Interview With Raymond B. Cattell
The following interview with Raymond Cattell (1905–1998) was originally published in The Eugenics Bulletin, Spring–Summer 1984.
Raymond B. Cattell obtained his Ph.D. and D.Sc. at London University, where he worked with Charles Spearman developing the theory of intelligence measurement. He has since taught at Harvard and has been for 30 years Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Illinois.
His research publications cover 80 books and over 400 articles. His book, New Morality From Science: Beyondism (Pergamon Press, 1973) contains interesting ideas about eugenics. His latest book, The Inheritance of Personality and Ability, has been hailed for its methodological breakthroughs. The following interview was conducted by Marian Van Court on May 31, 1984. (A list of questions was mailed to Professor Cattell in Hawaii, and he sent back an audio cassette to Austin, Tx., with his answers, where they were transcribed.)
Do you know of any studies comparing personality traits of environmentalists and hereditarians?
I don’t know of any reliable study on that question. But I can tell you my hunch, that Factor I, which we call “premzia,” is likely to be related, since it contrasts wishful thinking with down-to-earth realism. One would expect hereditarians to be more realistic, and therefore lower on Factor I. And they are also probably higher on Factor C, ego strength.
What is the best test of creativity?
A test of creativity often used is Guilford’s test of flexibility. However, the results can be completely misleading, in my opinion, because the test measures only a quite superficial, gamesroom creativity. Creativity is closely correlated with personality factors of dominance, introversion, and ego strength. So I wouldn’t try to measure creativity by using a test of creativity per se, but rather by measuring personality factors that correlate highly with it. It has been shown that intelligence is also a precondition for creativity in any socially useful sense. So I would test for creativity with the 16 PF [Personality Factors] Test and a culture-fair intelligence test.
The United States has been characterized as a “nation of strangers.” Do you think our ethnic and racial diversity is in part responsible for our alienation and rootlessness?
Societies in the past that have become too pluralistic, like India, and the old Mediterranean countries like the Roman Empire, didn’t perceive the danger to moral standards that arose from having too many differing moral standards, too many differing religions, too many differing cultures. On the other hand, there are advantages to a country in having some diversity, in that each can be used as an experiment to see in which direction the group as a whole might advantageously go. I think that there’s a happy medium on this matter of diversity, and it has probably been overshot in the U.S. at the present. Alienation is now quite severe, and it’s partly due to wholesale, unchecked immigration. Few politicians seem willing to confront the issue. I think it might not be a bad idea to remove the inscription from the Statue of Liberty which calls for the “wretched refuse” of the other countries to migrate here. This is not what you want to build a nation of. If we have immigration, we ought to have it from the best sources. At the moment, the sociologists have won out on that issue with their claims that there are no differences among immigrants. But I would maintain that there are most marked differences, in both innate intelligence and personality, among people who enter the U.S.
You have written that dominance is negatively correlated with grades in school, but positively correlated with creativity. In using grades as a major criterion for graduate admission, doesn’t this mean graduate schools are actually selecting against creativity to some extent?
Yes. Dominance is negatively related to grades in high school and undergraduate work, but the opposite is true in graduate work – with dissertations and theses, the better work is done by high-dominance people who show more creativity and independence of mind. Of course, that dominance isn’t necessarily welcomed, because professors may still find docility in students to be a desirable trait. Incidentally, creative people have a personality profile which is not everybody’s cup of tea. They are often difficult people. Their combination of high dominance and introversion is not always easy to deal with. But there is, as you suggest, a definite difference between personality traits associated with examination success and those associated with creative research. I believe all promotions and scholarships should be based on personality tests, as well as on measures of intellectual ability. If this were done, selection could be directed toward creative people. The personality traits associated with creativity have now been worked out quite well. For example, we’ve compared administrative academic people to creative researchers of the same age, and we’ve compared creative writers and artists to those who aren’t really so creative. There’s an amazing similarity – you see the same high dominance, the same high ego strength, in creative people in all these fields.
In nearly every interview in The Eugenics Bulletin the same question is asked: “Specifically, what should people who are concerned about eugenics do?” How would you answer this question?
I agree with Carl Bajema’s suggestions in the Fall ’83 issue – the only way to progress is to enter political controversies, to set up programs for research in the area, to support the Eugenics Special Interest Group, and in general to stir up people’s thinking by critical observations. Instances of neglect of eugenics are all around us. I haven’t seen a single reference in all the current discussions on jobs for women to the dysgenic effect of having more women employed full time so that they can’t beget as many children. This amazes me, this current trend in which women get so involved in their professions that they cannot take time off to have children. In addition, of course, there are lots of things in the economy that could be changed. For example, taxing those of higher social status more tends to be dysgenic, and this should be changed. One policy I view as eugenic is the rule in the British civil service which allows a woman to take off at least three months when she has a child without any effect on her promotional status or income.
There should also be much more emphasis during the last years of schooling on reminding children that not only their own children, but their own lives, will be happier if they choose more intelligent and stable individuals as spouses. It isn’t impossible for even average members of the population to have a certain sense of dynasty. In some parts of the world, notably in Sweden and Japan, people know their genealogies much further back than most Americans do. This attention to genealogy would be, I think, a real aid to eugenics.
