RAYMOND BERNARD CATTELL (1905-1998)
A View Of His Life With Reflections
Raymond Bernard Cattell was born in Hilltop, West Bromwich, England, a town near Birmingham on March 20, 1905. His father was a mechanical engineer and craftsman-designer who worked on such projects as developing World War I military equipment, the steam engine, and a new internal combustion engine. His mother was the daughter of a successful manufacturer in Birmingham. The family’s economic circumstances allowed them to choose to move to the south coast of Devon when Cattell was six years old. His boyhood on the beautiful coastal country of Devon imbued in him a lifelong love of the sea and sailing ships. Cattell describes a happy childhood and youth both at home and at school, which upon comparison with other behavior and personality theorists, is an unusual situation. His parents were exacting about the standards of performance that they expected from their children but permissive regarding how the children spent their leisure time. Cattell, his brothers, and friends, spent a great deal of time outdoors sailing, swimming, exploring caves, and fighting mock battles over terrain in which they “occasionally drowned or fell over cliffs”. England had entered World War I when Cattell was nine, an event that profoundly influenced him. During the war a mansion near his home had been converted into a hospital where Cattell observed trainloads of wounded men transported directly from the battlefields of France. He wrote that as a result of his experience, he became unusually serious for a young boy and aware of the “brevity of life and the need to accomplish while one might”. The great dedication to his work and the long hours that he devoted to it during his life may well have had their origins at this time. (Cattell, Lindzey, ed., Pg. 52-63.) These work characteristics of Cattell may also have been reinforced by the competition with his older brother. He describes the difficulties in trying to establish his own freedom of development in the presence of a domineering brother three years his senior who could “be outwitted, but not overcome”.
These two situations perhaps contributed to his excelling as a young student such that at the age of 10 he won a scholarship at Torquay Boys’ Grammar School (1915 – 1921). His name appears second on their Role of Honor board as having won a county scholarship in 1921 to University College in London to read chemistry where he obtained a B.Sc. First Class Honors in 1924 at the age of 19.
Although Cattell’s boyhood and youth could be described as quite comfortable, neither of his parents had received any college education and, considering their economic and home circumstances, did not see any great need for their children to pursue higher education. Neither was there any great encouragement, by example, for any literary or musical endeavors. Although his father was a talented, but not formally educated, mechanical engineer and designer he was a liberal thinker and did provide some literate interest to his three sons. "Although the intellectual stimulus around the family table came from my father, who loved history and literature as much as the applied science in his own work, I discovered, when I became a psychologist and ventured to test my parents’ intelligence, that his IQ was only 120 against my mother’s 150”.
Although Cattell could sing, his musical repertory and interests were confined chiefly to folk songs of Devon without ever delving further. However, his literary and scientific interests and diligence were quite extraordinary for a boy in this environment. He recounts that his boyhood interests roughly recapitulated a history of the sciences from astronomy, to physics, to chemistry, and to biology. His boyhood literary interests were broad. “ I recall particularly that at ten I ‘discovered’ H.G. Wells, Verne, Mee’s Encyclopedia, Conan Doyle, and countless others”.
While he was studying Chemistry at the London University he was quite aware of the ferment of social and political ideas that broke out after World War I. His wide and continued extracurricular reading in literature, biography, and science probably enabled the development of an extraordinarily literate, poetic, and incisive style which would characterize all of his writings including scientific, autobiographical, travelogue, and social commentary. At some point during his boyhood years, his family characterized Cattell as “high-minded, but sometimes wanting in common sense”.
At this point in Cattell’s life voyage in quest of scientific truth, (“my laboratory bench began to seem small and the world’s problems vast”) he chose not to continue on the starboard tack of chemistry, but, indeed, chose to thrust the helm hard over, and went about on to the port tack to apply his well-grounded scientific principles in the exploration of the terra incognita of human behavior. “I declined the standard remedies by political parties or religious affiliations. Gradually I concluded that to get beyond human irrationalities one had to study the workings of the mind itself”. This momentous decision could best be described as multifactorial, a term embraced and defined by his subsequent research. Many factors played a role in bringing about his decision to enter the field of psychology:
a) The carnage and destruction of World War I had once more spawned questions and concerns about human behavior that leads to the despoiliation of society.
b ) There was a tremendous and intellectual and cultural upheaval and other young free thinkers such as Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, and Haldane influenced Cattell. In London he was able to meet them all! There was an emerging fledgling discipline (it could hardly be called a science) which sought to study human behavior. At that time this nascent field could be described as polarized on the one hand by some simple bivariate (univariate) human and animal experiment of limited social application and at the other pole, a group of freewheeling untested theories based on studies and observation of neurotics and psychotics.
c) Cattell was a scientist devoted to the scientific method and aware of the progress in the physical sciences that this method had produced. He was convinced that traditional social economic and political policy was failing and that a possible solution may lie in the scientific and systematic investigation and subsequent understanding of human nature. Thus, Cattell became attracted to psychology and saw the many untapped possibilities of applying the scientific method to human problems. “The task seemed enormous – dismaying, but for the optimism of youth”.
