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Raymond Bernard Cattell - Innovator of personality tests, Beyondism and a storm of controvery

extroversion university selection psychology eugenics

American psychologist who designed personality and intelligence tests and espoused controversial theories of eugenics.

Raymond B. Cattell was one of psychology's most prolific scholars. In a career spanning over half a century he wrote more than 50 books and 500 research articles, and his contributions to personality and intelligence testing are widely regarded as invaluable. Yet some of his theories about natural selection, particularly as put forth in a philosophy known as Beyondism, were attacked as racist and caused a bitter controversy only months before his death.

Cattell was born in Hilltop, England, on March 20,1905. He grew up in Devon, where he developed a lifelong love of sailing and the sea. He attended the University of London, where he received his undergraduate degree in chemistry in 1924 and his Ph.D. in psychology in 1929. He taught briefly and worked at a psychology clinic until 1937, when he moved to the United States to take a teaching position at Columbia University. From there he moved on to Clark University and Harvard before arriving in 1946 at the University of Illinois, where he stayed for 27 years.

Innovator of personality tests

During the Second World War, in addition to his teaching duties, Cattell worked in the Adjutant General's office, where he devised psychological tests for the military. Throughout his career, Cattell created a number of such tests to measure intelligence and to assess personality traits. The best known of these is the Sixteen Personality Factor questionnaire (16PF). First published in 1949, the 16PF profiles individuals using 16 different personality traits, such as emotional stability (easily upset vs. calm), impulsiveness (sober vs. enthusiastic), and conformity (expedient vs. conscientious). These are measured with what Cattell calls "second-order factors," including extroversion, anxiety, and independence. The test is still widely used by corporations and institutions to determine an individual's compatibility with different occupations and overall psychological character.

Raymond Cattell (Archives of the History of American Psychology. Reproduced with permission.)

Cattell retired from the University of Illinois in 1973 and after five years in Colorado moved to Hawaii. There, he accepted a part-time position at the University of Hawaii, where he continued to teach, conduct research, and write. He also took the opportunity to spend leisure time with his third wife and enjoyed visits from his five children and two stepchildren.

Beyondism and a storm of controvery

The publication of Beyondism: Religion from Science in 1987 dramatically altered the remainder of Cattell's life as well as his scientific legacy. Cattell intended the book to be a discussion of his theories on evolution and natural selection. He believed that natural selection among humans was governed by individual genetic and cultural selection. However, his advocacy of eugenics (the study of improving the human race), was extremely controversial, particularly because eugenics was the pseudo-scientific rationale for Nazi genocide. Cattell claimed, for example, that among the tenets of Beyondism was the idea that races as we know them today would not exist in the future. "The genetic groupings (races) of the future," he wrote, "will arise from self-conscious selection by each cultural group." The question many critics asked was whether Cattell's theories were simply his approbation for natural selection or a call for something more ominous. The fact that Cattell had acknowledged Arthur Jensen and William Shockley— two scientists who had claimed that blacks were genetically less intelligent than whites—in his book only furthered people's suspicions.

The issue came to a head in the summer of 1997, when Cattell was scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award from the American Psychological Foundation (APF). Almost as soon as APF had announced its decision, there were protests, some from prominent citizens and organizations. The APF trustees postponed the award presentation so they could further investigate. Cattell, ninety-two years old and in failing health, attempted to resolve the furor by declining the award. He then wrote an open letter to the American Psychological Association (APA) defending himself and his work. He asserted that he detested racism, and that he had only ever advocated voluntary eugenics. His health declined further, and he died quietly on February 2, 1998, at home in Hawaii.

George A. Milite

Further Reading

Cattell, Raymond B. Beyondism: Religion from Science. New York Praeger Publishers, 1987.

Cattell, Raymond B. Factor Analysis: An Introduction and Manual for the Psychologist and Social Scientist. New York: Harper, 1952.

Cattell, Raymond B. General Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Sci-Art Publishers, 1941.

"Lifetime Achievement Award is Questioned." APA Monitor, (October 1997).

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