If society wants to go on at a proper cultural level, it should be handling these problems by economic means so as to achieve a eugenic balance. There are, in fact, many other things that could be done in economic terms to aid eugenics; for example, there could be a far larger child allowance in income taxes than presently exists. Obviously, a person with eugenic ideals should have as large a family as health and circumstances permit. Intelligent people, for example, university graduates, should be thinking in terms of four children per family, because this is little more than replacement. Nothing beats a good example.
What would you advocate in place of the present welfare system?
Well, I would advocate some change, because I’m most dissatisfied with it and its consequences. It appears to act as a stimulant for a higher birth rate among those who cannot look after their children on their own. Monetary advantages are given to those who have the most children. That is what one would like to see at the upper level, but instead it is being brought about at the lowest level.
I think a single solution is not possible. However, I would advocate that social workers put as item #1 of their duties the reduction of the birth rate of their clients by supplying birth control knowledge. After all, poverty is due either to bad luck, on the one hand, or to systematic defects in intelligence or personality, on the other. Insofar as poverty arises partly from heritable defects, we certainly don’t want a welfare system that encourages them to have even more children.
Is it a reasonable assumption that practically all that’s considered good about human nature, such as altruism, has come about as the result of group selection, and that which is considered bad about human nature, such as selfishness and insincerity, exists as a result of individual selection?
Yes, there’s much truth in that. The psychopath may do very well for himself as an individual – it’s only that a group with too many psychopaths wouldn’t survive. Group selection and individual selection work differently. Although individual selection may favor selfishness, for example, it’s caught up and corrected by group selection in the long run–one has to stress that. A society dies if it exceeds a certain degree of individual selfishness. However, behavioral genetic research doesn’t show a lot of genetic influence on superego strength – it’s only about 20 percent. That is enough, of course, for group selection to act in favor of increased altruism. Today we’re up against the “one-world” enthusiasts, who want all group competition to cease. Of course, none of us wants war, but it’s throwing away the baby with the bath water to stop group selection because of the risk of war, if group selection is the only way to advance altruistic traits, as I think one can demonstrate.
The authors of a recent article in a psychology journal voiced concern about the fact that the mentally retarded don’t vote nearly as often as people of normal intelligence do, and suggested various ways to entice them to the polls. How do you react to this?
The article you describe strikes me as the highest form of idiocy. Writers such as Shaw and Wells spoke good sense a generation ago when they demanded qualifications for voting, such as some knowledge of history and current events and a certain level of intelligence. This, surely, is needed if democracy is to work.
One question which arises perennially among social scientists is why the social sciences haven’t progressed at the same rate as the physical sciences. How would you explain the difference?
To focus on psychology, in which I’ve been working for the last 50 years, I think the trouble lies in the mediocrity of the researchers and teachers. The whole subject is a very difficult one. McDougall said that the trouble with psychology is that it is too difficult for psychologists. Quite advanced mathematics – actually quite beautiful mathematics, seemingly beyond the comprehension of most psychologists today — is necessary to solve the next issues awaiting us. We’ve got to get more acute selection in psychology, and take it out of the hands of the do-gooders and the social workers and really make a science of it.
A related problem is that social scientists confuse their findings with their values. Policy recommendations must necessarily be a product of the two. But when social scientists can’t separate them, they’re merely expressing their personal opinions with a pseudoscientific patina.
What are some of the major new points you’ve made about Beyondism–in your forthcoming book The Beyondist Solution to Contemporary Problems?
It aims to get nearer to contemporary problems than I got in my first complete statement of Beyondism in 1972. I begin by saying that we have cut adrift from revealed religions and their morality, and we are seeking a new morality and a new ethical system. I propose evolution as the basis for our goals, that selection among nations is vital and necessary. There is a biological and cultural experiment implicit in each of the 130 or so nations in the world. We should encourage both genetic and cultural variation, and permit selection to go on. Just as in nature there have been thousands of extinct species, so will there be extinct nations. We must allow this to take place because it is a natural and essential part of evolution.
The spiritual values of Beyondism turn out to be much the same as those of the big dogmatic religions, up to a certain point. But after that point they diverge, and I take trouble to define how Beyondism leads to a different and more adventurous set of values. A general concept that helps our thought on this question is that of “genetic lag.” Societies can progress culturally beyond the genetic capacities of many or most of the individuals in them. Eugenics is required to catch up with the cultural demands of society. At present, we have unemployment on rather a large scale in most industrialized countries – and in most nonindustrialized countries, for that matter – which can be eliminated only by elimination of genetic lag on the culture. So there is an emphasis on genetics in the book, primarily because it needs emphasizing in a culture which has grossly neglected it.
I conclude with a call for action. We have studied enough to be able to act with a greater chance of progress than previously. We need huge research endowments to compare and contrast the 130 or so societal experiments, to measure, record, and plot, and to give out advice from a central world research institute. This, I think, is the only way to carry out a process comparable to variation among nations, and to avoid the all-gray “one world” which would stop evolution. For evolution to proceed, there must always be genetic variation followed by natural selection. So I call for a society of Beyondism to help in years to come the buildup of adequate social research data – research information on the effects of various experiments.
