Louis Leon Thurstone

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Louis Leon Thurstone

The American psychologist Louis Leon Thurstone (1887-1955) was universally heralded as the most renowned psychometrician of his time. He led the way in mental measurement and testing through quantitative methods.

Louis Leon Thurstone, whose original family name was Thünström, was born on May 29, 1887, in Chicago. He attended school in various places in the United States as well as in Stockholm. In high school, at Jamestown, N.Y., he experimented with musical composition; mastered three typewriter keyboards; wrote a letter, published by Scientific American, on a problem of diversion of water from Niagara Falls; invented a method of trisecting an angle; and developed a talent for sketching into a lifelong hobby of photography. At Cornell University, from which he received an engineering degree, Thurstone designed a patented motion picture projector that was later demonstrated in the laboratory of Thomas Edison, with whom Thurstone worked briefly as an assistant.

Thurstone's first teaching experience, in the College of Engineering at the University of Minnesota, stimulated his interest in the learning process and human abilities. Hence he pursued a doctorate in psychology (1917) at the University of Chicago, to which he returned in 1924 to found his first psychometric laboratory after a brief but productive period at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Upon his retirement from the University of Chicago in 1952, he continued his work at the University of North Carolina, where what is now the L. L. Thurstone Psychometric Laboratory was established.

Thurstone's major books and monographs are The Nature of Intelligence (1924), The Fundamentals of Statistics (1925), The Measurement of Attitude (1929, coauthored with E. J. Chave), The Reliability and Validity of Tests (1931), The Vectors of Mind (1935), Primary Mental Abilities (1938), Factorial Studies of Intelligence (1941, coauthored with his wife, Thelma Gwinn Thurstone), A Factorial Study of Perception (1944), and Multiple-factor Analysis (1947). A collection of important papers, all provocative contributions, is contained in The Measurement of Values (1959). In 1936 he and his followers founded the Psychometric Society and a journal, Psyckometrika, to promote the development of psychology as a quantitative rational science.

The most notable work by Thurstone was in the areas of test theory, psychological scaling, attitude measurement, and multiple-factor analysis—a set of techniques now applicable well beyond the realm of psychology. Yet he tackled many problems in psychological measurement and seems never to have failed to bring them nearer to solution. His great attraction for students and their creative work, even to the second and third generations, are already legendary. On Sept. 29, 1955, Thurstone, died in Chapel Hill, N. C.

Further Reading

Biographies of Thurstone are J. P. Guilford, Louis Leon Thurstone, 1887-1955 (1957), and Dorothy A. Wood, Louis Leon Thurstone (1962). □