Progress in Modern Psychology: The Legacy of American Functionalism

By D. Alfred Owens; Mark Wagner | Go to book overview

10
A Functionalist View of Factor Analysis

JOHN J. MCARDLE AND RICHARD S. LEHMAN

From an evolutionary perspective, individual differences comprise a most important fact of "Life Organic." By virtue of unique characteristics or patterns of characteristics, an individual organism is more or less suited to its environment. This insight led to Charles Darwin's concept of natural selection and, naturally, it was of profound importance to functional psychologists. Efforts to measure individual differences date back to the pioneering work of Francis Galton ( 1869, 1883), who was a cousin of Darwin and an incredibly inventive person in his own right ( Johnson, et al., 1985). He conducted the first systematic effort to quantify human "faculties," both mental and anatomical. Perhaps more important, Galton invented the "co-relation" and "reversion" equations to organize and describe these measurements. Thus, he launched the field of descriptive statistics, which was advanced further by Karl Pearson, Charles Spearman, and others. These concepts were readily assimilated into American functionalism, primarily by the work of James McKeen Cattell and Edward Thorndike, and they continue to challenge researchers today. In this chapter, John McArdle and Richard Lehman present the state of the art in contemporary multivariate research in psychology. Their account illustrates how the power of statistical tools for inquiry has grown over the century since Galton. In particular, new techniques of factor analysis are proving to be remarkably useful for identifying functional relationships in the mathematical sense, "factors" that can illuminate hidden processes of central importance to the adaptation of an individual to his or her environment.lb /> DAO

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