Charles Spearman: biography of this experimental psychologist

Modern psychology, and in particular its experimental branch, would not be the same without the great contributions of Charles Spearman.

This English psychologist is widely known in the research field for his statistical contributions to the study of psychological processes, as well as for being the author of one of the best-known theories of human intelligence in the world.

Let’s take a closer look at the life of Charles SpearmanLife, in turn, has shifted from defending their country to focusing on the intellectual capacities of human beings.

    Biography of Charles Spearman

    Charles Edward Spearman was born in London, UK on September 10, 1863, dying in the same city on September 17, 1945, at the age of 82.

    A late departure

    Spearman’s debut in the field of psychology can be considered late, as he began his studies in 1898, at the age of 34. and after having served for 15 years as an officer in the Second Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers in India (1885-1897).

    His decision to begin studies in experimental psychology may have been influenced by the fact that, while on the Indian subcontinent, he researched this discipline in his spare time.

    At that time, British psychology was characterized by the fact that it was considered a branch of philosophy. This is why Charles Spearman preferred to travel abroad, especially to Leipzig, Germany, to study experimental psychology, which had some independence from the field of philosophy.

    Spearman had the opportunity to receive knowledge from Wundt himself, however, he did not share his taste for focusing on basic psychological processes, both cognitive and perceptual, feeling the British predilection for more complex situations that occur in life. .

    After spending two years studying psychology at the University of Leipzig, he was recruited to serve in Britain during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). He returned from the conflict and eventually graduated in psychology in 1907.

    Publications and fame

    Spearman’s popularity is mainly due to the publication of two articles in the American Journal of Psychology in 1904, while he was still studying psychology. To date, these two articles continue to have an impact, each carrying over 2,000 citations.

    The first, “The Proof and Measurement of the Association between Two Things”, sought to broaden Galton’s idea of ​​the correlation coefficient.

    Spearman, although he considered the findings of Galton and other notable scholars such as Pearson and Bravais to be important, did not see them as useful to the field of experimental psychology, believing that they should be reformulated and adapted to the requirements of the discipline.

    In this same article, Spearman introduces the concept of partial correlation, As a form of control of strange variables.

    The other article, “General Intelligence, Objectively Determined and Measured,” Charles Spearman reviews previous experimental research, in addition to trying to demonstrate the strength of the correlation coefficient.

    He read previous studies that failed to find correlations and pointed out possible methodological errors, as well as the lack of motivation of participants and errors in measuring and analyzing results.

    Influence on psychology

    Following the publication of the aforementioned two articles, Spearman was offered a position at University College London to take charge of that university’s experimental psychology program, in addition to working as a professor at the institution.

    This was the seed for the emergence of what has been called the ‘London School of Individual Differences’, of which figures such as Raymond Cattell, Hans Eysenck and Cyril Burt, among others, have been members for 30 years. Spearman and his students continued to be interested in human intelligence and nature, publishing in 1927 “The Capabilities of Man.”

    The two main contributions to Spearman’s psychology are explained in more detail below, particularly in the area of ​​the study of intelligence and the use of statistics in psychological research.

    Intelligence theory

    Spearman set out his two-factor theory of intelligence, according to which the performance of any mental activity depends on two different factors.

    First, there is the general factor or “g”, which is the common basis of intelligence. and that, although it occurs in a variable way according to the individual, it remains stable in the individual regardless of the situation.

    Second, there are the specific factors or “s”, which are all specific abilities, which not only manifest themselves differently between individuals, but also vary between the abilities of the same person.

    Thus, according to the point of view on intelligence proposed by Spearman, this construct is understood in such a way that there is a general stable factor in the person and a number of specific factors, Which are independent of each other, manifested in the form of strengths and weaknesses of various abilities.

    This proposal from Spearman left no one indifferent, besides being one of the first surveys in which he applied factor analysis and provided the correlation coefficient which bears his own surname.

    Thurstone criticized in 1938 the thing observed by Spearman, since defended the idea of ​​the existence of multiple intelligences or intellectual aptitudes, that took place of varied form.

    This author first claimed that there were at least seven: numerical, reasoning, spatial, perceptual, memory, verbal fluency, and verbal comprehension.

    Thereafter, Thurstone himself agreed with Spearman that there is a general factor among measures of skill. Years later, in 1963, Cattell also supported Spearman’s ideas, but with changes in defining the factors behind intelligence.

    Cattell proposed the existence of two types of factors, which differ according to age: fluid intelligence, more or less similar to Spearman’s “g” factor, and crystallized intelligence, more related to knowledge in a sense. more cultural of the word.

    Today there is still a debate as to whether or not there are different qualities in terms of intelligence, although the majority position is that there are.

    The great contribution of Spearman, the existence of which at least is a factor present in all actions in which the use of intelligence is required, is still regarded as one of the great discoveries of experimental psychology.

    Factor Analysis and Spearman Correlation Coefficients

    Factor analysis is a statistical method used to find relationships between several measures considered to be correlated. Spearman contributed significantly to the refinement of this method. It was he who coined the term factor analysis and used it in the measurement of multiple cognitive aspects.

    In reality, it is the results obtained by the factorial analysis that allowed Spearman to postulate the concepts of general factor and specific factor.

    Spearman applied mathematical procedures while conducting his research in experimental psychology, attempting to statistically describe and explore psychological phenomena, which came to greatly influence the discipline of mind and behavior at this day.

    The Spearman correlation coefficient allows two variables to be correlated by ranges instead of measuring their performance separately.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Spearman, C. (1904a). “General intelligence”, determined and measured objectively. American Journal of Psychology, 15 (2), 201-292.
    • Spearman, C. (1904b). The testing and measurement of the association between two things. The American Journal of Psychology, 15 (1), 72-101.
    • Spearman, C. (1927). The capabilities of man. Oxford England: Macmillan.

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