British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology (1998), Volume 51, pp. 353-357
Writing an obituary is hard enough: doing it for one of the giants of twentieth century psychology is near to impossible. Ray Cattell was prolific both in width and depth and one cannot possibly do justice to his extensive and searching contribution and the substantial impact this will have on psychology for decades to come. I hope readers will forgive me for indulging in anecdotes to illustrate how I saw this great man
Raymond Bernard Cattell was born in Hill Top, West Bromwich, England on the 20 March. 1905. His father was an engineer and they soon moved to Torquay, Devon where Ray was raised. He won a scholarship to Torquay Boys' Grammar School (1915-21) and his name appears second on their Role of Honour board as having won a county scholarship in 1921 to University College, London to read chemistry where he obtained a B.Sc. 1st class honours in 1924 at the ripe old age of 19,
At this point in his life, it looked as though he was heading for a
career in the natural sciences, but like so many science graduates in the
first half of this century he became attracted by psychology and the many
untapped possibilities of applying the scientific method to human problems.
I know from my time working with him in the early 1970's that great men
intrigued him and he was very keen on reading biography. We sometimes spoke
of the impact of particular discoveries. As a chemist he
was especially taken by Mendeléeffs classification of the elements, which brought order out of multivariate chaos with such consummate ease. It is not difficult to see the appeal of factor analysis. Perhaps central to all 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.
London at that time had its fair share of key figures in the development of mathematical and statistical psychology. Burt. Fisher and Spearman were three and the last two were within a stone's throw of where Cattell was in college. He registered for a doctorate at King's college in 1914 (the year of his B.Sc.) with Aveling as his supervisor in the latter's Psychological Laboratory. The topic was the Subjective Character of Cognition-and the Pre-sensational Development of Perception. The idea had sprung from work done at University College by Spearman, who provided references and presumably discussed the issues with Cattell- He was awarded the degree in 1929.
Armed with his doctorate, he taught psychology in the Department of Education and Psychology at University College, Exeter from 1929 and my strong impression is that he was bored to death with the 'gradgrind'. It was a distraction from the research fires burning inside him. He had a lifelong belief that research and teaching should be kept apart with departments or institutions dedicated to one or the other. As far as I could detect, he did not like teaching classes, although one to one was fine. He also believed that undergraduates were quite capable of coping with multivariate methods and that we should not underrate them. He had a lovely, if wicked, sense of humour. When we were engaged in writing Motivation and Dynamic Structure, and I was trying hard to simplify and make intelligible his rather complex theory of motivation, he used to tease me. 'Dennis.' he would say, 'you've got it wrong. You ought to be raising them to your level not lowering yourself to theirs'.
Very few people know that he was also awarded a London M.A. degree in Education in 1932 whilst teaching at Exeter. The subject, Temperament Tests and Perseveration, was probably his first systematic statement about personality structure. There followed the first tests of temperament in 1933. As a separate enterprise, he also designed a series of intelligence tests which appeared in 1930.
It was during the three years at Exeter that the first seeds of his life's enterprise were planted. He wanted to take the psychological world by storm and research new territories untouched by others. At this point he knew what it was-apply the techniques of factor analysis to personality and motivation. All these bright ideas came in no time at all: but it took him a lifetime to get them into a shape with which he felt moderately comfortable.
In 1932 he got the post of Director of the School Psychological Services and Clinic in Leicester, an innovation at that time outside London. He admitted to feeling a fraud as a clinical' psychologist, although it gave him his first opportunities to develop and apply tests of personality. But again, he did not like the nine-to-five mentality required of the post. Research opportunities had to be stolen rather than given.
He loved the whole process of getting his work published. The first signs of the infection must have been in late adolescence. By 1930, when he was just 25, he had at least six publications under his belt-the Cattell Group Intelligence Scale mentioned above, a monograph (The Subjective Character of Cognition) and four research papers, two of which were on psycho-galvanic reflex research (his Ph.D. topic). During that year, he did a translation of Kretschmer's The Psychology of Men of Genius. Those London graduates old enough to remember (I'm one!) will recall that we had to translate questions in French and German for the finals of bachelors' degrees in science subjects, hence his sufficient understanding of German to do the translation.
Recent counts of his output give estimates of 50 books and 500 research papers, chapters and monographs. I remember he would come into the 'lab' at the University of Illinois (officially the Laboratory of Personality and Group Analysis) bearing boundless 'gifts' of audio-tapes for the typist. She couldn't type it and we certainly couldn't read it fast enough before the next episode arrived the following day.
"The important break came as a result of E. L. Thorndike reading a paper Cattell had written on social mobility and intelligence. He was invited by Thorndike, at Columbia University, to a research associateship for a year in 1937. He used to tell me that he was very unhappy about going to America and found his first year there quite stressful. He always conveyed the image of an Englishman in a foreign land. Nevertheless, he never returned to Britain except for professional or family reasons.
When he moved in 1937, Britain had barely recovered from a depression and was about to get involved in an expensive war. This just was not the financial climate for Cattell's ambitious researches.
This idea of inviting people who were hooked on research and writing appealed to Cattell. If it had not, many psychologists throughout the world would never have seen the inside of the 'lab' at Illinois- Having been through it himself, he knew what to look for when hunting out research 'junkies'.
