Lewis Terman bigraphy, stories - American psychologist

Lewis Terman : biography

15 January 1877 - 21 December 1956

Lewis Madison Terman (January 15, 1877 – December 21, 1956) was an American psychologist, noted as a pioneer in educational psychology in the early 20th century at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. He is best known as the inventor of the Stanford-Binet IQ test and the initiator of the longitudinal study of children with high IQs called the Genetic Studies of Genius.Sears, R. R. (1957). L. M. Terman, pioneer in mental measurement. Science, 125, 978-979. doi:10.1126/science.125.3255.978 He was a prominent eugenicist and was a member of the Human Betterment Foundation. He also served as president of the American Psychological Association.


  • The Measurement of Intelligence (1916)
  • The Use of Intelligence Tests (1916)
  • The Stanford Achievement Test (1923)
  • Genetic Studies of Genius (1925, 1947, 1959)
  • Autobiography of Lewis Terman (1930)

Thoughts and research on gifted children

Terman’s study of genius and gifted children was a lifelong interest.(Vialle, 1994) His fascination with the intelligence of children began early in his career since he was familiar with Alfred Binet’s research in this area.Bernreuter, R. G., Miles, C.C., Tinker, M.A., & Young, K. (1942). Studies in personality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company. Terman followed J. McKeen Cattell’s work which combined the ideas of Wilhelm Wundt and Francis Galton saying that those who are intellectually superior will have better “sensory acuity, strength of grip, sensitivity to pain, and memory for dictated consonants”.Seagoe, M.V. (1975). Terman and the gifted. Los Altos, CA: William Kaufmann.

At Clark University, Terman wrote his doctoral dissertation entitled Genius and stupidity: a study of some of the intellectual processes of seven “bright” and seven “stupid” boys. He administered Cattell’s tests on boys who were considered intelligent versus boys who were considered unintelligent.Terman, L.M. (1906). Genius and stupidity: a study of some of the intellectual processes of seven 'bright' and seven 'stupid' boys. Pedagogical Seminary, 13, 307-373. 

In 1915, he wrote a paper called The mental hygiene of exceptional children.(Terman, 1915) He pointed out that though he believed the capacity for intelligence is inherited, those with exceptional intelligence also need exceptional schooling. Terman wrote that, “[Bright children] are rarely given tasks which call forth their best ability, and as a result they run the risk of falling into lifelong habits of submaximum efficiency”. In other words, nature (heredity) plays a large role in determining intelligence, but nurture (the environment) is also important in fostering the innate intellectual ability. By his own admission there was nothing in his own ancestry that would have led anyone to predict him to have an intellectual career.Terman, L.M. (1932). Autobiography. In C. Murchison (Ed.), A history of psychology, Vol.II (pp. 297-332). Worcester, MA; Clark University Press.

With Binet’s development of IQ tests, it became possible to quickly identify gifted children and study them from their early childhood into adulthood. In his 1922 paper called A New Approach to the Study of Genius, Terman noted that this advancement in testing marked a change in research on geniuses and giftedness.(Terman, 1922) Previously, the research had looked at genius adults and tried to look in retrospect into their early years of childhood. Through these studies on gifted children, Terman hoped to find how to properly educate a gifted child as well as dispel the negative stereotypes that that gifted children were “conceited, freakish, socially eccentric, and [insane]”.Bernreuter, R. G., Miles, C.C., Tinker, M.A., & Young, K. (1942). Studies in personality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company. p. 11

Terman found his answers in his longitudinal study on gifted children called Genetic Studies of Genius which had five volumes.Minton, 1988 The children in this study were called “Termites”. The volumes reviewed the follow-ups that Terman conducted throughout their lives. The fifth volume was a 35 year follow-up, and looked at the gifted group during mid-life.(Terman, 1959) The results from this study showed that gifted and genius children were actually in good health and had normal personalities. Few of them demonstrated the previously-held negative stereotype of gifted children. Most of those in the study did well socially and academically and had lower divorce rates later in life. Additionally, those in the gifted group were generally successful in their careers and had received awards recognizing their achievements. Though many of the “Termites” reached their potential in adulthood, some of the children did not, perhaps because of personal obstacles, insufficient education, or lack of opportunity.

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