A British-born American psychologist who designed personality and intelligence tests and who espoused theories of eugenics that were considered controversial. His best known, and most lasting assessment instrument, was the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF).
Raymond Cattell was one of psychology's most prolific scholars. In a career spanning more than half a century, he published more than 50 books and 500 research articles. His contributions to personality and intelligence testing continue to be regarded highly.
His theories about natural selection, particularly as put forth in a philosophy known as Beyondism, were controversial, however, because they were racist. His publicly expressed opinions about eugenics caused a bitter controversy just months before his death.
Cattell was born in Hilltop, England, on March 20, 1905. He grew up in Devon, where he developed a lifelong love of sailing and the sea. He attended the University of London, where he received his undergraduate degree in chemistry in 1924 and his Ph.D. in psychology in 1929. Cattell practiced at a psychology clinic and taught psychology until 1937, when he moved to the United States to accept a teaching position at Columbia University in New York City. From there he relocated to Clark University and then to Harvard University before settling at the University of Illinois in 1946, where he stayed for 27 years.
During World War II, in addition to his teaching duties, Cattell worked in the Adjutant General's office, where he devised psychological tests for the military. Throughout his career, Cattell created numerous tests to measure intelligence and to assess personality traits. His best-known assessment instrument is the Sixteen Personality Factor questionnaire (16PF). First published in 1949, the 16PF profiles individuals using 16 different personality traits, such as emotional stability (easily upset vs. calm), impulsiveness (sober vs. enthusiastic), and conformity (expedient vs. conscientious). These are measured with what Cattell called second-order factors, including extroversion, anxiety, and independence. As of 2015 the test continued to be used widely by corporations and educational institutions as a means of determining an individual's character style as well as compatibility with different occupations.
Cattell retired from the University of Illinois in 1973, spent five years in Colorado, and then moved to Hawaii to accept a part-time position at the University of Hawaii, where he continued to teach, conduct research, and write.
Cattell claimed that among the tenets of Beyondism was the idea that current racial groupings would not exist in the future. “The genetic groupings (races) of the future,” he wrote, “will arise from self-conscious selection by each cultural group.” The question many critics asked was whether Cattell's theories were simply his approbation for natural selection or a call for something more ominous. The fact that Cattell had acknowledged the work of Arthur Jensen (1923–2013) and William Shockley (1910–1989), two scientists who asserted that blacks are genetically intellectually inferior to whites, in his book only kindled people's suspicions.
The issue culminated in the summer of 1997, when Cattell was scheduled to receive a lifetime achievement award from the American Psychological Foundation (APF). Shortly after the APF announced its decision there were protests, some from prominent citizens and organizations. The APF trustees postponed the award presentation so they could further investigate. Cattell, 92 years old and in failing health, attempted to resolve the furor by declining the award. He then wrote an open letter to the American Psychological Association (APA) defending himself and his work. He asserted that he detested racism and that he had advocated only voluntary eugenics. His health declined further, and he died on February 2, 1998.
See also Assessment, psychological ; Eugenics ; Intelligence ; Personality inventory .
Arciero, Giampiero, and Guido Bondolfi. Selfhood, Identity, and Personality Styles. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Bashford, Alison, and Philippa Levine, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Ciccarelli, Saundra K., and J. Noland White. Psychology: An Exploration, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2013.
Deaux, Kay, and Mark Snyder, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Gillette, Aaron. Eugenics and the Nature-Nurture Debate in the Twentieth Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Primi, Ricardo, et al. “Cattell's Personality Factor Questionnaire (CPFQ): Development and Preliminary Study.” Paideia 24, no. 57 (January/April 2014): 29–37.
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