The G. Stanley Hall professorship in Psychology fell vacant at Clark University in 1938 and Cattell got it. He was now 34 years of age, but, unsettled, he quickly moved to a lectureship at Harvard until 1941 when he was, invited to join a team of psychologists in the Adjutant General's Office by M. W. Richardson (you will remember the Kuder-Richardson formula) looking at objective personality tests for officer selection. And this was the beginning of the personality treasure hunt for which he is best remembered. He found this experience one of the most rewarding of his career. They had practical issues to resolve and they did not have time to waste. All their energies had to be concentrated on the task in hand. Though difficult to retrieve, much of the data from this research formed the basis of the early personality factors.
With the end of the second world war and the demise of the research, he might have been faced with redundancy. Not so, for Herbert Woodrow, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and President of the APA was looking for someone to head a research department with a particular interest in multivariate methods. Cattell was invited to become the research professor in 1945 and he accepted. Ray Cattell had landed. This post was to see him to retirement in 1973 and was to become the world's most active and productive centre in multivariate experimental psychology.
One cannot stress too much the staggering productivity of these years at Illinois. The number of important researchers throughout the world which he invited or influenced is exceptional. He was like a comet leaving behind a trail of fruitful ideas and minor psychologists each carrying their little spots of light. He was loyal to those he respected and his books are littered with long lists of those co-workers who had contributed to his theories. He would also, quite understandably, continue to exploit them long after they left the lab whenever he wanted to further a research cause. Jokingly, he would remark that it often did them more good than the cause!
Thomas Edison once said that genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, Cattell was no exception. He was a very hard worker, Those close to him will know his routines. He seemed to be a midnight oil burner rather than an early bird wormcatcher. One of many rods he made for his back was 'rotoplot'-a manual method of shifting the reference axes for an oblique factor analytical solution. This involved 'eyeballing' and possibly moving the axes (which equal the number of variables in a matrix). This was often repeated dozens of times for a particular Matrix and as he didn't think many people had 'the eye' for it, he tended to do most himself.
His expectations of others were equally that they should totally dedicate themselves to the cause. When we were planning our book, he was near to retirement and was particularly busy trying to tie together a large amount of unfinished research business. By retirement I mean completion of full-time paid employment, not stopping his lifelong ambitions in psychology. There was so much he wanted to accomplish before leaving Illinois, and all the facilities it offered, that his final years were frenetic. Opportunities to see him were limited and our most productive work was done either walking round a local park (so that we could get exercise) or swimming in the university pool. He and I were both fairly accomplished swimmers of the 'side-stroke'. Fortunately, I was left-handed and he right-handed so that we could do several lengths of the baths, side-by-side, planning the next section of our book. If that isn't economy of effort. what is?
The mammoth task which he set himself was never completed, despite the fact that teaching and administration at Illinois were voluntary and all his energies could be devoted to research. His major concern was to map out an integrated theory of human intellectual, temperamental and motivational characteristics within the context of hereditary and environmental influences using multivariate methods of analysis. In addition, he put forward a learning theory, several statistical innovations, particularly in factor analysis, and the application of personality in psychotherapy. In trying to get there, he had to design valid and reliable measures, try them on appropriate samples and find the most effective way of analysing the resulting data. Like a true scientist, he was meticulous on all these fronts. The dynamism he generated way back in the 1930s when he was busy designing items and tests lasted him a lifetime.
Perhaps he is best known for his personality tests such as the 16PF, HSPQ, CPQ (Children's Personality Questionnaire), CAQ (Clinical Analysis Questionnaire), 8 State Scales, and so on. But this hides the extraordinary width of his contributions in psychology. To mention just a few, within human ability he designed non-verbal tests and presented a theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence which is now widely applied. In motivation theory, he and co-workers designed the adult Motivation Analysis Test (the MAT) and a junior version (School Motivation Analysis Test). He once confided to me that he thought the MAT was more useful than Freudian psychotherapy techniques. 'Get them on the MAT, not on the couch', he would impishly say.
To demonstrate the depth of his work, one only need look at the list of new concepts he introduced, many in statistics. He and his colleagues gave us terms such as data-box, P, R and dR techniques, dynamic lattice, Sten, Procrustes and confactor rotation, rotoplot, conspect reliability, fluid and crystallized intelligence, ergic tension, instrument factors, the MAVA method (Multiple Abstract Variance Analysis), plasmodes, L-, Q- and T-data, Maxplane, transferability coefficient, tri-vector learning, integrated and unintegrated motivation components, state-trait theory, etc.
Whilst most of those reaching official retirement are gradually cooling off from their life's work, Cattell was powering away at full steam writing, researching, supervising research students, corresponding with anyone interested in furthering the Cattellian view of psychology, travelling to other countries on consultancies, etc. From 1973 to 78 he continued to work from Boulder, Colorado before moving to Hawaii where he held honorary positions in the university. He did not allow heart problems to get in the way of his life's mission to substantiate his earlier work. My last letter from him, towards the end of 1997 when he was 92, was still enquiring about the redesign of the MAT and the possible formation of a British Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology.
He died peacefully at home in Honolulu on 2 February, 1998, aged 92 and is buried in the Valley of the Temples. He married four times. He is survived by his fourth wife, Heather, two sons, three daughters, a stepson, a stepdaughter and seven grandchildren.
The world has lost a genius. Fortunately, he left behind a rich harvest
of well documented ideas which will keep psychologists busy for many
generations to come.
Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology, University of Leeds