Chapter 2 Topic 2 A The Origins of Psychological Testing
Psychological testing in its modern form originated little more than one hundred years ago in laboratory
studies of sensory discrimination, motor skills, and reaction time. British genius Francis Galton invented
the first battery of tests, a peculiar assortment of sensory and motor measures. James McKeen Cattell
wrote his classic paper titles Mental Tests and Measurements and his conjecture that perhaps tests
would be useful in training, mode of life or indication of disease must certainly rank as one of the
prophetic understatements of all time.
Rudimentary Forms of Testing in China in 2200 B.C.
The Chinese emperor had his officials examine every third year to determine their fitness for
office. Such testing was modified and refined until written exams were introduced by the Han dynasty
and five topics were tested: civil law, military affairs, agriculture, and geography. The testing practices of
the Chinese were unnecessarily gruelling, and they failed to validate their selection procedures. The
examination program did incorporate relevant selection criteria penmanship. The system was abolished
Physiognomy, Phrenology, and the Psychograph
Physiognomy is based on the notion that we can judge the inner character of people from their
outward appearance, especially their face. Although now largely discredited, physiognomy represents an
early form of psychological testing. Interest in physiognomy started with Aristotle and his premise that
the soul and the body sympathize with each other he argued that changes in a persons soul (inner
character) could impact the appearance of the body, and vice versa. Lohann Lavater published his Essays
on Physiognomy and thats when physiognomy began to flourish. Physiognomy remained popular for
centuries and laid the foundation for phrenology (reading bumps on the head).
The founding of phrenology is usually attributed to Franz Joseph Gall he argued that the brain
is the organ of sentiments and faculties and that these capacities are localized he reasoned to the extent
that a specific faculty was well developed, the corresponding component of the brain would be enlarged
(and the bumps would signify the enlargement). Johann Spurzheim popularized phrenology into the
United States and Great Britain. Henry C. Lavery developed his machine the Psychograph each of the
32 mental faculties was rated 1 through 4 based on the way that probes made contact with the head this
was one of the first automated personality descriptions.
The Brass Instruments Era of Testing
For the first time, psychologists departed from the wholly subjective and introspective methods
that had been so fruitlessly pursued in the preceding centuries. Human abilities were tested in laboratories
and used objective procedures that could be replicated. The new experimental psychology was itself a
dead end, because early psychologists mistook simple sensory processes for intelligence. They used
assorted brass instruments to measure sensory thresholds and reaction times, thinking that such abilities
were at the heart of intelligence.
Wilhelm Wundt is credited with founding the first psychological laboratory in 1878 in Leipzig,
Germany. He was measuring mental processes years earlier using his thought meter a calibratedpendulum with needles sticking off from each side and the observer was to take note of the position of the
pendulum when the bells sounded as it swayed from left to right. Wundt believed that the speed of
thought might differ from one person to the next. Wundt was rare to acknowledge the individual
differences and is more renowned for proposing common laws of thought for the average mind.
Galton and the First Battery of Mental Tests
Sir Francis Galton pioneered the new experimental psychology in nineteenth century Great
Britain. He was obsessed with measurement and his career was dominated by a belief that virtually
everything was measurable attempted to measure intelligence by a way of sensory discrimination and
reaction times. He also devised techniques for measuring beauty, personality, the boringness of lectures,
and the efficacy of prayer. He was more interested in the problems of human evolution than psychology
per se. His two most influential works are Hereditary Genius and Inquiries into Human Faculty and its
He continued the tradition of brass instruments mental testing but with an important difference:
his procedures were much more amenable to the timely collection of data from hundreds if not thousands
of people. Galton is regarded as the father of mental testing because of his efforts in devising practicable
measures of individual differences.
Ultimately, Galtons simplistic attempts to gauge intellect with measures of reaction time and
sensory discrimination proved fruitless, though he did provide a tremendous impetus to the testing
movement by demonstrating that objective tests could be devised and that meaningful sc