James McKeen Cattell
Researched and written by: Kristina M. Green
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work..

“I felt myself making brilliant discoveries in science and philosophy. My only fear being that I could not remember them until morning” James McKeen Cattell (D. Schultz, S. Schultz p.219).

“Herr Professor, you need an assistant, and I shall be your assistant” (Cattell, 1928, et al D. Schultz, S. Schultzp.219)


Childhood/Family Life

Cattell was the first child born to William Cattell and Elizabeth McKeen in Easton, Pennsylvania in 1860. William Cattell had served as a Presbyterian minister and as the president of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and Elizabeth McKeen had an inheritance, making the Cattell's a wealthy family. The family name was also a prominent because uncle, Alexander Gilmore Cattell, was a senator representing New Jersey (

Adult Life

Cattell displayed a talent in the area of mathematics at a young age along with a love for English literature. In 1880, he graduated with honors from Lafayette College and later received his M.A. with honors also from Lafayette College. Cattell next traveled to Germany and attended the University of Gottingen and then the University of Leipzig. It was at the University of Leipzig that Cattell met Wilhelm Wundt, the founder of experimental psychology. Cattell wrote an impressive paper on philosophy that won him a fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. During Cattell’s second year at Hopkins, G Stanley Hall taught a psychology course that Cattell in which enrolled. Johns Hopkins at that time offered no other Psychology courses and Cattell returned to Germany to study as an assistant with Wundt.  

     When Cattell first entered Wundts labatory, he said, “Herr Professor, you need an assistant, and I shall be your assistant” (Schultz, Schultz, 2004 p.219). Wundt and Cattell worked well together and created a study on human intelligence. Cattell, while working with Wundt, published the first dissertation in psychology entitled Psychometric Investigation. In his dissertation, Cattell researched individual differences in human intelligence.

     Cattell’s interest in psychology had flourished in him through experimentation with drugs. He was interested in and had tried morphine, hashish, opium and other drugs. He recorded the effects that each had on him.  It was Cattell’s way of exploring and analyzing his own mind. It was stated in an article provided by that “Under the influence of this drug, Cattell once compared the whistle of a schoolboy to a symphony orchestra” ( #1). Cattell kept records in his journal of his usage and experiences while under the influence of various drugs. Cattell once stated, “I felt myself making brilliant discoveries in science and philosophy. My only fear being that I could not remember them until morning.” Cattell further stated that, “I seemed to be two persons one of whom could observe and even experiment on the other” (www.wikipedia.org1987, p25). In1886, Cattell received his Ph.D.

Professional Accomplishments

Cattell worked hard to establish psychology as a science. He felt psychology’s growth depended on the growth of quantitative methods. He was first employed at Bryn Mawr College in the United States as a teacher of psychology. He also taught at the University of Pennsylvania. He became a professor at Cambridge University in England and met Francis Galton who shared an interest in the topic of individual differences.  In the year 1888, Cattell was appointed to the position of department head at Columbia University’s Psychology, Philosophy, and Anthropology department. Under Cattell’s supervision Columbia University awarded more doctorates in the psychology department than any other U.S graduate school. He also served as president of the Association for Psychology in America, from 1891-1905. In1921, Cattell became interested in business and began purchasing stock for APA members; unfortunately, that business deal failed. As a professor, Cattell felt that he should keep a distance between him and the University. He gave his students the opportunity to explore psychology to grow on their own, and find their place in psychology. (

Contributions and Findings

Cattell was the first American to instruct a statistical analysis course. He developed the order of merit ranking method. He shared an interest in Galton’s eugenics theory and supported sterilization of less intelligent people. Cattell also felt that individuals of high intelligence should be paid to mate. He promised his own children $1,000 to marry and mate with a professor’s child. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Cattell began to use the term “mental testing” in 1890, which he continued to use at Columbia. He did experiments mainly on sensorimotor functions difference in weights and how long it took to identify colors two point-thresholds, of colors level of pressure needed to cause pain, and reaction time for sound. (

Contributions to Psychology

In 1890, Catell published Mental Tests and Measurements and then the Measurements of the Accuracy of Recollection. Catell was the co-founder and co-editor of The Psychological Review (1894-1903) with J. Mark. From 1894 to 1944 Catell, performed the duties of publisher and editor of the Journal of Science.  In 1900, Catell purchased Popular Science America and in 1915 sold the name and published it as Scientific Monthly.  Men of Science was issued by Cattell in 1906. In 1921, Cattell founded the Psychological Corporation. He founded the Science Press in 1923 (

The Columbia University considered forcing Cattell to retire at least three times between the years 1910-1917. Cattell protested on many occasions that the faculty, not administrators, should make the decisions at Columbia. He also wrote two letters to Congressmen challenging the drafting of young men for combat. Those letters led to Cattell’s dismissal from the Columbia University and to him being viewed as disloyal to the United States. In return, Cattell sued the University for $40,000 and won. Cattell separated himself from other professors and continuously wrote critical letters about the administration at Columbia. (


References    3/30/2005 cattell.html  3/30/2005


D. Schultz, S. Schultz (2004).  A History of Modern Psychology. U.S: Wadsworth Learning Inc.

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