a wholesome influence on experimental work and on psychological theorizing;

That animal psychology is extremely important because of the greater opportunity it affords, in comparison with human psychology, of securing crucial data on certain types of problems in the fields of learning, mental inheritance, and the relation of intelligence and instinct to neural functioning;

That the Freudian concepts, even when their validity has been discounted about 90 per cent, nevertheless, constitute one of the two most important contributions to modern psychology, mental tests being the other.

Elijah  Rather accurate, if a tad optimistic, you will agree.

James Well, he was right about psychiatry, and education.

Panjoomby  Stirring, uplifting, motivational, & plenty true! Yet, Terman's achilles' heel - political naivety/innocence. Terman would've been mortified at the fallout from the Larry P. v. Wilson Riles decision in California. He would never expect such a "shoot the messenger" reaction to the offerings of honest science.

Elijah A final clarification from Boring's obituary of Terman: Terman in his personal copy of his autobiography wrote in the margin opposite the sentence just quoted about Negroes and whites, "I am less sure of this now (1951)!" and later, "And still less sure in 1955!" 

Panjoomby Interesting that Terman was either sensing the oncoming civil rights/political correctness era, or he was politely noticing that if you control for enough variables --& with each variable controlled for, taking a further step away from reality (!) --(variables like "# of books in the home, education, income, neighborhood status, etc.) control for enough things & you eventually you can get those pesky mean differences to almost go away -but doing that is far more smoke & mirrors than it is reality. It's a sneaky way of pretending "those aren't really differences". I doubt Terman was fooled by that - but he might've seen some of what was coming & softened his stance to be nice (rather than scientifically correct)!

Elijah  I actually think that the 'sociologist's fallacy' is a legitimate procedure in some circumstances –– as aggregate childhood SES (including all the things you mentioned) is g-loaded at ~.5, less than almost all subtests in the WISC, you shouldn't expect controlling for SES to eliminate virtually all mean differences –– and if it does, you have pretty good prima facie evidence that SES is causing the observed difference. 

Panjoomby  Good point. I once told my boss:  "each variable you control for takes you another step away from reality". My boss, ever the gentleman & diplomat, said of group differences: "although they exist, i don't think any good can come from studying them" & I remember thinking (but not saying) well, that's not very scientific.

What are your views about Terman’s predictions?


  1. They significantly improve my opinion of his ability to make basic observations about reality. It boggles my mind that he did not seem to observe the intelligent subtype which is relatively very low-functioning (this being a very pedestrian observation). It's not as if society were stratified by cognitive talent quite so stringently back then as it is now.

    But then, I haven't read his later stuff, so maybe I'm working from too little information.

  2. > That the Freudian concepts, even when their validity has been discounted about 90 per cent, nevertheless, constitute one of the two most important contributions to modern psychology, mental tests being the other.


    1. At a guess, Thompson is referring to Freudianism introducing the unconscious. The rest is junk, but that's important.

    2. Terman, not Thompson. I do not rate psychoanalytic ideas very highly, while enjoying Freud's essays as essays.

  3. alas, nobody saw "disparate impact" law coming along to emasculate the very real power of testing. in a rational world, Terman's predictions would be accurate. He must've counted on people being rational - oops!

    the military gets to use testing's predictive power, but they can't speak or publish very openly about it.

    i don't get why Terman was so pro-Freud, unless Terman owed him money or something. perhaps Terman was referring to Freud's acknowledgement of psych's debt to biology - as opposed to Watson's "cult of behaviorism" -- perhaps a better prediction would've been "Freud's made-up ideas about everything will become a major embarrassment!"

  4. By the way, although William Shockley is usually said to be the "father of Silicon Valley," Lewis Terman's son Fred, long time dean of engineering at Stanford, can perhaps more plausibly be assigned that title:

    But whether Shockley or Terman, who were friends, the historical record suggests strongly that today's Silicon Valley emerged out of the intellectual climate that also fostered IQ testing in America.