As a chemist he was especially taken by Mendeleev’s ingenious composing of the Periodic Table, bringing definition and order to the elements and to inorganic chemistry. Similarly, he could visualize the practical application of factor analysis in the study of human behavior. Perhaps central to his decision was the driving conviction he held throughout his life that psychology could only be studied as a serious science and that its findings could ultimately be used to solve human problems. At the time he had earned his B.Sc. in chemistry in London he had met three key figures in the development of mathematical and statistical psychology. Burt, Fisher, and Spearman were within a short walk of Cattell’s “shining flasks and tubes of his well-equipped chemistry bench”. He took that short walk … a long walk for the science of psychology!
In 1924 his decision to pursue psychology was something of a courageous choice at that time in England. Psychology was regarded as a discipline for “cranks” and there were few professional opportunities in the field. However, Cattell considered himself quite fortunate in working with Charles Spearman who was developing the method of factor analysis to study learning on one side of the college yard at University College, and Fisher developing analysis of variance on the other. “Interpreting these two poles of statistics technically, but more interested in social and political implications was Sir Cyril Burt”. In this milieu Cattell thought he could see the possibility of reaching in human affairs beyond the traditional rules of thumb into more rational principles based on the science of psychology. In 1929 at the onset of the great world depression, Cattell received his Ph.D. and became even more painfully aware of the very limited economic and academic opportunities in psychology and in particular, the virtual absence of research opportunities. During the next eight years he accepted several “fringe” positions which he felt provided limited opportunities to pursue his chosen field of research. He initially “had to take on the protective coloration of an educationist”, accepting a position with the Department of Education at Exeter University. This required considerable teaching and some counseling which he viewed as a major distraction from the research fires burning inside him. He had a lifelong belief that research and teaching should be kept apart within university departments with faculty dedicated to either one or the other. He did not enjoy teaching classes and he probably was not a particularly inspiring teacher to groups, although he was an excellent mentor for graduate students on a one-to-one basis.
However, he was awarded a London MA degree in education while teaching at Exeter. His thesis entitled “Temperament Tests and Perseveration” was probably his first systematic statement about personality structure. He produced his first test of temperament a year later. While at Exeter he also designed a series of intelligence tests that were widely utilized, improving on earlier versions by Binet.
During his three years of Exeter the seeds of his life’s enterprise were planted. At that time the psychological domains of personality and motivation had been tentatively identified but unverified. Their origins and development were explained by individual clinicians dealing principally with neurotic and psychotic individuals. Since the turn of the century, the domains of personality, motivation, and even morality were dominated by the psychoanalytic approach first enunciated by Freud and followed by a series of modifications and conceptual alterations espoused by Jung, and then Adler, Horney, Fromm, and lastly Murray. These theories and their modifications share several characteristics, among them being intriguing to the lay press and consequently receiving wide coverage in popular journals and newsprint. The general population as well as nascent psychology students alike would find these theories intriguing and titillating. However, these theories do not lend themselves to scientific evaluation and scrutiny. Cattell’s conviction in science and the scientific method was steadfast throughout his life and would indeed form a basis for a moral belief in his future writings. He conceived of a master plan to identify and define these domains of personality and motivation, and subsequently, morality, through the use of scientific methods his mentor Spearman had used in the more specific and narrow domains of intelligence, ability, and cognition. Conceiving these basic concepts and planning the scientific strategy for defining and investigating these domains required relatively little of Cattell’s time, but it took a lifetime of diligent, painstaking, work with many research associates and collaborators, factor analyzing massive quantities of data to define and categorize the components of personality and to study their dynamic interaction. (See “The Voyage of a Laboratory, 1928 – 1984.)
In his own words, “As I watched Spearman’s research and later Thurstone’s in describing the structure of abilities by use of factor analysis, it had taken no unusual imagination to propose unraveling the structures of temperament and motivation by the same instrument. To see this as an important task in psychology required only that the investigator realize that no matter what the labor, good strategy called for delineating first a comprehensive taxonomy. Before Newton there had to be Kepler and Tycho-Brahe and without Linnaeus there would be no firm basis for Darwin. Many psychologists of that time (the 1930s) seemed uninterested in this strategy. But to study personality learning (or therapeutic change) one had to, it seemed to me, measure attributes of personality at a moment in time, just as, to see movement in a movie one has to get clear “static” shots (at some 24 cross-sectional frames per second)”.
