views updated


(b. Franklin, Indiana, 15 January 1877;

d. Palo Alto, California, 21 December 1956), psychology, education, mental testing, human sexuality.

Terman was one of the leaders in the development of psychological tests that measured individual and group differences. He played a major role in establishing the use of intelligence and achievement tests in American schools. His most noteworthy research dealt with the intellectually gifted.

Early Life and Professional Training. Lewis M. Terman was born and raised on a farm in central Indiana, the twelfth of James William and Martha’s fourteen children. He went to a one-room school, completing the eighth grade when he was twelve. He was determined to continue his education, but with no high school near his home, the only avenue open for higher education was teacher training at a normal college. Terman was fifteen before his parents were able to pay for his education; he then enrolled at Central Normal College in Danville, Indiana. At seventeen, with basic teacher preparation achieved, he obtained his first teaching position and four years later he became a high school principal. Over a six-year period, he earned three undergraduate degrees at the normal college. During his teacher training, he met fellow student Anna Belle Minton (no relation to this author), whom he married in 1899.

With aspirations beyond school teaching, Terman entered Indiana University in 1901, earning a master’s degree in psychology in two years. With the encouragement of his Indiana mentor Ernest H. Lindley, he proceeded to doctoral studies in 1903 at Clark University under the direction of G. Stanley Hall, one of the early leaders in American psychology. For his dissertation, Terman conducted an experimental study of mental tests, comparing the performance of a “bright” and a “dull” group of ten- to thirteen-year-old boys. Because Hall did not approve of mental tests, Edmund C. Sanford supervised his dissertation, and Terman obtained his PhD in 1905. Hall, however, influenced Terman’s thinking about the nature of intelligence. Consistent with Hall’s evolutionary perspective on individual and group differences, Terman assumed that mental tests measured native ability.

While studying at Clark, Terman became ill with tuberculosis. Although he made a successful recovery, he decided to seek employment in a warm climate. With his graduate work completed, he accepted a position as a high school principal in San Bernardino, California. A year later, he was able to attain more intellectually challenging work, teaching child study and pedagogy at the Los Angeles State Normal School. In 1910 he received an appointment at prestigious Stanford University’s education department. He spent the rest of his career at Stanford, becoming head of the psychology department in 1922, a position he held until his retirement in 1942.

Mental Test Pioneer. The move to Stanford in 1910 coincided with Terman’s full recovery from tuberculosis, and he was thus able to take on a more active academic workload. He resumed his earlier research in mental testing and began to work with Alfred Binet’s 1908 scale, the first widely accepted measure of intelligence. Henry H. Goddard had published translations from the French of Binet’s original 1905 scale and the subsequent 1908 revision. Terman’s first tentative revision of the Binet appeared in 1912 and with the assistance of a team of graduate students, the final version—the “Stanford-Binet”—was published in 1916. An innovative feature of the Stanford-Binet was the inclusion of a total score in the form of an “Intelligence Quotient” or IQ—that is, the ratio between mental and chronological ages—a concept first introduced by the German psychologist William Stern, but not previously used in mental tests. The mental age represented test performance based on age norms. While there were several competitive versions, Terman’s revision of the Binet utilized the largest standardized sample and by the 1920s became the most widely used individually administered intelligence test.

With the publication of the Stanford-Binet, Terman became a highly visible figure in the American mental testing movement. Reflecting his reputation, he was invited in 1917 to serve on a committee that had been assembled at the Vineland Training School for the mentally retarded in New Jersey to develop mental tests for the U.S. Army. The United States had entered World War I and Robert M. Yerkes, the president of the American Psychological Association, organized the psychologists’ contribution to the war effort. Yerkes chaired the testing committee, and the membership was made up of the leading psychologists in the mental testing field. Terman brought with him a new group-administered version of the Stanford-Binet that had been developed by his graduate student, Arthur S. Otis. The Otis test served as the basis for the construction of the army group tests (the Alpha and Beta examinations). While serious questions have been raised about the significance of the psychologists’ contribution to the war, it is clear that the war provided an enormous boost for the mental testing movement. Approximately 1.75 million men were tested, and on this basis, recommendations were made with regard to job placements or immediate discharge from the army. The major weakness of the army testing program was the psychologists’ failure to incorporate the impact of cultural differences on tested intelligence. Thus, the lower IQ scores earned by foreign-born and poor native-born soldiers were interpreted as reflecting low levels of native ability rather than other factors such as limited acculturation and schooling. Terman, like the other members of the army testing committee, adhered to the assumption that mental abilities were primarily a product of heredity.

