Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911)

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911)

Article excerpt

Sir Francis Galton was the founder of the quantitative study of the psychology of individual differences. In his work on intelligence, he identified the general factor later demonstrated by Spearman, the importance of heredity, race differences, and dysgenic fertility. His proposals on eugenics were widely accepted in the first half of the Twentieth Century, but have subsequently been largely rejected. With the benefit of hindsight, his article reviews Galton's contributions to differential psychology, and assesses his conclusions in the light of current knowledge.

Key Words: Francis Galton; Heredity; IQ; Charles Spearman; Race differences; Dysgenic fertility.

A century has now passed since the death of Sir Francis Galton, and this is an appropriate time to evaluate his contributions to psychology. He is a controversial figure, who has been described as a Victorian genius by his biographer Derek Forrest (1974) and as a "fascist swine" by Steve Jones, former president of the Galton Institute (Grove, 1991).

Galton made important contributions in many academic disciplines. He identified the existence of anti-cyclones drew the first weather maps, and drew up a beauty map of England by recording the frequency of attractive women in different towns. He pioneered composite photography and devised a fingerprint-classification still used in forensic science. He even contributed to the study of religion by showing that prayer is ineffective. While ardently embracing the theory of evolution, Galton disproved Darwin's hypothesis that genetic information is transferred from other parts of the body to the gonads by showing that white rabbits transfused with the blood of brown rabbits still produced only white offspring. He made important advances in statistics in which he formulated the method for calculating the correlation coefficient and worked out the subtleties of regression to the mean. Both of these discoveries are regarded by mathematicians as some of the greatest achievements in the history of statistics.

Importance of differences in intelligence

Galton's principal work in psychology was on intelligence. He first published his ideas on this in 1865 and elaborated them in his book Hereditary Genius (1869) and during the rest of his life. He advanced six principal ideas. The first of these was that there are huge differences between people in intelligence: "the range of mental powers between ... the greatest and the least of English intellects, is enormous" (Galton, 1869/1962, p. 66). This is widely accepted today but was quite a novel idea in the mid- nineteenth century. Galton sent a copy of his book to his cousin Charles Darwin, who replied that hitherto he had always supposed that there was not much difference between people in intelligence and that differences in achievement were largely due to differences in application, but that after reading Hereditary Genius he was convinced that Galton was right.

For Galton, the pursuit of research into individual differences was a lifelong effort. His 1883 book Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development has been considered (e.g., Boring, 1950) as marking the beginning of the study of individual differences.

Generality of Intelligence

Galton's second contention was that intelligence is a single entity that could be directed into a number of different avenues. Thus, he wrote "People lay too much stress on apparent specialities, thinking over-rashly perhaps, that because a man is devoted to some particular pursuit, he could not possibly have succeeded in anything else" (1869/1962, p.64). This contention was largely confirmed by Charles Spearman (1904) in his famous paper in which he demonstrated the positive correlations between numerous mental and sensory abilities. Using the methods of factor analysis pioneered by Spearman, these positive correlations are today described as g, the general mental ability that is an important determinant of performance in all cognitive tasks. …

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