An American psychologist instrumental in developing psychometrics—how psychological traits are influenced, developed, and measured.
In her long and productive career, Anne Anastasi produced several major texts in psychology and was a major contributor to 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) Anastasi. Her father, who died when she was only one years 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, Anastasi 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 did not enter the public school system until grade six. 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.
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 to 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 Anastasi's 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 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 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.”
Having taken graduate courses at Columbia University while still at Barnard, Anastasi 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 that time, Columbia's psychology department provided a stimulating environment, made more enlightening by its summer sessions that hosted eminent psychologists. During her second year at Columbia, Anastasi began to specialize and decided to concentrate 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, was much to her liking.
The focus of Anastasi's research, writing, and teaching was on the nature and measurement of psychological traits. In her landmark work, Psychological Testing, Anastasi emphasized the ways education and heredity influence trait development, and then proceeded to demonstrate how the measurement of those traits is affected by a variety of variables including training, culture, and language differences, among others. Throughout her work, the “nature-nurture” controversy was dominant, and typically, she argued that psychologists had been incorrect seeking to explain behavior by using one or the other. She stated, rather, that neither existed 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 was not entirely trouble-free, as she was diagnosed with 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 a vocational interest in art, she continued her professional writing, speaking, and organizational activities long past the time when most people are fully retired. She died in New York City on May 4, 2001, at the age of 92.
See also Nature-nurture controversy .
Anastasi, Anne. Common Fallacies about Heredity, Environment, and Human Behavior. Iowa City, IA: American College Testing Program, Research and Development Division, 1973.
Anastasi, Anne. Psychological Testing, 6th ed. New York: Collier Macmillan, 1988.
American Psychological Association. “Anne Anastasi.” http://www.apa.org/about/governance/president/bio-anne-anastasi.aspx (accessed July 22, 2015).
National Science Foundation. “Anne Anastasi (1908–2001).” http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/medalofscience50/anastasi.jsp (accessed July 22, 2015).
Psychology's Feminist Voices. “Anne Anastasi.” http://www.feministvoices.com/anne-anastasi (accessed July 22, 2015).