“This emphasis, not just on measurement, but on the structural measurement of meaningful, empirically established, functional unities, was the initial credo of lab work in all fields. On such a basis one could intelligently proceed to an understanding of the development of personality by genetic maturation and learning theory. But that must lie untouched in the future until the laying of this foundation of knowledge be accomplished”.
Later, Cattell states, “If psychology was to become a science, it had to develop measurement. But, in personality, of what? Amidst a tangle of more and less insightful concepts of personality structure, it seemed vital to me to put aside – pending factorial proof – such concepts as ego, superego, Murray’s list of needs, introversion, the authoritarian personality, etc”.
“We did this by beginning with the concept of variable sampling in the personality sphere. Those psychologists who were accustomed only to hypothesis-testing designs were often bewildered by this hypothesis-creating use of the new factor analytic instrument, but I had already found tangible results from it in seeking, with Burt in 1933, major temperament dimensions”.
“Another strategic step in this broad campaign would involve the recognition that there are, exhaustively, three media of behavioral observation, L, Q, and T (roughly observer ratings, questionnaire, and behavioral laboratory-type measures) and that it would be common sense to face difficulties one by one by first establishing the structures as viewed by each. The postulate of ‘indifference of indicator’ - that the same structure would appear in all was, nevertheless, contingently believed”.
“To handle, in factoring, numbers of sampled variables exceeding any number of previously handled seemed an almost hopeless task, but Saunders and Baggaley, two of my earliest associates, used resource and sagacity. The first worked miracles with an IBM sorter. The second programmed, the newly constructed Illiac Computer (Illinois was the first to get one). The advent of the computer at this moment was the act of Providence that made multivariate experiment (and also it’s simple-minded abuses) possible such as Leeuwenhoek’s microscope opened for biology the world of micro-organisms”.
“What we found is an old story now, it was surprising enough at the time. This was a discovery that the personality sphere could not be described by the few concepts of the clinician or even of the rough factorings into three or four dimensions by … others. Both in the rating and the questionnaire data the clinician’s concepts of a cycloschizothyme dimension … and of ego and superego as well as some ethologists’ perception (dominance-submission) and James’ ‘tender-tough’ were there, all as sound factors. But so were a dozen strange new patterns, such as those we labeled F surgency, H parmia, L protension, M autia and so on. By the tests for number of factors then and since, we were in the hyperspace of 12 – 20 dimensions.”
The preceding paragraphs were written by Cattell in 1984 in “The Voyage of a Laboratory –
His fluent writing style with a wide-ranging vocabulary would often reward the reader who was doggedly plodding through a long series of statistical numerology, using advanced (for the time) computers for factor analyzing volumes of data. Sixty-five years later Cattell and his colleagues were able to make a systematic statement defining personality and motivation structure with which they could be comfortable. A contemporary analogy to the enormity and scope of his work would be the defining of the human genome in which the basic strategy was quickly conceived given the instrumentation and computer availability along with current advanced biochemical techniques. There remained, however, the diligent, arduous, and repetitive work of defining the structure and also a challenge of determining which part of the gene structure actually affects cellular development and function and distinguishing it from that genetic material which is biologically inert. Both these psychological and biological accomplishments are bodies of work which have the potential, if used appropriately, for furthering the welfare of mankind.
During his years at Exeter he wrote most of the material for his first book “Psychology and Social Progress”. This was his first comprehensive statement of his belief that the solution of social, economic, and moral problems of mankind lies in effective research leading to the greater understanding of human behavior. By starting with a method of inquiry, which penetrates to the fundamental and lasting issues beneath our passing conflicts of opinion and belief, the scientist patiently, analyzes the mechanisms of social life and applies a measuring rod to social progress. He defined a new concept of morality derived from the very heart of science. He contemplated the discoveries which psychology was making at the time with regard to human capacities, heredity, and environmental temperament variations and emotional motivations. Considering that he had developed and published several tests on intelligence and ability, his drastic propositions for the betterment of government, the guidance of cultural progress, the evolutional morality, and education were quite presumptuous and, indeed, did presume his absolute faith in the applications of science to human behavior. While written in the depths of the worldwide depression in the early gathering storm of the Second World War, he perceived social growth and decline as an organic process following inevitable laws, but susceptible to direct control by societies wise enough to turn from the vain traditional contentions and interests towards the development by the scientists to scientific government. Cattell wrote this book in his mid 20s having published several tests on intelligence and ability, but yet to embark on his definitive exploration of personality and motivation. In his future books of social commentary he modified many of his views. However, he never lost faith in the scientific study of behavior as a social solution.
During his three years at Exeter Cattell courted and married Monica Rogers, whom he had known since his boyhood in Torquay. In 1932 a son was born to them. He also held a part-time position at the Dartington Hall, a progressive school which embraced all of the avant garde theories of education at that time. He also began an exploration of the South Devon Coast and moors by boat and on foot that would be subsequently published as a travelogue.