Mass Testing in the Schools. After the war, Terman seized upon the contribution of the army tests to military efficiency and predicted that they would soon be universally used in the schools. To achieve this goal, Terman and the other psychologists who constructed the army tests adapted them for school-age children. The resulting “National Intelligence Tests” for grades three to eight were published in 1920. Terman became an advocate for the use of intelligence tests as a means of reorganizing schools so that pupils could be classified into homogeneous ability groups. He worked closely with the National Education Association, which in 1918 had opted for a differentiated curriculum—a policy aimed at bringing order out of the chaos of a burgeoning population of schoolchildren, swelled by large numbers of recent immigrants. Thus, during the 1920s, intelligence testing and the tracking system of ability grouping became common practice in schools and Terman played a central role in fostering these programs.

Terman was also a leader in the development of standardized group achievement tests, which measured school learning. With a team of Stanford colleagues, he produced the first achievement test battery—the Stanford Achievement Test. Terman viewed the widespread adoption of tests in the schools as a reflection of how testing could benefit American society. It was to be a major means of achieving his vision of a meritocracy within the American democratic ideal—a social order based on ranked levels of native ability. As a measure of native ability, intelligence tests could identify children who were cognitively gifted and therefore had the potential to emerge as leaders of society. Once these children were identified, it was the responsibility of the schools to devote the necessary time and effort to cultivate their intellectual talent.

The Study of the Gifted. To fulfill his meritocratic goals and supported by a research grant from the Commonwealth Fund of New York, Terman launched a longitudinal study of gifted children in 1921. This was an innovative project because it was the first investigation to use a large sample of subjects who were followed over the course of several years. The criterion for categorizing gifted children was an IQ of at least 135, which constituted the highest 1 percent of the distribution of IQ scores. With a pool of more than a quarter-million school-children in California public schools, Terman and his research team selected elementary and secondary schools in urban areas. To further the efficiency of the selection process, the researchers relied on teacher nominations of the “brightest” pupils in their classes. The resulting sample of approximately 1,500 gifted children thus turned out to be largely white and middle-class. Terman, however, did not appear to be sensitive to the bias inherent in teacher nominations, because he attributed race and class differences primarily to heredity.

In an effort to dispel the popular notion that gifted children were underdeveloped in nonintellectual areas, Terman included medical and physical assessments, as well as measures of personality, character, and interests. The gifted sample was compared with a control group of California schoolchildren of comparable age. In the first of a series of monographs on the gifted study, the major finding was that gifted children excelled in measures of academic achievement when matched with age for control children. The composite portrait of the gifted children also revealed that they were emotionally as well as intellectually mature.

Based on these initial findings, Terman strongly advocated a differentiated school curriculum that would place gifted children in special classrooms where they could accelerate academically according to their ability rather than their age. With additional research funding, Terman followed up his gifted sample for a period of thirty-five years. At midlife, as reported in a 1959 monograph, the intellectual level of the gifted group continued to be within the upper 1 percent of the general population, and their occupational achievement was well above the average of college graduates. Furthermore, as earlier reports had demonstrated, they showed few signs of such serious problems as insanity, delinquency, or alcoholism. The midlife report also included some striking gender differences. Whereas the men as a group had attained a high level of career success, few women had comparable levels of career achievement. As Terman noted, career opportunities for women were restricted by gender-role conformity and job discrimination.

