Cognitive Assessment

Cattell’s thoughts about Spearman

Raymond Cattell studied with Charles Spearman. From Cattell’s (1974) autobiography, we can see that Spearman’s gratitude toward his mentor Wundt was repaid with the same level of gratitude and respect from Cattell:

Great men intrigue me, with something of the feeling one gets before a lofty mountain or other magnificent nature a spectacle but with more significance. Despite a marked shyness as a young man, I have been privileged to know rather well several men in psychology and associated areas I would call great or near-great—Spearman, Sir Cyril Burt, Haldane, Sir Ronald Fisher, Sir Godfrey Thomson, Thurstone, Thorndike, Terman, Lashley….It is not my purpose to try any ranking among them—their virtues are too diverse—but Spearman was uniquely great. He conveyed on the one hand, a sense of historical depth of scholarship, and on the other, an almost naïve freshness of approach. He would take up a conversation as if he had just been talking to Plato, and then stagger you with sharp experimental novelty that no contemporary psychologist had thought of. For this unworldly and absent-minded man, life was pared down to essentials: the fascinated pursuit of truth, the encountering of life’s absurdities by a sanity of droll humor, and an affection for family and coworkers. (p. 65)

Cattell (1987) also relates this fun story about his mentor giving a talk about the importance of specific abilities:

An anecdote of that meeting may be of interest as illustrating the absent-mindedness of a great theorist. Before a large audience Spearman reeled off, without writing on the chalk board, the various complex formulae supporting his main theoretical position. Perceiving the expressions of the audiences, the present writer, as research assistant to Spearman, ventured to put a piece of chalk in his hand. He held it faithfully to the end of the hour and then, saying, “And this is what I call the theory of ‘g’,” he wrote one small and very solitary “g” in the middle of the large board! (p. 31)

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