Cattell’s marriage to Monica Rogers terminated in the early 30s at about the time that he accepted a position with the education authority in Leicester, England. Cattell’s strengths and desires lay in research in which his overall goal was to scientifically map out the broad domains of psychology including personality motivation and abilities. As with teaching, the practice of clinical psychology held a distant secondary interest for him. As he had been bored with his teaching duties at Exeter, he was similarly disenchanted with his clinical duties in Leicester. He summarized his years in Exeter and Leicester as “balancing the academic approach with five years experience in clinical work and though in the latter I felt a charlatan, it gave me many leads for personality research and saved me later from the foolish aspects of ‘behavior therapy’. As I saw it, the crying need of the time (which expensive charlatans should have the grace to recognize even if not to sweat at) was for research on personality and learning”. Although feeling a fraud as a clinical psychologist, his five years at Leicester did provide him with his first opportunities to develop and apply tests of personality. According to Dennis Child, one of his colleagues, Cattell did not like the nine-to-five mentality required of the post. Research opportunities had to be stolen rather than given. Child further observed that he loved the process of getting his work published. By the age of 25, he had at least six publications that included the Cattell Group Intelligence Scale and a monograph entitled “The Subjective Character of Cognition” as well as four research papers. He had also translated into English Kretschmer’s, “The Psychology of Men of Genius”.
After receiving his Ph.D., Cattell became ill with a chronic stomach condition that he attributed to a heavy work schedule, poor food, and poor living conditions. To compound his difficulties there was a worldwide economic depression, low academic salaries and a separation from his wife and child, partly due to their poverty-ridden circumstances and his total absorption in his work. Despite these adverse circumstances he remained dedicated to his quest of understanding and defining the structure of personality. According to his own account he derived some positive benefits from this long period of hardship. “Those years made me as canny and distrustful as a squirrel who has known a long winter. It bred asceticism and impatience with irrelevance, to the point of ruthlessness”. His experience may also have caused him to focus on practical issues and problems rather than on more theoretical and experimental issues that he may have pursued if he were in more comfortable and secure circumstances. This can be viewed as a personal circumstance affecting the investigators approach to the study of personality, a theory widely applied to all personologists.
In 1937, E. L. Thorndike of Columbia University had apparently read a paper by Cattell on “Social Mobility and Intelligence”, and invited him to a research associateship for a year in 1937. Cattell states that he “wrenched himself from the English culture, painfully but agog for the research opportunity”. Thorndike proved a fine supplement to Spearman, for from his tackling of problems, “I came to admire a more flexible less theory and philosophy-ridden American approach”. He viewed Thorndike as nearer the basic truth in learning principles than his somewhat more adulated contemporary, Pavlov. He always conveyed the image of an Englishman in a foreign land. Nevertheless, he never returned to Britain except for professional or family reasons. At the time of his move in 1937, Britain had barely recovered from a depression and was about to get involved in an expensive war. This was just not the financial climate for Cattell’s ambitious researches. While at Columbia University he worked closely with multiple factor theories of intelligence and this mix of viewpoints was important in developing his own theory of intelligence.
He next accepted the G. Stanley Hall professorship at Clark University in Massachusetts where he worked on developing objective behavioral measures of personality and intelligence. While at Clark University, he clarified this theory of fluid versus crystallized intelligence which he presented to the 1941 APA convention. In 1941 he was invited by Gordon Allport to join the Harvard University faculty. His three years at Harvard were particularly influential in his thinking about personality because of the stimulating environment of creative personologists such as Henry Murray, Robert White, and Gordon Allport. While at Harvard Cattell was first able to begin his “voyage” of mapping and defining personality and motivation using the powerful factor analytic method which had been so productive of studying abilities. At that time the data could only be factor analyzed using the manually operated IBM card sorting machines!
During the latter years of World War II Cattell had a research role in the Adjutant General’s Office in which methods and criterion for officer selection were being developed. Although he viewed this wartime assignment as an interruption to his research, he did concede that this gave him an opportunity for a large-scale tryout of what was to be called T-data in which individuals are observed in contrived miniature situations and the responses are observed without the individual knowing which aspect of his or her performance is being evaluated. T-data was one of the three methods of developing data for his long-term researches along with L-data (life record) and Q-data (questionnaire method).
