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A Brief History of Psychometrics - Galton and the Eugenicists


In keeping with the tradition of the naturalists, who were busy classifying the different species of plants and animals, when the Victorians came to view (wo)man as simply being another animal, it seemed only natural to them to turn their attention to measuring the differences between people. The first person to attempt to scientifically measure human aptitudes and abilities was Sir Francis Galton (1869). During the Great Exhibition he assessed thousands of people who attended his exhibit, using a range of primitive tests which mostly assessed reaction time, co-ordination and other motor skills. Accounts of the time suggest that his tests generated a huge amount of interest, including attention from some of the great and the good of that period. In line with the prevailing views of his time, and the opinions that were then sadly common among people of his social background, Galton’s principle concern was to understand the nature of genius and how it might be improved through selective breeding. Thus, Galton is now considered to be one of the early eugenicists. (See Gould, 1981, for an interesting historical review of the misuses of psychometrics).









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