Lewis Madison Terman

Lewis Madison Terman (1877-1956) was an eminent American psychologist who is most noted for his profound and lasting impact on the measurement of intelligence and achievement in the United States and for his seminal studies of children of high intelligence.

Lewis Madison Terman was born on a farm in Johnson County, Indiana, on January 15, 1877. He was the 12th of 14 children. Though he did not dislike farming, he loved to read and had a pressing desire for education. When he was 15 he left the farm to enter Central Normal College at Danville, Illinois. Following two years of study there, he taught for one year in a one-room schoolhouse. For several years he cycled through periodic schooling followed by borrowing money or teaching to earn enough money to return to college. He acquired B.S., B. PD., and A.B. degrees from Indiana University and a doctoral degree from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He died of tuberculosis on December 21, 1956.

Terman is most well remembered for his accomplishments in intelligence and achievement testing and for his classic longitudinal research on gifted children. Early in his career as professor of psychology and of education at Stanford University Terman studied the then new Binet-Simon Scale of Intelligence and developed it for use in the United States. Published in 1916 as the Stanford-Binet, the revision of the French intelligence test was the first important and widely used individual intelligence test in the United States. It was described in his book The Measurement of Intelligence: An Explanation of and a Complete Guide for the Use of the Stanford Revision and Extension of the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale (1916). The Stanford-Binet became a standard against which other intelligence tests were still measured in the mid-1980s. Working with other psychologists during World War I, Terman was largely responsible for the first notable group intelligence tests, the Army Alpha and the Army Beta. Terman also published the Terman Group Test of Mental Ability (1920), and he co-authored the Stanford Achievement Test, which was revised many times and continued to be widely used in the 1980s.

Terman defined intelligence as "the ability to carry on abstract thinking" (Journal of Educational Psychology, 1921) and used the label IQ or Intelligence Quotient, which had been suggested earlier by the German psychologist William Stern. The IQ obtained from the Stanford-Binet was calculated by dividing the individual's mental age (obtained from the test) by chronological age and then multiplying by 100. An average IQ is 100.

Terman's classic research on gifted children began in 1921 when he started to study the development of 1, 500 California children whose IQs were over 140. Scores over 140 fall into the top 0.5 percent of the population. Terman followed the 1, 500 children at later times in their childhood and in adulthood for the rest of his life, with follow-up surveys conducted in 1930, 1947, and, posthumously, in 1959 when the individuals were 17, 35, and 45. Research on the same group of individuals is still being conducted by other psychologists and may continue for many more years.

Terman's studies undoubtedly are still the most recognized and frequently quoted research on the gifted. Some say his most significant contribution to education and psychology was the multi-volume Genetic Studies of Genius (volumes from 1925 to 1929). His last progress report on this continuing study was The Gifted Child Grows Up (1947).

Among Terman's most interesting findings from his study of the development of gifted children were that they tended to be healthier and more stable emotionally than the average child and that intellect and later life achievement were not highly related—the gifted children later pursued a wide range of occupations.

Terman's interest in scientific measurement was also exemplified in his lesser known development of scales of masculinity, of femininity, and of marital happiness. He used such scales to address research issues such as the development of masculinity and femininity over time, links between the degrees of masculinity or femininity and various occupations, and factors contributing to marital happiness.


Further Reading on Lewis Madison Terman

Biographical Memoirs (National Academy of Sciences, 1959) gives an excellent and comprehensive account of Terman's life and work. The International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences (1968) also provides a concise summary on Terman and his research. Perhaps the best account of Terman's life up to 1931 is autobiographical, found in L. M. Terman, A History of Psychology in Autobiography (1932). The Encyclopedia of Educational Research (1982) cites Terman's work and his contributions to education and psychology in the context of other related work and from an historical perspective. An appraisal of his contributions is in E. R. Hilgard, "Lewis Madison Terman: 1877-1956, " American Journal of Psychology 70 (1957). Later results from the ongoing study of the 1, 500 gifted children are presented alongside a portrayal of Terman's life and his conclusions regarding gifted people in Psychology Today 13 (February 1980).


Additional Biography Sources

Minton, Henry L., Lewis M. Terman: pioneer in psychological testing, New York: New York University Press, 1988.