James McKeen Cattell


James McKeen Cattell was born in 1860 in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was educated by a private tutor in his home.

Cattell's father was a professor of ancient languages at Lafayette College, a Scottish Presbyterian school. In 1864 his father became president of the college. James spent a year in Europe with his father when he was nine years old. At fourteen, James began auditing classes at his father's school. He entered Lafayette College officially in 1880, when he was 20 years old and did his undergraduate degree there.

After a year of travel in Europe, he enrolled at Johns Hopkins and studied with H. Newell Martin, a professor of biology, and G. Stanley Hall. He conducted experiments in Hall's new psychology laboratory. Following this, Cattell returned to Europe and received a doctorate with Wilhelm Wundt in the field of experimental psychology. There he studied reaction times of two subjects under different conditions (e.g., attention, practice, fatigue). His dissertation was called "The time taken up by cerebral operations (later published in the journal Mind)

Following his time in Leipzig with Wundt he went to St. John's college in Cambridge England to study medicine. While there he met Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's cousin, who was interested in determining in the effects of heredity and race on individuals.

In 1889, Cattell abandoned his medical studies in England and returned to America after learning that he had received a lectureship in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Cattell adapted Galton's approach to the study of individual differences taking it into the field of mental testing. Whereas Galton studied physical differences and reaction time of individuals, Cattell devised his own tests to measure mental abilities of his student subjects. They included:

  1. Dynamometer pressure (strength of squeeze)
  2. Rate of movement
  3. Sensation areas (minimum distance between two points on the skin where the person senses two points)
  4. Pressure causing pain
  5. Least noticeable difference in weight
  6. Reaction time for sound
  7. Bisection of a 50 cm line
  8. Judgment of a 10 sec amt of time
  9. Number of letters repeated on one hearing

For details go to: Mental tests and measurements.

In 1891, Cattell assumed a position at Columbia College, where he established another psychological laboratory and continued his work on what he referred to as mental testing. His particular tests did not withstand the test of time, and were replaced in popularity by Binet and Simon's more functional measures. (See Sokal, 1987 for other reasons that Cattell tests may have gone out of favor.)

Cattell went on to become an important leader in the professional growth of the fledgling field of psychology. He founded the Psychological Corporation, and was founder and co-editor (with James Mark Baldwin) of The Psychological Review (1894-1903), editor and publisher of the Science (1894-1944 ), and editor of Scientific Monthly, American Naturalist, School and Society, and American Men of Science. Last, but not least, he was a founding member and fourth president of the American Psychological Association.



Writings in Chronological Order

Cattell, J.M. (1886). The time it takes to see and name objects. Mind,11, 63-65.

Cattell, J. M. (1886) Time taken up by cerebral operations. Mind, 11, 220-242.

Cattell, J. M. (1888). The psychological laboratory at Leipsic. Mind, 13, 37-51.

Cattell, J.M. (1890). Mental tests and measurements. Mind, 15,373-381.

Cattell, J. M. (1893). Tests of the senses and faculties. Educational Review, 5, 257-265.

Cattell, J. M. (1893). Attention and reaction. First published as "Aufmerksamkeit und Reaction" in Philosophische Studien, 8: 403-406, 1893. This version from chapter 10 of James McKeen Cattell, Man of Science (Vol. 1: Psychological Research, pp. 252-255, R. S. Woodworth, Trans.). Lancaster, PA: The Science Press, 1947.

Cattell, J.M. (1895). Measurements of the accuracy of recollection. Science, 2,761-766.

Cattell, J. M. (1895). Psychological literature: Anthropometry. Psychological Review, 2, 510-511.

Cattell, J.M. (1896). Address of the president before the American Psychological Association, 1895. Psychological Review, 3,134-148.

Cattell, J. M. & Farrand, Livingston (1896). Physical and mental measurements of the students of Columbia University. Psychological Review, 3, 618-648.

Baldwin, James Mark, Cattell, James McKeen, and Jastrow, Joseph (1898). Physical and mental tests. Psychological Review, 5, 172-179.

Cattell, J.M. (1903). Statistics of American psychologists. American Journal of Psychology, 14,310- 328.

Cattell, J.M. (1904). The conceptions and methods of psychology. Popular Science Monthly, 66,176- 186.

Cattell, J.M. (1909). The school and the family. Popular Science Monthly, 74,84-95.

Cattell, J.M. (1929). Psychology in America. Address of the president of the Ninth International Congress of Psychology. Science, 70,335-347.

Cattell, J.M. (1943). The founding of the Association. Psychological Review, 50,61-64.

Writings about James McKeen Cattell

Wissler, Clark (1944). The contribution of James McKeen Cattell to American anthropology. Science, 99, 232-233.

Hothersall, D. (1995) History of Psychology. 3rd Ed. McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Schultz, D. & Schultz, S. E. A History of Modern Psychology. 5th Ed., 1992.

Smith, P. (1985). America enters the new world (vol.7). New York:McGraw-Hill.

Sokal, M.M. (1971). The unpublished autobiography of James McKeen Cattell. American Psychologist, 26,626-635.

Sokal, M.M. (1980). Science and James McKeen Cattell, 1894-1945. Science,209,43-52.

Sokal, M. M. (1981). The origins of the Psychological Coorporation. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 17, 54-67.

Sokal, M. M. (Ed.) (1981). An education in psychology: James McKeen Cattell's journal and letters from Germany and England, 1880-1888. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sokal, M. (1984). James McKeen Cattell and American psychology in the 1920s. In J. Broozek (Ed.) Explorations in the history of psychology in the United States (273-323). Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.

Sokal, M. M. (1987). James McKeen Cattell and mental anthropometry: Nineteenth-century science and reform and the origins of psychological testing. In M. Sokal (Ed.). Psychological testing and American society. (21-45). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Sokal, M.M. (1992). Origin and early years of the American Psychological Association, 1890-1906. American Psychologist, 47, 111-122.

Thorne, M. B. & Henley, T. B. (1997). Connections in the history and systems of psychology. Houghton Mifflin Co.

Wissler, Clark (1944). The contributin of James McKeen Cattell to American anthropology, Science, 99, 232-233.