Terman’s involvement with the gifted study entailed more than data collection and research reports. Particularly after he retired from teaching in 1942, he devoted himself to the interests of gifted children by promoting special education for the gifted and, through contacts with journalists, disseminated the results of the gifted study in newspapers and magazines. He also popularized his work by making guest appearances on the radio show “The Quiz Kids.” His appearance in 1947 coincided with the publication of the twenty-five year follow-up. By utilizing the public media, Terman aimed to eradicate the public’s negative stereotype of gifted children as maladjusted. In his work with the gifted, Terman experienced particular satisfaction with the personal contacts he was able to establish with some of the research participants. He maintained correspondence with many of them over the years and in some instances received them as guests in his own home. Thus, for a number of the gifted children who “grew up” and came to be labeled as “Termites,” he was a benevolent father figure and psychological counselor. By the early 1950s, with plans under way for the continuation of the gifted follow-up, Terman appointed Stanford colleague Robert R. Sears (who also happened to be a member of the gifted sample) to succeed him as research director. The gifted sample was thus followed up through late adulthood.

The Testing Debates. As one of the leading advocates of intelligence testing, Terman was often challenged by critics of the testing movement. These challenges began in the early 1920s when the results of the army testing became widely known. The influential journalist Walter Lipp-mann wrote a series of highly critical articles about the army tests in the New Republic. Lippmann singled out Terman because of his development of the Stanford-Binet and asserted that there was no foundation to support the assumption made by Terman and the other army psychologists that the tests measured innate ability. It should be noted that Lippmann did not simply rely on persuasive argument in challenging Terman: he specifically drew attention to what he believed were faulty interpretations of the data. Terman was enraged by Lippmann’s attack. Despite the technical sophistication of many of the criticisms, Terman in his published reply in the New Republic recommended that Lippmann, as a layman, should stay out of issues he was not informed about. In fact, Terman was quite evasive in responding to the points Lippmann raised, such as an environmental interpretation of the correlation between tested intelligence and social class.

During the 1920s Terman also engaged in a series of published debates about testing with psychologist William C. Bagley, another critic of the hereditarian view of intelligence. In an effort to resolve matters, Terman took on the task of chairing a committee that organized an edited book on the nature-nurture controversy. In this monograph, published in 1928, leading advocates on each side of the issue marshaled evidence and arguments, but as in previous exchanges, nothing was resolved.

In 1940 Terman was once again drawn into the nature-nurture debate, this time challenged by a team of environmental advocates at the University of Iowa led by George D. Stoddard. In a series of studies, the Iowa researchers reported that mental growth, as reflected by increases in IQ scores, was facilitated by school experience at both the preschool and elementary school levels. Their major conclusion was that IQ scores could be raised if children were exposed to environmentally stimulating conditions. Stoddard therefore argued that because of environmental influences intelligence tests should not be used to make long-term predictions; in essence, attacking the widespread use of intelligence tests in the schools as a means of sorting students into ability tracks. Terman viewed Stoddard’s position as a threat to his career objective of establishing a meritocracy based on IQ differences. The 1940 debate, as in the past, led to an impasse. Intelligence testing in the schools continued to be common practice. It would not be until the 1960s, as a consequence of the civil rights movement, that mass testing was seriously challenged. Terman did modify his position to some extent. In the 1930s, mindful of the racial propaganda of Nazi Germany, he resigned his long-standing membership in the American Eugenics Society. After World War II, although he still held to his democratic ideal of a meritocracy, he no longer supported a hereditarian explanation of race differences, and he acknowledged that among the gifted, home environment was related to degree of success.

