Francis Galton: biography of this prolific researcher

If we are talking about characters extremely relevant to the development of psychology, it is likely that a large number of possible names from several disciplines, including Wilhelm Wundt, Brentano, Freud, William James and Beck, will emerge. We generally think of famous people for the development of theoretical content on the mind or on different aspects of the psyche.

However, equally important are those which led to the development of methods and elements, or which directly initiated the possibility of operationalizing and being able to measure something as abstract as mental capacities. One of the best known and most important in this regard was Francis Galton, whose biography we will see below.

    Brief biography of Francis Galton

    Francis Galton was born in the English town of Birmingham on February 16, 1822, the seventh and youngest child of banker Samuel Tertius Galton and Frances Anne Violetta Darwin (aunt of Charles Darwin, with whom Francis Galton and he were cousins ).

    Coming from a wealthy family and socially recognized by both branches (his grandfather also was a renowned physicist, Erasmus Darwin), the young Galton would grow up in an intellectual environment and would be able to provide him with a quality formal education. From childhood he manifested himself as intellectually precocious, To be able to read from the age of two in English and to have relatively advanced mathematics knowledge by five years. The latter would become a subject of great interest to young Galton.

    The years of formation

    His education during the first years of his life was spent in Birmingham schools until 1836 when he entered to study at King Edward’s School. However, he would leave this school at sixteen. Soon after, he entered medical school (largely at the insistence of his parents) at Birmingham General Hospital, after which he studied mathematics at King’s College, University of London. .

    Also, and after having made a journey through various European cities and capitals, he resumed his medical studies in 1840 at Trinity College of the University of Cambridge. Unfortunately, in 1844 Galton’s father died, an event causing him great pain. Ithe same year he would finish his medical studies, obtaining his.

    Travel and development as a researcher

    After completing his medical career and not having to depend on his health profession due to the inheritance received, Galton decided to perform several exploratory trips across Africa, Including Egypt and Sudan, joining the Royal Geographical Society.

    Also during these trips he would document himself to make books based on his experiences which would be published from 1850 and which would be considered bestsellers (bringing contributions and discoveries in the process). He also studied geography and meteorology, later publishing (in 1863) the pioneering book in which he coined the term anticyclone and which in fact gave birth to scientific meteorology, Metereographica.

    In 1853 he met and later married Louisa Jane Butler, A relationship that would last a lifetime. Nevertheless the couple could not have children, something which supposed to him a great vital crisis that the author attributed to a possible sterility. This last event, as well as the existence of conflicts with the Royal Geographical Society and the appearance of his cousin Charles Darwin’s book, the famous origin of the species, would eventually trigger Galton’s desire to study biology.

    scientific contributions

    One of Galton’s best-known contributions to the world of biology and derived both from previous experiences and from reading his cousin’s book was his attempt to to study how natural selection could improve humanity.

    I would begin to think that intelligence and cognitive abilities, as well as possible alterations and diseases, could affect elements inherent in heredity, as well as the possibility of seeking an application of the principles of natural selection to promote the evolution of the species.

    It would therefore give birth to the beginnings of eugenics, considering it with animals that humans could cross to encourage those who were considered to be the best characteristics. The term eugenics itself would be coined in 1883, In his publication Human Faculty.

    In 1884 he would create the first anthropometric laboratory in which the first measurements, both physical and mental, would be carried out (technically also being the first psychometric laboratory).

    Studies of heritability and individual differences

    He would also explore the differences between inheritance and what has been learned, linking in such a way that he considers that he considers the union of the two to be related to both physical and mental faculties.

    Galton was also the first to quantify the idea of ​​standard variations, the regression line, and the normal distribution. He would even pioneer the concept of correlation, although it was his disciple Pearson who would end up generating what is so widely used today. Pearson correlation coefficient.

    He would also be one of the first to investigate intelligence and measure its heritability. Studying the distribution of intelligence and other traits in the population would come to the conclusion that these generally have a normal distribution in the population, with most having similar and near-average abilities and a few having extreme values. He is also the father of biostatistics, as well as one of the precursors of differential psychology.

    In 1901 he co-founded the journal Biometrika with Pearson and Weldon. In 1904 he presented his theories on eugenics to the Sociological Society, his speech subsequently being published in the American Journal of Sociology and founding the Galton laboratory. Three years later, the Eugenics Education Society was founded.

    too much studied the heritability of traits considered most relevant through research with twins, In order to assess whether intelligence and other psychic traits were inherited or were a product of education (for example to study whether the fact that the most powerful stood out was rather by the possibility of receiving a formal education or by the transmission of these capacities.

    In this regard, he would use studies with monozygotic twins, concluding that the innate seems to have the greatest effect on the intelligence that has been learned.

      Death and inheritance

      Francis Galton’s contributions are enormous in the field of science, even receiving the title of Sir in 1909. However, over time, he eventually contracted tuberculosis, a disease which would end his life on January 17, 1911, in Surrey.

      The legacy of this controversial and prolific author is vast. Being the father of psychometrics, his studies over time allowed the development of mechanisms to operationalize and measure mental operations, which in turn is linked to the development of psychology and psychiatry.

      Also the study of theinherit psychic abilities and individual differences they are in part possible thanks to their contributions.

      Sadly, not all of his studies have been used positively, with its original purpose being interestingly misinterpreted: some studies on eugenics have unfortunately been used negatively for years to defend racist ideologies such as those of the Nazis.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Forrest, DW (1974). Francis Galton: The Life and Work of a Victorian Genius. Miami: Taplinger.
      • Wright Gilham, N. (2002). A life of Sir Francis Galton: from African exploration to the birth of eugenics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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