The year 1945 marked a major event in Cattell’s scientific odyssey. Prior to this time Cattell had been virtually sailing to windward in rough seas and with variable winds and currents attempting to weather a leeward shore into open seas with fair wind and a clear course to his ultimate destination well over the horizon. He reached these open seas with a seaworthy ship and able crew when he was appointed at the University of Illinois to a newly created research professorship in psychology in which he was able to obtain ample grants to support two Ph.D. associates, four graduate research assistants, and clerical help for all for nearly 30 years. His proposed method required factoring numbers of sampled variables exceeding any number previously handled. It appeared to be an almost hopeless task, but two of his earliest associates, Saunders and Baggaley, “used resource and sagacity” Saunders worked miracles with an IBM sorter and Baggaley programmed the newly constructed Illiac computer for factor analysis. The University of Illinois was the first to have the most sophisticated computer and Cattell viewed it as an act of Providence in that it could process complex data in a small fraction of the time and effort that had been required with conventional equipment. His laboratory, his ship, and crew embarked on a productive 30-year voyage on what he termed “100 empirical constructs and a binding theory”. In his “Voyage of a Laboratory 1928-1984”, Cattell recounts a play of people, situations, and ideas that were enacted over 30 years in his laboratory at the University of Illinois.
Near the end of the war Cattell married Karen Schuettler, a mathematician who would work with Cattell on the mathematical and statistical aspects of his research. Three daughters and a son were born to them. In 1972 he had reached mandatory retirement age at the University of Illinois and seeking continued research opportunities left the University of Illinois while Karen remained in Champaign directing the Institute for Personality and Ability Testing, a company that could not be moved due to the highly skilled and experienced workers at the institute in Champaign. Cattell continued his Voyage of a Laboratory at the University of Colorado and subsequently the University of Hawaii.
Cattell's Voyage of a Laboratory,1928-1984- Excerpts
The Embarkation - “ On a cold and foggy London morning in 1924, I turn my back on the shining flasks and tubes of my well-equipped chemistry bench and walked over to Charles Spearman’s laboratory to explore the promise of psychology. What values lay behind this seemingly quixotic act by a graduate student happily launched with a degree in chemistry will become apparent. Mainly, however, it sprang from by broader reading having led me to see that psychology was a really new, challenging frontier of science and a source of rational hopes for human progress”.
In his introductory review Cattell
states, “ It was my youthful expectation to work in my own lifetime in
the dawn of a new science. I and my more realistic colleagues now realize
that much of our voyage was actually in the darkness before the dawn”.
After settling in Hawaii he married Heather Birkett, a clinical psychologist, who has conducted extensive research using Cattell’s 16 PF and other tests. During the last 2 decades of his life living in Hawaii Cattell continued his productive pace, generating a variety of scientific articles, as well as books on morality and motivation; the techniques and application of factor analysis; two volumes of personality and learning theory; the inheritance of personality and ability, intelligence, and national achievement; a structured learning theory; and a handbook of multivariate experimental psychology. Several of these were with co-authors.
In 1997 the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Foundation nominated him for the gold medal for lifetime achievement. This accolade had only been awarded 12 times before. A few days before the medal was to be presented to him, a controversy arose regarding some of his theories expressed in some of his sociological writings. Throughout his career Cattell had applied the results of his testing of groups as well as individuals to a societal context. These theories included the concept of evolution of groups and extended to cultures and countries. He acknowledged that a number of his concepts were controversial. His health was fragile, the controversy was distorting his true concepts of society and his reputation was being unfairly assaulted. Consequently Cattell declined to accept the award. He died on February 2, 1998, at his home in Hawaii, several months after the medal was to be awarded.
His capacity for work was legendary and exemplary for his many graduate students and research associates. The resulting productivity by Cattell and his associates is daunting, resulting in authorship, co-authorship, of 55 books and approximately 500 scientific articles. Several of his books, although based on his and other scientific observations and principles, were controversial. He defined groups and cultures in a context of Darwinian evolution. Two of these books went further in discovering and clarifying ethical goals from a basis of scientific knowledge suggesting a religion from science. He was a painstaking scientist who understood the need for developing a comprehensive taxonomy to accurately define the realm of personality and then proceeding to measure attributes of personality at a moment in time. These were structural measurements of meaningful, empirically established, functional unities. From his studies in personality and motivation, he progressed to his observation of groups and his more controversial social psychology concepts. During his early studies at Kings College, London University, Exeter, and Leicester, he had chosen his methodology of multivariate factor analysis in his goal of mapping the domains of personality, motivation, and abilities, using three different methods of assessment. He has been viewed as a master strategist in psychology. His writing style was lyrical and poetic whenever his science would permit. This style is more apparent in his books on social theory involving groups and cultures and their evolution, but particularly in describing his voyages and treks in Devonshire, published in 1937.
In his quest to measure human behavior scientifically, he could be particularly critical of a number of behavioral theories starting with Freud, et al, whose theories had not been verified by scientific methods. Indeed, there were no noted theorists and other research psychologists who did not receive at least one of his critical darts, either criticizing theories as scientifically untested, but catchy and popular or, in the case of some univariate or bivariate research work as being “trivial”. There is merit to the observation that his nomination for the gold medal for lifetime achievement was delayed until his 92nd year in that the large coterie of offended fellow psychologists in powerful and influential positions had retired or passed on, enabling his many younger disciples, having reached positions of influence, to nominate him clearly on the basis of the enormous contributions he had made throughout his career without the offsetting animosity he had generated during his career. Ironically, it was in is own sector of writing that was theoretical, scientifically untested, and politically incorrect by current standards which prompted criticism, controversy, and his ultimately declining the award.