Studies of Gender and Marital Adjustment. Terman’s interest in the study of individual and group differences extended beyond mental abilities and achievement. As a result of his research on the gifted, he became interested in measuring nonintellectual differences. By examining emotional and motivational characteristics, he sought to demonstrate that the gifted had well-adjusted and well-rounded personalities. To gain insight into this facet of human differences, he proceeded to measure gender identity, which was viewed as a composite of emotional and motivational traits that differentiated the sexes. By the 1910s psychologists had begun to study sex differences in motor, sensory, and intellectual abilities, but after a decade of inconclusive research results there was a shift of interest towards exploring broader concepts, such as the notions of masculinity and femininity. Terman tapped into this trend by identifying masculine and feminine interests from a questionnaire filled out by the gifted sample regarding their preferences for various play activities, games, and amusements. The initial survey conducted in 1922 revealed that the gifted and control children did not differ in gender orientation as derived from their activity preferences. In 1925 Terman was awarded a National Research Council grant to study sex differences and with his former student, Catharine Cox Miles, constructed a masculinity-femininity (M-F) test, the first measure of its kind. The final version, published in 1936 and labeled the “Attitude-Interest Analysis Test” to disguise its purpose, was based on normative samples of male and female groups ranging in age from early adolescence to late adulthood, although the core of the sample was high school juniors and college sophomores. The test consisted of approximately 450 multiple choice items that assessed preferences for a variety of activities and interests, as well as responses to emotionally-laden situations that might arouse feelings of anger or fear.

In an effort to validate the M-F test, Terman had the opportunity to collect test protocols from a group of male homosexuals in San Francisco who were motivated to volunteer for a team of scientists interested in studying them. As he expected, the results revealed that male homosexuals had high feminine scores. He thus concluded that marked deviations from gender-appropriate behaviors and norms were psychologically unhealthy because such deviation had the potential to lead to homosexuality. Even if this “maladjustment” did not develop, other problems could arise. Referring to those individuals with cross-gender identities in their 1936 monograph, “Sex and Personality: Studies in Masculinity and Femininity,” Terman and Miles opined, “One would like to know whether fewer of them marry, and whether a larger proportion of these marriages are unhappy” (p. 46). Underscoring this point, they commented that “aggressive and independent” females could very well be at a disadvantage in the “marriage market” (p. 452). They also expressed the concern that too much competition between the sexes would not be socially desirable. In essence, the authors supported the conventional patriarchal relationship between the sexes. (It is not clear the extent to which Catharine Cox Miles concurred with this position, because Terman acknowledged prime responsibility for the conclusions in their book.)

Terman’s conclusions on gender identity were based on the standardized norms he generated from his M-F test. The test represented the gender norms of the 1930s, but Terman was insensitive to the cultural and historical limits of his measure. He chose to emphasize the need to raise and train girls and boys so that they would conform to the existing gender norms that bolstered a clear distinction between the sexes. Consistent with his vision of a social order ranked by native ability, Terman professed that sex differences also had to follow a prescribed ranking. Paralleling the need to cultivate ability differences to meet the needs of an increasingly urban and industrialized society, he also stressed the necessity of ensuring compatible sex roles in times of social change. Many social scientists during the interwar era, mindful of the feminist challenge, preached the need for compatibility rather than conflict between the sexes.

Terman’s interest in gender identity and sex differences expanded to the study of marital adjustment. His attraction to exploring marriage was part of a growing trend among social scientists in the 1920s and 1930s to study and hence claim expertise on issues affecting families, including childrearing, sexuality, and marriage. In 1934 Terman conducted a large-scale survey of several hundred married and divorced couples in the San Francisco area. His major conclusion was that personality and social background factors were more influential than sexual compatibility in predicting marital happiness. This finding was contrary to previous studies that had argued that sexual compatibility was the key to marital success. Terman noted that this discrepancy was due to the fact that previous studies had neglected to consider psychological factors because they had been carried out by physicians and social workers. For Terman, this indicated the importance of psychologists being involved in the study of marital relations and human sexuality. In his study, Terman stressed that the key to marital adjustment was the extent to which each spouse accepted the other’s needs and feelings and did not push to get his or her own way. To emphasize this argument, he noted that happily married women could be characterized as being cooperative and accepting of their prescribed subordinate roles. Terman’s conventional views of gender carried over from his gender identity study to his marital research.

