Lewis Terman: Biography of this intelligence researcher

In the field of psychology and education, Lewis Terman was one of the first writers to talk about intelligence, Alongside Alfred Binet and William Stern. Terman was an American psychologist, very interested in the study of intelligence, tests that assess it, and giftedness.

Through this article you will find a biography of Lewis TermanThis explains some of the most important contributions from the creator of the most widely used intelligence test in the United States (the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale).

    Lewis Terman biography

    Lewis Terman (Johnson County, 1877 – Palo Alto, 1956), full name Lewis Madison Terman, was an American psychologist collaborating in several American universities, such as Stanford University.

    Terman was born in Johnson County, Indiana (USA) on January 15, 1877, and died on December 21, 1956 in Palo Alto, California (USA). Terman began his studies at Central Normal College in Danville, Indiana, and Indiana University (where he attended classes). He then obtained a degree in psychology from another university, Clark University, in 1905.


    Terman devoted much of his research to human intelligence, which he defined as “the ability to think in an abstract way”. He was also a pioneer in the field of educational psychology in the early twentieth century.

    In fact, Lewis Terman rose to prominence around the world for creating the first intelligence test, which was widely used in the United States. To create it, was based on the Binet-Simon test (The original Binet-Simon scale), and created the so-called “Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale”.

    To this day, this scale is still widely used and is already in its fifth edition. Later, we’ll discuss some of its more relevant features.


    Lewis Terman was also a member of the Human Betterment Foundation (a eugenics group founded by ES Gosney in 1928).

    So Terman was defender of eugenics, a philosophy that advocates the improvement of hereditary traits (Especially intelligence) through different methods of human manipulation and selection.

      professional career

      Professionally, Terman was professor of psychology and pedagogy at the State Normal School (Los Angeles) for four years (1906-1910). In 1910 he began working at Stanford University, this time as a professor of education.

      On the other hand, Terman he was also president of the American Psychological Association. When it comes to the awards given to Terman, the Honorary Chair, awarded by Stanford University, stands out.


        Let us know about Lewis Terman’s most relevant contributions in the field of education, intelligence and psychology.

        1. Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale

        The already mentioned Stanford-Binet intelligence scale, developed by Terman, it measures intelligence and cognitive ability, through several differentiated factors: Working memory, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, fluid reasoning and visual-spatial processing. This scale consists of two verbal and non-verbal subtests and is administered individually.

        The Terman scale was born amid the proliferation of intelligence tests, and in fact is an example of adaptation of another test, The Binet scale (Alfred Binet, French psychologist).

        Then, with the adaptation of Terman, the test was published in 1916 as an exam called the “Stanford-Binet test” at Stanford University.

        2. Military psychology

        On the other hand, Lewis Terman also introduced group intelligence testing in the US military, so we find part of the roots of intelligence assessment in military psychology, with this author.

        3. IQ

        One of Terman’s most important contributions was the introduction of the term “IQ” to measure human intelligence; it was a measure of this faculty, applicable to children and adults.

        More precisely, what Terman did was to adopt the suggestion of another author, William Stern (German psychologist), who proposed to multiply the mental quotient by 100, In order to avoid inconvenience caused by decimals. This is how Lewis Terman established the IQ, which is calculated using the following formula:

        (Mental age / chronological age) * 100

        Advantages and disadvantages of CI

        Regarding the pros and cons of Lewis Terman’s IQ, we find that: as an advantage it is an index independent of age (thus, if a subject shows an average performance compared to his group age invariable over the years).

        As a downside or problem, we find that there are no differentiation tasks for the 20 and 25 age groups, and that Mental age (MS) does not keep pace with chronological age (CE) therefore in adults, mental quotients are low.

        remarkable works

        Among the most outstanding works of Lewis Terman we find (in chronological order):

        • The measure of intelligence (1916)

        • The use of intelligence tests (1916)

        • The intelligence of the students (1919)

        • The Stanford Pass Test (1923)

        • The genetic study of engineering (1925, 1947, 1959)

        • Autobiography of Lewis Terman (1930)

        Regarding the work of The Genetic Study of Genius, it should be noted that it consists of five volumes, where the analysis of 1,500 gifted children is collected. This work was published after the death of Terman (it is therefore a posthumous work).

        Research on gifted children

        Beyond “normative” intelligence, Terman was also very interested in gifted (ie high potential) children. Through his studies, Terman observed that gifted children did not represent stereotypes frequently associated with them, At that time (they were sick children, poorly adapted to society …).

        In addition, he found that they were taller children, with healthier physical development and better social adjustment than other children. Thus, he developed various studies; oddly enough, for the children he included in these studies, he colloquially called them “termites.”

        In contrast, in the area of ​​giftedness, another of Lewis Terman’s contributions was to implement a program in 1921 which aimed to study gifted children (long term). According to Terman, these children belonged to 2% of the population (That is, the richest 2% of the population, in terms of intelligence).

        Bibliographical references:

        • Joel N. Shurkin, Little Brown & Co. (1992). Terman’s Kids: the innovative study of the growth of the gifted.
        • Moreno, V., Ramírez, ME, De la Oliva, C. and Moreno, I. (2019). Lewis Terman. Buscabiografias.com [Consultado el 19 de diciembre del 2019]
        • Sánchez Elvira, A. (2005). Introduction to the study of individual differences. Madrid: Ed. Sanz and Torres. 2nd edition.

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