Cattell did not enjoy and actively avoided teaching classes, other than his close one-on-one work with his graduate students and research associates. He exhorted them to join him in the complex world of multivariate factor analysis, an arcane science in the view of the majority of psychology students and popular psychology textbook publishers. Cattell long lamented that this sector of mathematics, which is standard fare for mathematicians, physicists, chemists, and biologists, is considered by psychology students and textbook publishers, not to mention some psychology department education directors as recondite, demanding, disciplined, but optional and less titillating than the “humanistic” theories of behavior. Cattell believed that such evasive reactions, with a “filling in” by grandiose verbal theoretical discussion had prolonged for an unnecessary 50 years, our ignorance and impotence in clinical, social, and other areas of human endeavor in which a science of psychology could be effective.
Bolton and other writers have commented with some surprising reproach on what they see as a complete failure to incorporate the scientifically developed taxonomy, ability, and learning measurements. A writer stated that Cattell’s work is “more respected than read”. Cattell observes that it would be a useful study of scientific ideas themselves to cover the absorption, criticism, modification, and sheer unawareness that have met the mathematical model concepts, trait measures, and applied diagnostic work arising from his laboratory. Cattell further points out that “the split in psychology itself between scientific, quantitative, and experimental personality research and humanistic (or to give the latter the benefit of the doubt) the journalistic, math-evading verbal theorizing, is now at last fully on the surface and admitted”.
Unlike the disciplines of mathematics, physics, and chemistry and their derivatives in which a scholar can now “span the alphabet from Avagodro, Boyle, Charles, through Heisenberg, Joule, Ohm, and Planck and to Zeeman in an illuminating galaxy of interlocking laws and principles, the psychologist, after an embarrassing silence is likely to conjure up three or four laws with the probability that when properly scrutinized they will fade into local or vague generalizations hedged with many qualifications”. Cattell continues in his Voyage of a Laboratory, 1928 – 1984, “recognizing this context, I tell here a brief story about a laboratory crew who had set out on an abstract and arduous compass course towards the Atlantis of a knowledgeable personality science. They will be content to admit that daybreak for psychology as a systematic body of laws, is only now appearing”. Cattell finishes the log of his voyage, “I believe my introductory words – that we sailed on early in this century before the dawn of anything that could be called psychology as a science – convey a true perspective, but now a firm landscape is beginning to appear. On the one hand, the trained navigators are being created. On the other, the necessary mathematical-statistical basis for multivariate experiment has largely been worked out. Two difficulties remain which only guts and imagination can overcome”.
“First, whereas the physicist or the bivariate brass instrument experimenter, can hope to reach a law with a few bits of wire and glass and a couple of checking experiments, the psychologist typically needs in his multidetermined uncontrollable world say 200 subjects 30 variables and 5 hours of measurement and some repetitions of it all. This prospect turns off the less dedicated Ph.D. and many others towards easier – if more trivial problems”.
“Secondly, the availability of the more powerful statistical methods and models in the first-class math-stat journals and texts, is not a guarantee of their imaginative use … There is no need to repeat the common scientific observation that all the equipment in the world cannot produce progress without inspiration and creative minds. But there is no reason to believe that these will be lacking, and they will find, in this decade, a frontier bristling with provocative unfinished findings and new models emerging from indications in the work already done”.
