Charles Edward Spearman

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Charles Edward Spearman

Charles Edward Spearman was an influential psychologist who developed commonly used statistical measures and the statistical method known as factor analysis. His studies on the nature of human abilities led to his “two-factor” theory of intelligence.

Whereas most psychologists believed that mental abilities were determined by various independent factors, Spearman concluded that general intelligence, “g,” was a single factor that was correlated with specific abilities, “s,” to varying degrees. Spearman’s work became the theoretical justification for intelligence testing. He also formulated eight basic laws of psychology.

Spearman was born in London in 1863, the second son of Alexander Young and Louisa Ann Caroline Amelia (Mainwaring) Spearman. Educated at Leamington College, Spearman joined the army in 1883 and served as a much-decorated infantry officer in Burma and India. However his early interest in philosophy led him to his desire to study psychology and, in 1897, he resigned from the army as a captain and continued his education.

Alexander Young
Alexander Young

For the next ten years, Spearman studied experimental psychology in Germany. After earning his Ph.D. with Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig in 1906, he worked with Oswald Külpe at the University of Würzburg and with George Elias Müller at the University of Göttingen.

His studies were interrupted for a time by the Boer War, during which Spearman served as deputy-assistant-adjutant-general in Guernsey. Spearman married Fanny Aikman in 1901. The couple had four daughters, as well as a son who was killed in the Second World War.

Measures intelligence

In 1904, Spearman published “General Intelligence Objectively Determined and Measured” in the American Journal of Psychology. In this work, the first of its kind, he introduced factor analysis and attempted to determine the factors that were measured by intelligence tests.

Measures intelligence
Measures intelligence

Using statistical methods, Spearman found that the general intelligence factor “g” was associated with mental processes that were distinct from memory,physical abilities, and the senses. He demonstrated that intelligence tests, in addition to measuring “g,” also measured specific abilities that he called “s” factors, such as verbal, mathematical, and artistic skills. This became Spearman’s “two-factor” theory of intelligence.

Returning to England in 1907, Spearman joined University College, London, as a reader in experimental psychology. In 1911 he became Grote Professor of Mind and Logic. During the First World War, Spearman returned to the army and then, as a civilian, carried out psychological research for the military.

Spearman’s work on intelligence resulted in A Measure of “Intelligence” for Use in Schools (1925) and The Abilities of Man, their Nature and Measurement (1927). Spearman’s “two-factor” theory was never widely accepted, and by the 1930s it was being replaced by multi-factor theories of intelligence. Nevertheless, his work laid the foundation for statistical “factor analysis” in psychology.

Publishes laws of psychology

Publishes laws of psychology
Publishes laws of psychology

In 1923 Spearman published The Nature of “Intelligence” and the Principles of Cognition, in which he set down his principles of psychology. In 1930, in the Creative Mind, he applied his laws of psychology to various other fields, including aesthetics.

Spearman was the leader of what became the “London school” of psychology that stressed statistical methods and systematic testing of human abilities. Through Spearman’s influence, University College became the center of psychological studies in Britain.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1924 and was president of the British Psychological Society from 1923 until 1926. In 1925 Spearman served as president of the psychology section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Georg Elias Müller
Georg Elias Müller

He became professor of psychology at University College in 1928 and was awarded an honorary L.L.D. from the University of Wittenberg in 1929. Spearman held honorary memberships in a number of foreign scientific societies.

Writes a history of psychology

Following his retirement as an emeritus professor in 1931, Spearman traveled extensively and taught in the United States, India, and Egypt. His historical survey, Psychology Down the Ages was published in 1937.

During the Second World War, he served as honorary advisor on psychology to the school district of Chesterfield. Spearman died in London in 1945. His final work on intelligence, Human Ability, written with L. Wynn Jones, was published posthumously in 1950.

Writes a history of psychology
Writes a history of psychology

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