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Charles Edward Spearman (September 10 1863 - September 7 1945) was a British psychologist known for work in statistics, as a pioneer of factor analysis, and for Spearman's rank correlation coefficient. He also did seminal work on models for human intelligence, including his theory that disparate cognitive test scores reflect a single general factor and coining the term g factor.
Spearman had an unusual background for a psychologist. After 15 years as an officer in the British Army he resigned to study for a PhD in experimental psychology. In Britain psychology was generally seen as a branch of philosophy and Spearman chose to study in Leipzig under Wilhelm Wundt. Besides Spearman had no conventional qualifications and Leipzig had liberal entrance requirements. He started in 1897 and after some interruption (he was recalled to the army during the South African War) he obtained his degree in 1906. He had already published his seminal paper on the factor analysis of intelligence (1904). Spearman met and impressed the psychologist William McDougall who arranged for Spearman to replace him when he left his position at University College London. Spearman stayed at University College until he retired in 1931. Initially he was Reader and head of the small psychological laboratory. In 1911 he was promoted to the Grote professorship of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic. His title changed to Professor of Psychology in 1928 when a separate Department of Psychology was created.
When Spearman was elected to the Royal Society in 1924 the citation read "Dr. Spearman has made many researches in experimental psychology. His many published papers cover a wide field, but he is especially distinguished by his pioneer work in the application of mathematical methods to the analysis of the human mind, and his original studies of correlation in this sphere. He has inspired and directed research work by many pupils."
Spearman was strongly influenced by the work of Francis Galton. Galton did pioneering work in psychology and developed correlation, the main statistical tool used by Spearman. Spearman developed rank correlation (1904) and the widely used correction for attenuation (1907). His statistical work was not appreciated by his University College colleague Karl Pearson and there was long feud between them.
Although Spearman achieved most recognition for his statistical work, he regarded this work as subordinate to his quest for the fundamental laws of psychology.
The following are works by Spearman:
- "General Intelligence," objectively determined and measured. in American Journal of Psychology 1904
- Proof and measurement of association between two things. in American Journal of Psychology 1904
- Demonstration of Formulae for True Measurement of Correlation, in American Journal of Psychology 1907
- The abilities of man, their nature and measurement. 1927
Spearman's 1904 General Intelligence paper is available on the Classics in the History of Psychology website.
There is an account of Spearman's main achievements in
- Williams, R. H., Zimmerman, D. W., Zumbo, B. D. & Ross, D. (2003). Charles Spearman: British Behavioral Scientist. Human Nature Review. 3: 114-118
There is a photograph of Spearman at
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