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Anne Anastasi

Skips high school and discovers psychology at Barnard College

American psychologist instrumental in developing psychometrics—how psychological traits are influenced, developed, and measured.

In her long and productive career, Anne Anastasi has produced not only several classic texts in psychology but has been a major factor in the development of psychology as a quantitative behavioral science. To psychology professionals, the name Anastasi is synonymous with psychometrics, since it was she who pioneered understanding how psychological traits are influenced, developed, and measured. In 1987 she was rated by her peers as the most prominent living woman in psychology in the English-speaking world.

Anne Anastasi was born December 19, 1908, in New York City, the only child of Anthony and Theresa Gaudiosi. Her father, who died when she was only one year old, worked for the New York City Board of Education. Soon after his death, her mother experienced such a deep split with her father's relatives that they would never be a part of her life. From then on, she was raised by her mother, grandmother, and great uncle. Her mother was compelled to find a job, and eventually she became office manager of one of the largest foreign newspapers in New York, Il Progresso Italo-Americano. Meanwhile, the precocious and intelligent young Anastasi was educated at home by her grandmother, and it was not until the sixth grade that she entered the public school system. After graduating from P.S. 33 in the Bronx at the top of her class, she attended Evander Childs High School, but found the entire experience dispiriting and dropped out after two months.

Skips high school and discovers psychology at Barnard College

The dilemma of a 13-year old girl leaving high school after only two months was solved by an insightful family friend, Ida Stadie, who suggested that she prepare to skip high school and go directly to college. Since Barnard College in New York City did not specify a high school degree as an admissions requirement, Anastasi decided she need only submit the results of her College Entrance Examination Board tests. After taking two years to prepare at the Rhodes Preparatory School in Manhattan, she took the tests and was admitted to Barnard College in 1924 at the age of 15.

Mathematics had been her first love since elementary school, and at Barnard she was placed in all the advanced math classes. During her sophomore year, however, she took a course in developmental psychology with the department chairman, Harry L. Hollingworth, whose stimulating lectures made her intellectually curious about the discipline. In that course, she encountered a psychology article by Charles Spearman, whose intriguing work on correlation coefficients showed her that it was possible to combine mathematics and psychology. Convinced she had found the best of both worlds, she enrolled in the Barnard's Honors Program in psychology for her last two years, and received her B.A. in 1928 at the age of 19, having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa and having won the Caroline Duror Graduate Fellowship, "awarded to the member of the graduating class showing the greatest promise of distinction in her chosen line of work."

teaches at Receives Ph.D. (21,) and writes classic text at (29)

Having taken graduate courses at Columbia University while still at Barnard, she applied there after graduation and was allowed to skip the master's degree and to go directly for her Ph.D. in general experimental psychology. At this time, Columbia's psychology department provided a stimulating and lively environment, made more enlightening by its summer sessions that were visited by eminent psychologists. During her second year at Columbia, Anastasi began to specialize, and it was then that she decided on the complex field of differential psychology. As the branch of psychology that deals with individual and group differences in behavior, it is a highly quantitative field of study, and therefore much to her liking.

As she had planned, Anastasi received her Ph.D. from Columbia in only two years, and in 1930 returned to Barnard to begin teaching. Three years later, she married psychologist John Porter Foley Jr., a fellow Columbia Ph.D. student. In 1939 she left Barnard to become assistant professor and sole member of the newly created Psychology Department at Queens College of the City of New York. After the war, she left Queens College in 1947 to become associate professor of psychology in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Fordham University, and full professor in 1951. She remained there until her retirement in 1979, when she became a professor emeritus.

The focus of her research, writing, and teaching has been on the nature and measurement of psychological traits. In her landmark work, Psychological Testing, Anastasi emphasizes the ways education and heredity influence trait development, and then goes on to demonstrate how the measurement of those traits is affected by such variables as training, culture, and language differences. Throughout her work, the "nature-nurture" controversy is dominant, and typically, she argues that psychologists have been incorrect seeking to explain behavior by using one or the other. She states, rather, that neither exists apart from the other, and that psychologists should be questioning how the two interact.

At least two of Anastasi's other books are considered classics in the field and are found in many translations around the world. The recipient of several honorary degrees, she became in 1972 the first woman to be elected president of the American Psychological Association in 50 years. In 1987 her career achievements were recognized when she was presented the National Medal of Science by President Ronald Reagan.

Anastasi's life has not been entirely trouble-free, as she had to survive a diagnosis of cervical cancer in 1934. When the successful radiation therapy left her unable to have children, she looked only at the positive aspects of her condition and stated that she was able to focus solely on her career without guilt. A well-rounded individual with an avocational interest in art, she continued her professional writing, speaking, and organizational activities long past the time when most people have fully retired.

See also Nature-nuture controversy

Leonard C. Bruno

Further Reading

"American Psychological Foundation Awards for 1984." American Psychologist (March 1985): 340-341.

"Distinguished Scientific Award for the Applications of Psychology: 1981." American Psychologist (January 1982): 52-59.

Metzger, Linda and Deborah A. Straub, editors. Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 17. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co., p 21.

O'Connell, Agnes N. and Nancy Felipe Russo, editors. Women in Psychology. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990, pp. 13-22.

Sheehy, Noel, Antony J. Chapman, and Wendy A. Conroy, editors. Biographical Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Routledge Reference, 1997, pp. 13-14.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaFamous Psychologists & Scientists