Cattell was born and raised in the early 20th century. It was a time when science had burgeoned and was affecting the everyday life of western society. “For a young man destined to scientific interests, 1905 was a felicitous year in which to be born. The airplane was a year old. The queries in Rutherford in that year penetrated the heart of the atom and the mystery of its radiations, Binet launched the first intelligence test, and Einstein, the theory of relativity. But as far as an Englishman was concerned, it was also just about the year in which the British Empire and its secure and expansive way of life started down hill.” Cattell had a natural bent and interest in science and stated that his boyhood interests recapitulated the history of the sciences from astronomy to physics to chemistry, and to biology. In 1921 he was the first of his family to enter college and chose to study chemistry. He was aware of the ferment of social and political ideas that broke out after WWI. Shaw, Wells, Huxley, Haldane, and Russell, were the intellectual leaders of the time; who, together with Spearman developing the logic of factor analysis, and Fisher, developing analysis of variance, led Cattell to see the potential of applying scientific methods to the study of human behavior.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Cattell adhered strictly to mathematical and statistical methods to identify traits and, by the end of his career, had mapped out the general terrain of personality, motivation, learning, and abilities. His strict, diligent, painstaking, and often tedious perseverance in gathering data and its complex analysis was unique among his contemporary psychologists. His capacity for work and productivity was unique and his adherence to the scientific process was unfaltering. Before publication, he reviewed critically his own work. In his quest to apply science to a field whose taxonomy is inheritantly malleable and complex, making scientific laws particularly difficult and challenging to elucidate was a task which few other psychologists were equipped or motivated to attempt. The field of psychology began on one side with strict uni- or bivariate studies with limited dimension and applicability to society in general and on the other with theories recounted by several early psychologists, most often raised in dysfunctional and distorted environments and studying only psychopathology. In his Herculean efforts with many associates and collaborators, he mapped out a terrain from which his successors would continue a very meaningful search. With almost a religious belief in science and a scientific method, he was understandably critical of his contemporaries who were conjuring and elaborating theories without attempting scientific evaluation or corroboration. As an extension of this critical view, he included a large body of clinical psychologists (as well as psychiatrists) who were basing their treatment and management on these untested theories. In this early milieu in psychology, Cattell was, indeed, a “loner”, eventually leading a small coterie of disciples into the scientific niche of psychology characterized by multivariate analysis.
Cattell was in no way a politician or a joiner in the larger school of psychology. His frequent and sharp criticism further isolated him from the general contingent of psychologists. Also the highly technical and mathematical nature of his research further alienated undergraduate teachers, students, and publishers of basic textbooks. Some writers have characterized Cattell’s body of work as “more respected than read”. That this is unfortunate, is also understandable in the field of endeavor with such diverse and polarized origins. Cattell conjectured that the solution may be the breakaway from what may continue to be called, “psychology of, on the one hand, psychonomic and multivariate experimentalist societies, united in scientific objectivity if not in ancestry, and, on the other hand, of so-called humanistic psychology. The latter may continue to advance its own way for great novelists and will meet the perennial need of journalists to talk to the general public about psychology”. The former, however, psychology as a science, has now achieved a defined and firm landscape from which well-trained navigators schooled in the necessary mathematical-statistical basis for multivariate experiments. More powerful statistical methods and models can carry on into new frontiers of understanding of human behavior. Cattell was confident that over time this segment of psychology will attract inspirational and creative minds with the guts and fortitude [and mathematical aptitude] to pursue this new frontier “bristling with provocative unfinished findings and new models emerging from indications of the work already done”
Several psychologists and writers have (G. Lindzey, 1974; D. Schultz, 1986; R. Corsini, 1977, Atwood and Tomkins, 1976) stated that the several major theories on personality “are inevitably colored by subjective factors determined not only by certain empirical facts which are generally agreed upon, but also by a whole range of idiosyncratic factors and motivations affecting each theorist as an individual” (Atwood & Tomkins, 1976). Corsini observed that personality theorists project their own personalities into their views about human nature. Despite all efforts to the contrary, some kind of personal bias will probably distort their perception. Lindzey edited several volumes entitled “A History of Psychology in Autobiography”, the implications of which are obvious. Of the personality theorists reviewed by Schultz, starting with Freud and including Jung, Adler, Horney, Fromn, Murray, Allport, Cattell, Erikson, Rogers, Maslow, Kelly, Skinner, Bandura, and Rotter, reviewed their early lives as a possible reflection of their theories of personality. Of the 18 theorists reviewed by Schultz, only six could be viewed as having an early formative life within a normal range. Two-thirds of those reviewed had clearly dysfunctional parents, stressful environments, separated from a normal social interaction. All of the early theorists (Freud, Jung, Adler, et. al) fall into this category.
Typically Cattell was also in the minority of personality theorists in that by his own and others estimations, he had a very happy childhood and boyhood in a seaside resort environment with many boyhood friends who shared his enthusiasm for playing on the rugged coast, beaches, and boats. Aside from a rivalry with his older brother in which Cattell’s superior intellect was one source of this rivalry, his frequent fighting with his brother probably contributed to Cattell’s feisty and competitive nature which seasons most of his scientific writing.
Cattell, who was an avid reader,
was well versed in the maritime lore of Devon and the historic Devonian
heroes, which included Raleigh and Drake. The world explorer Cook also
embarked upon his worldly voyages and explorations from Devon. Cattell
embraced the spirit of exploration, diligence and perseverance throughout
his life and scientific work, embracing the single-minded diligence of
these nautical pathfinders.
Wild Oceans bride, in gorgeous hues engowned,
Alembicked of the spume! Her children’s toys
Are emerald coombes, lone golden coves, a mound
Of amethystine moor. The vaulting hills their joys,
And last the bosom of the warm red earth.
She calls their manhood with their far-off gleams
On granite tors, and brings strange pride to birth,
‘Neath misty, silver rain,her cloak of dreams.
