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Arthur R. Jensen

American educational psychologist whose work has concentrated in the study of human intelligence.

Arthur R. Jensen (AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced with permission.)

Arthur Jensen was born in San Diego, California, and attended the University of California at Berkeley, San Diego State College, and Columbia University. He completed a clinical internship at the University of Maryland's Psychiatric Institute in 1956, after which he won a two-year postdoctoral research fellowship with the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, where he worked with Hans J. Eysenck, a prominent psychologist known for his evolutionary approach to human behavior. Eysenck's work in personality theory, measurement, and intelligence—areas that were to become Jensen's specialty—challenged humanistic, psychodynamic approaches that stressed the importance of social factors in human behavior. In 1958, Jensen joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley, serving as a professor of educational psychology, and also served as a research psychologist at the Institute of Human Learning. After early work in the area of verbal learning, Jensen turned to the study of individual differences in human learning and intelligence.

Jensen claimed, on the basis of his research, that general cognitive ability is essentially an inherited trait, determined predominantly by genetic factors rather than by environmental conditions. He also contended that while associative learning, or memorizing ability, is equally distributed among the races, conceptual learning, or synthesizing ability, occurs with significantly greater frequency in whites than in blacks. He suggested that from the data, one might conclude that on average, white Americans are more intelligent than African-Americans. Jensen suggested that the difference in average performance between whites and blacks on intelligence tests might be the result of innate differences rather than contrasts in parental upbringing, formal schooling, or other environmental factors. Jensen further surmised from the data that federal educational programs such as Head Start could only raise the IQs of disadvantage children by only a few points and are therefore not worthy of funding. The relative influence of heredity and environment on intelligence tests had been an area of debate since their inception in the 1920s, and the prevailing view of Jensen's contemporaries was that environmental factors in the home and school play the decisive role.

In 1969, Jensen published his views in a long article entitled "How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?" in the Harvard Education Review, which rekindled the age-old debate of the relative importance of genetics in determining intellectual ability. Jensen's work was often misquoted by the media and was popularly denounced on college campuses. The belief in a genetic basis for individual and racial differences in intelligence and scholastic performance came to be known as "jensenism." Although Jensen's work in human intelligence has received a mixed reception from professionals in the field, his prolific publications have engaged the serious attention of many researchers and educators in the years since. Jensen's books include Genetics and Education (1973), Educability and Group Differences (1973), Bias in Mental Testing (1979), and Straight Talk about Mental Tests (1980).

Further Reading

Jensen, Arthur. "How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?" Harvard Education Review 39 (Winter/Summer 1969): 1-123; 449-83.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaFamous Psychologists & Scientists