Arthur Jensen: Biography of this psychologist and researcher

Arthur Jensen’s life is characterized by a marked defense of the discoveries he made during his research. This has been of great interest for the psychology of individual differences and, above all, for the study of intelligence.

However, it must be said that just as he was a prolific scientist, he was also a controversial figure, especially when attempting to show the world his findings on racial differences in the cognitive realm. Let’s see what controversy his work has sparked through it. Arthur Jensen biography.

    Brief biography of Arthur Jensen

    Arthur Robert Jensen was born on August 24, 1923 in San Diego, California, United States. He studied at the University of California at Berkeley, as well as at San Diego State College and Columbia University.

    He wrote his doctoral dissertation with Percival Symonds on the Thematic Aperception Test, a projective test based on the idea that the subconscious is shaped and projected onto plates, revealing aspects of the personality, needs and vital desires that ‘they want to satisfy, in addition to problem solving skills. Between 1956 and 1958 he carried out postdoctoral research at the University of London, in his institute of psychiatry with Hans Eysenck.

    Back in the United States, became a professor and researcher at the University of California, where he focused on individual differences and learning. As part of his studies of how children learn, he has focused in particular on the differences in the degree of learning difficulty between different ethnic groups, especially if the ethnic group studied has cultural characteristics that involve a sort of disadvantage.

    During his years of training and research, he received influences from Charles Spearman and Hans Eysenck. In his job tackled various areas of psychology, in particular educational psychology, behavioral genetics, intelligence and cognition.

    Apart from his professional career, little is known about the intimate life of Arthur Jensen. He was married to his wife Barbara and had always had a keen interest in music. In his desire to be a conductor and, at the age of fourteen, he entered a national competition in the city of San Francisco to conduct a group, winning.

    Arthur Jensen died on October 22, 2012 in Kelseyville, California, at the age of 89.

    Study of intelligence and controversies on IC

    Interest in differences in learning ability led Jensen to administer CI questionnaires in schools across the United States. His results led him to hypothesize the existence of two different types of learning skills..

    • Level I: associative learning, retention of stimuli, memory.
    • Level II: conceptual learning, more related to problem solving.

    Over time, Jensen recognized that his level II proposal resembled Charles Spearman’s idea of ​​the g factor.

    According to Jensen, general cognitive ability is essentially an inherited trait, determined primarily by genetic factors rather than environmental influences. He also understood early on that the ability to memorize was a trait that was similarly distributed across races, while the ability to synthesize, or conceptual learning, was something that seemed to be more developed among whites than not. belong to other races. It would be this idea that would mark the path to controversy.

    But the real controversy would come in February 1969, when he published his work in the Harvard Educational Review, titled How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement ?. in he concluded that programs to increase IC in the African American population had failed and that such a goal was likely impossible, given that, according to Jensen, 80% of the variance of the IC in the study population was due more to genetic factors than to environmental influences.

    Basically, from this work, one could learn that black citizens of the United States would never have the same CI as their white fellow citizens. In a society where the rights of African Americans were violated by the struggle and which, since the time of Martin Luther King, was something that was of great social tension, these statements had to put their finger on the nafra.

    The book has become one of the most cited in the history of psychological research and the study of intelligence, although it must be said that most of the quotes were intended to refute what Jensen was arguing.

    As a result of the controversy, Jensen’s own life was affected. Crowds protested to demand Arthur Jensen’s dismissal. Protesters even pierced the wheels of the car in Jensen and threatened his family. Police considered the threats to be real and Jensen and his relatives had to leave their home for a while.

    Needless to say, it’s not that Jensen was racist. He simply stated what he found in his research and that if he had had the chance he would have revisited his investigation to see if he could refute himself.

    He was aware of the traditional educational differences between blacks and whites in the United States, An environmental factor whose weight was not negligible. What Jensen wanted to indicate with his study was that if educational programs could mean improving the standard of living and African American culture, he observed the possibility that there were differences related to race.

    In fact, and according to Thomas Sowell, who criticized many of Jensen’s theses but still wanted to defend him, he indicated that Jensen, in 1969, while studying African American children taking CI quizzes, was getting scores that seemed very weak. to him. Seeing, he proceeded to repeat the test, once he had accustomed the children to his presence and calmed down. He was ready to replicate any experiment as often as needed.

    It should be understood that, from a biological point of view, the g factor was considered to be something that was supported by multiple biological variables and that, based on the apparent differences found between whites and blacks in various cognitive tests, it was understood that race, as a biological factor, may be related to intellectual performance.

    It should be noted that races should not be viewed as discrete and defined categories (in reality, the concept of race in humans is something very heavily criticized), but rather as sets of human characteristics that have been shown. more in certain populations by natural selection processes and which are the result of the possession of certain genes which have survived to the next generation.

    Academic recognition

    Despite his controversy over the differences in IC between whites and blacks, Arthur Jensen received the Kistler Prize in 2003 for his original contributions, understanding the links between the human genome and the functioning of society. His view of how genetics influence the functioning of society, linked to behavioral genetics, Was considered one of the great discoveries of the twentieth century in terms of individual differences and their social involvement is concerned.

    In 2006, the American Society for Research in Intelligence honored and recognized Jensen with an award for his controversial career and life trajectory for the psychology of individual differences.


    Below we will see four books by Arthur Jensen which, although not translated into Spanish, turn out to be a good example of this psychologist’s view of individual differences in the construction of the intellect, in addition to showing in some of them concepts related to psychometrics and obtain data by means of questionnaires.

    1. Bias in mental testing (1980)

    Bias in Mental Testing, in Spanish “Bias in research with mental tests”, is a book thatexamined bias when applying questionnaires that measure IQ, Although they are presumably standardized.

    This is a fairly comprehensive book, about 800 pages, in which Jensen details possible evidence of bias when administering intelligence questionnaires in large numbers of American populations.

    The message that can be taken from the book is that the tests administered showed no bias if administered to people whose first language was English or spoke fluently.

    However, this indicates that yes these questionnaires must be linguistically adapted to groups whose language is not English, Even though they were brought up in the United States. This will avoid any kind of cultural prejudice.

    2. Direct discussion of mental testing (1981)

    The title of this book could be translated as “Direct Conversation on Mental Testing”. It is a book that talks about psychometrics but adapted to a more general audience, Without necessarily being statesmen or research psychologists.

    3. The g-factor: the science of mental capacity (1998)

    In this book, Arthur Jensen exposes the concept of the general intelligence factor. It also exposes the historical trajectory of the concept and the different models that have approached it and tried to conceptualize it.

    It also defends the heritability of intelligence, while exposing its biological correlates and predictability.

    4. Mind Clock: Mental Chronometry and Individual Differences (2006)

    In this book explains how the brain processes information and the different ways these processes can be measured.

    For Jensen, the speed of thought seemed to him to be a more important phenomenon than the concept of IQ itself.

    While one indicates how quickly one is able to solve problems of any kind, the other conceptualizes it more as a sort of score that allows you to see yourself above or below a ranking.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Jensen. AR (1973). Educational differences. London. Methuen.
    • Jensen, AR (1989). “The relationship between learning and intelligence”. Learning and individual differences. 1: 37-62
    • Rushton, JP and Jensen, AR. (2005). Thirty years of research into black and white differences in cognitive abilities. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 11, 235-294.
    • Jensen, Arthur R. (Spring 1969). “How much can we increase IQ and academic achievement?” Harvard Educational Journal. 39 (1): 1–123. doi: 10.17763 / haer.39.1.l3u15956627424k7

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