Many eugenicists feel it’s best to be noncommittal on the race question, since it’s not our major concern. What do you think?
I agree that the only reasonable thing is to be noncommittal on the race question – that’s not the central issue, and it would be a great mistake to be sidetracked into all the emotional upsets that go on in discussions of racial differences. We should be quite careful to dissociate eugenics from it – eugenics’ real concern should be with individual differences.
In her article “Test Scores as Measures of Human Capital” in Intelligence and National Achievement, Barbara Lerner stated: “We sent more of our young people to school for longer periods of time than any other nation in the world, and they emerged with more diplomas than any other people on earth.” But despite all this education, SAT scores in the U.S. have been declining steadily, our relative economic productivity has dropped, and on tests of math and science the only students whose average test scores have been lower than those of Americans have been those in underdeveloped countries. What are the major causes?
The current decline in educational achievement is, like most things, multiply determined. The evidence points, first, to about 50-100 years of genetic decline in ability. It doesn’t take much–perhaps a one-point decline every 30 years–to reduce substantially the percentage in the upper range of IQ. With our present mean IQ of 100, 1 person in 250 would exceed an IQ of 140. If, however, the average dropped to 85, you’d have only 1 in 8,000 who would exceed an IQ of 140. We must suppose that academic standards are much affected by the percentages of high IQ individuals, and that their becoming more scarce will lower academic performance. So part of the remedy for this problem definitely lies in eugenic practices.
But there are some environmental factors as well, such as the failure to do “streaming” in schools, in which children of much the same ability level are put together. And I think something in the way of general idleness and slackness has gotten into the system since the 1960s which could account for a part of the decline, particularly in the more precise subjects like mathematics.
In your autobiography, you wrote that you have always been intrigued by great people. What constitutes greatness?
Greatness is something that is surely very different in different areas such as politics, art, music, and science. What I think is fundamental, however, is creativity and an ability to break away from conventional views, a combination of high intelligence with high ego strength. Great people are largely responsible for whatever progress society makes, yet they actually take quite a beating in the process. So qualities of endurance are necessary as well.
What would you consider to be the mean IQ necessary for a country to support a true democratic system of government?
It depends upon just what you mean by “a true democratic system of government,” but generally I would say that we can not go much below what we have today and still maintain a real democratic system.
How do you think the irrational opposition to the idea of genetic influences on human behavior came into being, and why does it persist?
One might suppose that all one had to do to overcome this opposition was to point to striking research in behavior genetics. But this research has been around for some time, and still the opposition persists. For example, there are five successive studies of criminal behavior cited in my 1982 book. They show that if a man in prison has an identical twin, it’s likely his cotwin will also be in prison. If the twin is fraternal [with 50 percent shared genes, on average], the likelihood is not nearly as great that he’ll be in prison, too, but it’s greater than chance. How could one possibly account for this difference with environmentalist explanations? The strong genetic component in criminality has already been proven up to the hilt.
The role of genetics in personality and intelligence has been extensively demonstrated in the last 30 or 40 years. The information is available in numerous textbooks. In almost all traits an appreciable genetic influence exists, varying from 70-80 percent in the case of intelligence, to about 20 percent in the case of superego.
Now, the question is: why aren’t these facts known to the American people? Why have academe and the media withheld this information? In Britain, when I was growing up in the ’20s, it was common sense to place considerable importance upon heredity in choosing a person to marry, in choosing the occupation for which one was suited, and so on. I was astonished when I came to America to find that eugenics was almost a bad word. One may trace this situation to the sociologists, to Boas and others, and to pressure from minority groups who oppose anything aristocratic.
I think there is a problem widespread in certain societies, notably in America, which consists of the denial, for political or other reasons, of the influence of genetics on human behavior. Of course, the Declaration of Independence has written in it Jefferson’s and Franklin’s statement that “all men are created equal.” Now, neither of those men could possibly have believed that literally, as their other writings amply attest. But to my amazement, I find that two out of three people I ask take that statement to mean that they’re genetically equal. The ideal of equality of opportunity has been distorted to mean biological equality. Roger Williams has written a telling little book [Free and Unequal, by Roger J. Williams, 1953; Liberty Press, Indianapolis] about inequality and freedom. He points out that the French Revolutionary trio of ideals of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” is internally inconsistent – a society can’t have both liberty and equality. Given that people are born unequal in their innate abilities, the only way for a government to bring about equality is by coercion, but ultimately it’s futile.
There may also be deeper, unconscious sources of opposition to any form of biological determinism. For example, the individual may feel that heredity somehow restrains him, so he will prefer to deny its influence. But obviously the only reasonable way to deal with nature is to accommodate to its laws, as we do to the law of gravity. If one refuses to acknowledge the importance of gravity and blithely jumps off a cliff, one will find himself in serious trouble. Our society may be jumping off a cliff, so to speak, with regard to its denial of the role of genetics in human behavior.