  5. If you are interested in getting a sense of the flavor of the Watsonian v. Termanian debate, the first 20 minutes of the 1951 chimpanzee comedy "Bedtime for Bonzo" are a decent introduction. Ronald Reagan ably articulates the liberal consensus of the day against the old fashioned eugenicism of people like Terman. (The screenwriter had previously been a grad student in psychology under Edward L. Thorndike at Columbia.)

    1. Rereading this, I see that I probably should have been more explanatory: Reagan plays a professor of psychology with liberal behaviorist views. He is engaged to the daughter of his department chairman, who espouses old fashioned hereditarianism. (These ideologies are argued out at surprising length in the first 20 minutes of the movie.) When the old academic discovers that Reagan's father was a conman, he orders his daughter to break off her engagement. Reagan decides to conduct an experiment designed to prove his chairman wrong: he borrows another department's new baby chimpanzee and decides to raise it like a human child (as Winthrop Kellogg and his remarkably amenable wife did at Indiana University in the 1930s).

      Hijinks ensue.

    2. Dear Steve, I had no idea that Bedtime for Bonzo was so ideological. Thank you for laying out the back story (without my having to watch it).

    3. Dear Steve, I had no idea that Bedtime for Bonzo was so ideological. Thank you for laying out the back story (without my having to watch it).

  6. One interesting aspect is that testing hasn't elaborated as much as Terman anticipated: the paper and pencil IQ test of 1930 isn't all that much different from much of testing today.

    Testing was a topic of interest to science fiction writers of the era. For example, Heinlein's influential 1948 novel "Space Cadet" opens with the hero undergoing two days of high-tech testing for admission to the Space Patrol Academy (e.g., while playing a first-person shooter video game, the room suddenly turns upside down). Wolfe's 1977 book "The Right Stuff" has a very funny account of how the doctors ran wild when given carte blanche to do any kind of test they could dream up to astronaut candidates around 1959. The post-Sputnik Project Talent test of several million 15-year-olds in 1960 took two days to give two dozen different subtests to the kids.

    But it seems as if testing has since often been pared back to the kinds of things that Terman would have been more or less familiar with in 1930.

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  9. Hbd'ears are always talking about iq tests, never about ideas.

    As i'm talking since a long long time.

    Certain smart types to do very good on cognitive tests, generally. Others not. Iq cor-re-la-tes with ''intelligence''. The theory ''iq= intelligence'', like ''higher iq people ALWAYS = higher intelligence'', is wrong.
    Non-cultural cognitive tests mean ''observe people in their behaviours, interacting, thinking and/or surviving'' how biologists to do to understand non-human animal intelligence.
    EVERY iq tests have cultural influence because ''they'' are created by persons. This persons put in their tests what they understand intelligence ( personal cognitive culture and self projection) and generally they are SCHOLASTIC-TYPE smart.
    Real Preditive social and cognitive correlates would be ''smart people, i.e, all types of smarts, making smart things, thinking correctly''. We no have smart people making and thinking in smart things.

    What parameter ''we'' could use??

    Example: ""capitalism is bad. Right. So, socialism is good??'' Nope. Define both, understand what you are talking. Capitalism is not entirely bad, socialism is not entirely good. It is a example how to think in a smart way. I don't know exactly, but most many smart people don't think like that. Why???
    Because real intelligence in real human world, ''interact, think and survive or act'', just correlates with cognitive tests.

    Terman don't analyse

    - Creativity ( recreational and practical),
    - Wisdom ( capacity to learn with own errors, self knowledge),
    - Character??? ( conservatoids all time talk about ''traitors'', why??? If you don't select people by mental maturity to govern you, don't expect responsibility).

    ''Avoid pre-psychotic types''

    First, define ''pre-psychotic''. Many geniuses are '' pre-psychotic'', higher psychoticism.

    Very higher iq termites were likely to be social ''disadjusted'',
    Few creative realizations among termites.

    Cognitive diversity and g factor are not mutually excludent.

