Modern I.Q. Theorists - L.L. Thurstone

RANDOM QUOTE: "I brake for hallucinations." --- Seen on a Bumper

L.L. Thurstone



  • Cornell University (BS in Electrical Engineering, 1912) 
  • University of Chicago (Ph.D. in Psychology, 1917) 
  • Division of Applied Psychology at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Postdoc) 
  • Professor, Carnegie Institute of Technology (1917-1924) 
  • Professor, University of Chicago (1924-1952) 
  • Director, Psychometric Laboratory, University of North Carolina (1952-1955) 
  • President of American Psychological Association (1933) 
  • 1st president of the Psychometric Society 
Major Contributions 
  • Applied statistics (factor analysis) to psychological problems. 
  • The law of comparative judgments in psychophysics. 
  • Wrote 23 books and monographs, 165 articles, 95 laboratory reports and 47 tests. 
Ideas and Interests 

Thurstone began his studies as an electrical engineer, developing several motion picture innovations that attracted the attention of, and led to an offer of employment with Thomas Edison in 1912. However, Thurstone was more interested in studying the 'learning function', and continued his academic studies at the University of Chicago. He later stated that G. H. Mead's lectures on social psychology were the greatest influence on his development in psychology. 

In Thurstone's early work in psychology, he rejected the popular stimulus-oriented psychology in favor of a person-centered approach. He distinguished between the focus of experimental or "normal" psychology and abnormal or psychoanalytic psychology. Thurstone believed that experimental psychology treated the normal person as little more than a responding machine. He advocated turning the focus of psychology from stimuli to the "satisfaction" the normal person is trying to attain and the way he or she attempts to attain them. Thurstone believed that an understanding and analysis of intelligence must begin with people and their attempts to reach their goals. Instinctual responses and lower levels of intelligence are characterized by the tendency to act on impulses without reflection. Higher levels of intelligence provide greater protection and increase the likelihood that individuals will eventually reach their goals by deflecting less than optimal impulses at earlier stages in the process of attempting to reach a goal. He saw intelligence is an inhibitory process:  

  • The ability to inhibit instinctive responses while those responses are still in a loosely organized form and to use abstraction to redefine the instinctive behavior in light of imagined consequences.  

Thurstone factor-analyzed intelligence tests and tests of perception. In the area of intelligence, his theory was that intelligence is made up of several primary mental abilities rather than a general and several specific factors.  He was among the first to propose and demonstrate that there are numerous ways in which a person can be intelligent. Thurstone's Multiple-factors theory identified these seven primary mental abilities: 

  • Verbal Comprehension 
  • Word Fluency 
  • Number Facility 
  • Spatial Visualization 
  • Associative Memory 
  • Perceptual Speed 
  • Reasoning 
Thurstone's multiple factors theory has been used to construct intelligence tests that yield a profile of the individual's performance on each of the ability tests, rather than general intelligence tests that yield a single score (e.g. IQ). 


  • The Nature of Intelligence (1924) 
  • Measurement of Attitudes (1929)
  • Vectors of the Mind (1935)
  • Primary Mental Abilities (1938)
  • Factorial Studies of Intelligence (1941)
  • Multiple Factor Analysis (1947)
  • Measurement of Values (1959)
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