They keep the faith, whether they humbly mould
Quiet ploughmen’s cots, white seabirds in the vale;
Or beauty-maddened scorning Time and Death,
Burn ‘cross the earth her name in valour’s gold.
Fare forth to found new worlds with questing sail;
Or sing immortal truths with mortal breath.
Cattell’s career could best be pursued in America and largely in the Midwest with the enabling resources of the University of Illinois with its then powerful Illiac computer. The fertile but flat lands of Illinois had few distractions for him, perhaps abetting his diligent charting of the psychological landscape. Throughout his life he always cast a longing eye towards Devon. He missed no opportunity to visit his family and boyhood home, accepting many academic and scholarly invitations to England in which he always managed a homecoming. When writing a personal memoir, a prologue to a festschrift tribute to his work by colleagues and associates, he entitled it “The Voyage of a Laboratory”, 1928 – 1984. He had considered the title “Sails for Atlantis” too metaphorical. It observed that “the great prophet of science, Sir Francis Bacon, who saw the lost yet timeless, Atlantis as a land of superior knowledge and rationality”.
In 1957 while on a round-the-world trip, Cattell first set eyes on Hawaii sailing into Honolulu. “I had scarcely got ashore when a strange feeling came over me that after all the diverse places I had been in, I was now back home in Devonshire. The sea smelled the same; the tradewinds wafted from the hills a fragrance such as comes on a Devonshire summer breeze – but more potent... The Kolau mountain range, going up to just the same height as Dartmoor and with the same volcanic sweep to rocky ‘tors’, call to me from the background just as Dartmoor does when you sail into Plymouth Sound … thus, Hawaii greeted me at once with the unmistakably old familiar feeling. It was Devon dressed more luxuriously with a greater abundance of flowers and with Devon’s oceanic tempered climate brought to a caressing year-round equable 75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit”. His decision to retire in Hawaii “will seem a monstrous piece of treason in a man so attached to the Devon of his childhood, and who had taken it for granted he would go back there”. He further explained to his fellow Devonians, in an epilogue through a reprinting of his “Under Sail Through Red Devon” 50 years after the first, “I had, as Sir Francis Bacon put it ‘given hostages to fortune, in the persons of four children born in America considered it as did their American mother to be home’. In his 70th year, his intention was realized but not for retirement. For many years he continued to direct research, and conduct graduate study programs at the University of Hawaii. He observed several noted predecessors visiting Pacific Islands such as Gaugin and R.L. Stevenson as setting the style and that others like Mark Twain, Rupert Brooke, and Somerset Maugham, managing to return home but with part of their souls missing. He further observed that a fellow Devonian, Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the earth (and later a good mayor of Plymouth) set such a course across the Pacific that he missed the Hawaiian Islands. “I say fortunately because had he felt that the Islands were a bigger and better Devon, he might never have returned to help save England from the Spanish Armada. Another famous English seaman to visit here was Captain Cook. His failure to return was not due to a romantic attachment but because according to reliable investigation, he was eaten by the natives. This they seemed to have done believing he was a god, and on the principles that one acquires some qualities of the thing eaten (the bullishness of Bovril, for example). They were aspiring to higher things.” He concludes “it is a wonderful place in which to spends one’s declining years, where snow is unknown except on the tips of the 12,000-foot mountains and where the aloha spirit of mutual helpfulness prevails. And for me and mine it continues for in its steady tradewinds in the palm fronds I breathe the oceanic breath of Devonshire”.
Cattell returned to the sea whenever possible. In his earlier years in the United States he cruised the Coast of New England maintaining a detailed log and mapping his voyage with annotations. Later, while at the University of Illinois, summers were spent on Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod where he kept a small sailboat. Naturally, he continued his writing for many hours each day, but the proximity of the ocean and a few hours sailing with his children were invigorating and sustaining for him. His love of the sea and sailing were imparted to his two sons who are active sailors. One of his three daughters is a psychologist.
After his marriage to Heather Birkett he spent the last years of his life continuing to be active in research and writing social commentary. The Cattells lived on a lagoon in the southeast corner of Oahu in which he kept a small sailing boat. It was with reluctance and sadness that his sailing was belayed in his sunset years as even his sailing the lagoon became a navigational challenge and a concern for his loving and caring wife. However, he continued to enjoy many sunsets from his patio facing westward over the lagoon in his twilight years. He died peacefully at home in Honolulu on February 2, 1998, at the age of 92. He is buried in the Valley of the Temples on a hillside overlooking the sea.
1. Cattell, R.B. The Voyage of a Laboratory: 1928 – 1984. Multivariate Behavioral Research: 1984 19 (2-3) pp. 121 - 174
There is additional biographical information on the Tributes page, contributed by:
Prof. Irwin A. Berg
Prof. Dennis Child
Prof. Ralph Mason Dreger