    1. on the contrary, many of the tests of Terman & the other early IQ "fathers" involved moral character, moral reasoning, moral comprehension, wise decisions & the reasoning behind them, etc. they were very big on the expression of intelligence through moral character. similarly, much research exists on "g" & its relationship to the very cloudy construct of "creativity" e.g.,

      as you aptly point out: black-white thinking ("always-never," "nobody-everybody," etc.) is usually crazy-ish - the reality of measurement indicates OVERLAPPING normal distributions (those 3 words - overlapping normal distributions - are probably the most important words in HBD) for different groups.
      if i knew how to type in the micron - the population group mean sign mu, i would say biology rarely sets up mu = mu for different groups. if mu = mu, then whenever a smart Dornishmen dies, then a smart Dothraki must die, in order for the mu's to stay exactly equal.

    2. First, psychology had analysed human personality by statistical prevalent morality, morality of majority, sujective morality and not real morality. Someone who are socially adjusted & satisfied with current system have higher character (good slave) than someone who seems to be anti social. Many anti-social people are very well socially adjusted. Psychology try to understand personality by cultural dominant scenario, is a quasi-puppet of politics.
      Second, again, iq tests measure convergent thinking style and not whole concept of intelligence.

    3. Termites were geniuses??

    4. Yes, i avoid this type of dualistic thinking. But it doesn't mean that i'm wrong. Cognitive human diversity i advocate, you are advocating for ''personality diversity among gifted people''. I advocate for cognition diversity and not just personality. Iq= cognition.

    5. Personality measurement by normative morality or morality of worker, and not, morality of men.

      Other observation: "schizophrenia is 70% heritable''.

      I mean, certain mates pattern increase the chance of schizophrenia expression in one of sons of hypothetical couple.

      Heritability of behavioural traits is shared by two persons with different sexes but, generally, similar genetic background ( personality types).

      To analyse intelligence you need analyse phenotypes and not ''just'' ''genes for iq'' ( forgeting the fact that ''iq'' is not complete expression of human intelligence).

  10. Schizophrenia is 70% heritable, but what is the % of sons of ''schizophrenic couple'' ( it there?? ) who born schizophrenic????

    Where or how this 70% was found??

    1. Schizophrenia gets even more interesting because monozygotic twins can differ with respect to schizophrenia.

      Carolyn Spiro and Pamelo Spiro Wagner are good examples.

      (skip to 1:37 to avoid the boring and pretentious intro, the schizophrenic twin speaks first, the non-schizophrenic psychiatrist twin starts at 13:09.)

    2. And lack of this alleles increase ''intelligence''?? .... if ''higher iq'' among neurotypicals mean less mutational load??? They want analyse heritability without analyse combination pairs.
      I want to know how you had this % heritability, only by twins?? But in my opinion, we also had analyse in numerous families the preponderance of behavioural, psychological and cognitive traits.
      what is the heritability of white race phenotypes??? Specially nordic??? Seems very lower because their recessivity. Recessivity depend by combination pairs. Blue eyes is 70-90% heritable among blue eyed couple german, 90-95% heritable among blue eyed swedish couple and 60-80% among blue eyed Americans with intraracial mixed background. But, heritability may changes during life, then, ''higher iq'' may be highly heritable in the 20 first reproductive years of a healthy male and lower in the last juvenile years. ( note, Lombroso observe higher number of historically recognized geniuses who born by older fathers). Heritability % is a mean is not?? Like the average of schizophrenia heritability among 70's.
      if a spermatozoid and egg of a black couple will fertilized in a womb of a smart White or east asian woman what could happen??? The womb environment have greater importance?? Or not?
      We are product of successive generations and more selected will the trait, more fixed will be in the next generations.

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  18. Elijah Armstrong posts this to BGI volunteer:
    What studies or findings challenge the psychometric consensus (that IQ is highly heritable and shows low interaction effects, that the positive manifold is not limited to tests but includes real-world performance, and so on)? I can think of some relevant findings myself, but I wanted to know what you’d suggest.