If we talk about characters extremely relevant to the development of psychology, it is likely that a large number of possible names come from multiple disciplines, including Wilhelm Wundt, Brentano, Freud, William James or Beck. Generally it is usually thought of famous figures for the elaboration of theoretical contents about the mind or different aspects of the psyche.
However, they are equally important those that led to the development of methods and elements, or that directly began, the possibility of operationalizing and being able to measure something as abstract as mental abilities. Francis Galton, one of the most known and important in this sense, of whom we will now see a biography.
Brief biography of Francis Galton
Francis Galton was born in the English city of Birmingham, on February 16, 1822, as the seventh and youngest of the banker’s sons Samuel Tertius Galton and Frances Anne Violetta Darwin (aunt of Charles Darwin, with which Francis Galton and this one were cousins).
Of wealthy and socially recognized family by both branches (also his grandfather was a renowned physicist, Erasmus Darwin), the young Galton would grow up in an intellectual environment and able to provide a quality formal education. Since childhood he said he was intellectually precocious, being able to read from two years in English and having knowledge in mathematics relatively advanced to the five. The latter would become a matter of great interest to young Galton.
Years of training
His education during the first years of life was spent in schools in Birmingham until 1836, when he would enter to study at King Edward’s School. However, he would leave the school at sixteen. Shortly after, he would study medicine (largely at the insistence of his parents) at the Birmingham General Hospital, after which he studied mathematics at King’s College, University of London.
Also, and after making a trip to different cities and European capitals, in 1840 he would resume his medical studies at Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. Unfortunately, in 1844 Galton’s father passed away, an event would be very painful. That same year he would finish his medical studies, graduating.
Travel and evolution as a researcher
Having finished his medical career and not having to depend on his health profession due to the inheritance received, Galton decided to make several trips to explore Africa, including Egypt and Sudan, joining the Royal Geographical Society.
During these trips would be documented to carry out books based on their experiences that would be published after 1850 and would be considered best sellers (making contributions and discoveries in the process). Also it would be formed in geography and meteorology, arriving to publish later (in 1863) the pioneer book in which it would coin the anticyclone term and that in fact would give beginning to the scientific meteorology, Metereographica.
In 1853 he would meet and later marry Louisa Jane Butler, a relationship that would last a lifetime. However, the couple would not be able to have children, something that meant a great life crisis that the author attributed to possible sterility. This last event, together with the existence of conflicts with the Royal Geographical Society and the appearance of the book of his cousin Charles Darwin, the well-known The Origin of Species, would end up unleashing in Galton the desire to study biology.
One of Galton’s most well-known contributions to the world of biology and derived from both previous experiences and the reading of his cousin’s book was the attempt 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 be elements of inheritance, as well as the possibility of seeking an application of the principles of natural selection to favor the evolution of the species.
It would therefore give rise to the beginnings of eugenics, considering how, as with animals, humans could be crossed to encourage those considered the best characteristics. The term eugenics itself would be coined in 1883, in its Human Faculty publication.
In 1884 it would create the first anthropometric laboratory in which the first physical and mental measurements would be carried out (being technically also the first psychometric laboratory).
Studies of heritability and individual differences
He would also explore the differences between the inherited and the learned, linking them in such a way that he considered that the union of both was linked both to the physical and psychic faculties.
Galton was also the first to quantify the idea of standard variations, the regression line, and the normal distribution. He would even be a pioneer in elaborating the concept of correlation, although it would be his disciple Pearson who would end up generating the much-used Pearson correlation coefficient today.
Also, it would be one of the first to investigate intelligence and the measurement of its heritability. Studying the distribution of intelligence and other features in the population would reach the conclusion that these tend to have a normal distribution in the population, most having similar capabilities and close to the average 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 founded the journal Biometrika with Pearson and Weldon. In 1904 he expounded his theories on eugenics in the Sociological Society, his speech later being published in the American Journal of Sociology and founding the Galton Laboratory. Three years later the Eugenics Education Society was founded.
He also studied the heritability of the traits considered most relevant by research with twins, in order to assess whether intelligence and other psychic traits were inherited or was the product of education (studying for example if the fact that the most powerful stood out was more either by the possibility of receiving a formal education or by transmitting these skills.
Death and legacy
The contributions of Francis Galton are enormous in the field of science, even receiving for them the title of Sir in 1909. However, with the passage of time would end up contracting tuberculosis, a disease that would end his life on 17 January 1911, in Surrey.
The legacy of this controversial and prolific author is broad. Being the father of psychometry, his studies have allowed over time 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 the inheritance of psychic abilities and individual differences are partly possible thanks to their contributions.
Unfortunately, not all of their studies have been used in a positive way, their original purpose being misrepresented in an interested way: some studies on eugenics have unfortunately been used negatively for years to defend racist ideologies like those of the Nazis.