Terman’s Contributions and Legacy. Terman’s seminal contributions to the development of psychological testing and the study of the intellectually gifted ensure his position as one of the pioneers of American psychology. More than any of the other advocates of the testing movement, he was successful in devising a wide variety of methods assessing individual and group differences. His interest in the gifted led him to go far beyond the measurement of ability. As a result, he was in the forefront of developing indices of school achievement, gender identity, interests, marital adjustment, and sexual behavior. Aside from these personal accomplishments, Terman has left us with an unfulfilled legacy. What he wanted to achieve with his psychological tests and identification of the intellectually gifted was a more socially just and democratic society. A considerable part of Terman’s project, however, has had an unintended dehumanizing effect. For racial and ethnic minorities and lower-class individuals, his differential educational system based on IQ scores served as a barrier for personal growth and social advancement. His views on gender and homosexuality worked against the creation of a more pluralistic society. What Terman failed to understand was the intricate way in which scientific knowledge reflects social power. By uncritically accepting the power inequities of the American social order of his day, he produced scientific knowledge and technology that functioned to perpetuate the status quo.


The major archival resource is the Lewis M. Terman papers at the Stanford University Archives, Stanford University Libraries. A complete bibliography of Terman’s publications is included in Minton, cited below.


The Measurement of Intelligence. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1916.

The Stanford Revision and Extension of the Binet-Simon Scale for Measuring Intelligence. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1917.

The Intelligence of School Children. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1919.

Genetic Studies of Genius, Vol. 1, Mental and Physical Traits of a Thousand Gifted Children. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1925. The first in a series of monographs on the study of the gifted.

“Trails to Psychology.” In A History of Psychology in Autobiography, edited by Carl A. Murchison. Worcester, MA: Clark University Press, 1932. Terman’s autobiographical chapter.

With Catharine Cox Miles. Sex and Personality: Studies in Masculinity and Femininity. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1936.

With Maud A. Merrill. Measuring Intelligence. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1937.

Psychological Factors in Marital Happiness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1938.

With Melita H. Oden. Genetic Studies of Genius, Vol. 4: The Gifted Child Grows Up: Twenty-Five Years of Follow-Up of a Superior Group. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1947.

With Melita H. Oden. Genetic Studies of Genius, Vol. 5: The Gifted Child at Mid-Life: Thirty-Five Years of Follow-Up of the Superior Child. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1959.

With Robert R. Sears, Lee J. Cronbach, and Pauline S. Sears. “Terman Life-Cycle Study of Children with High Ability, 1922–1991.” Available from Final report of the study of the gifted.


Chapman, Paul Davis. Schools as Sorters: Lewis M. Terman, Applied Psychology, and the Intelligence Testing Movement, 1890–1930. New York: New York University Press, 1988.

Fancher, Raymond E. The Intelligence Men: Makers of the IQ Controversy. New York: W. W. Norton, 1985.

Gould, Stephen Jay. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. Includes a critical analysis of the mental testing movement.

Kimmel, Michael. Manhood in America: A Cultural History. New York: Free Press, 1996. Includes a critical analysis of Terman’s study of masculinity-femininity.

Minton, Henry L. Lewis M. Terman: Pioneer in Psychological Testing. New York: New York University Press, 1988. Includes a complete bibliography of Terman’s publications.

Samelson, Franz. “Putting Psychology on the Map: Ideology and Intelligence Testing.” In Psychology in Social Context, edited by Alan R. Buss. New York: Irvington, 1979.

Seagoe, May V. Terman and the Gifted. Los Altos, CA: Kaufmann, 1975.

Zenderland, Leila. Measuring Minds: Henry Herbert Goddard and the Origins of American Intelligence Testing. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Henry L. Minton

views updated

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

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 Sources

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

views updated

Lewis Madison Terman


American psychologist who developed the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. In 1916, while a professor of education at Stanford University, Terman published The Measurement of Intelligence, which served as a guide to his version of the Binet-Simon intelligence scale. Stanford-Binet test scores were expressed as the intelligence quotient (IQ). Test scores were based on both chronological age and mental age so that the average person of any age would have an IQ of 100. The test was used extensively by the U.S. Army during World War I. Terman also carried out research on gifted children.

About this article

Lewis Madison Terman

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic