American Differential Psychologist
(December 19, 1908-May 4, 2001)



  • Educated at home by her grandmother and a private tutor until age 9
  • Dropped out of high school after only two months
  • Two years at the Rhodes Preparatory School in Manhattan (1922-1923)
  • Entered Barnard College at the age of 15. Graduated at the age of 19 (A.B. in Psychology, 1928)
  • Columbia University (Ph.D. in Psychology, 1929)


  • Barnard College, Instructor in Psychology (1930-1939)
  • Queens College, Assistant Professor and Chairperson of the Psychology Department, (1939-1947)
  • Fordham University, Associate Professor of Psychology, (1947-1951); Professor (1951-1979); Professor Emeritus (and awarded Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, 1979)
  • President of the Eastern Psychological Association (1946-1947)
  • President of the APA Division 1, General Psychology (1956-1957)
  • President of the APA Division 5, Evaluation, Measurement and Statistics (1965-1966)
  • President of the American Psychological Foundation (1965-1967)
  • Third female president of the American Psychological Association (1972)

Definition of Intelligence

“Intelligence is not a single, unitary ability, but rather a composite of several functions. The term denotes that combination of abilities required for survival and advancement within a particular culture (Anastasi, 1992, p. 613). ”

Major Contributions

  • Known as the “test guru”
  • Extensive examination of issues related to test construction, test misuse, misinterpretation and cultural bias
  • Argued against the strictly hereditarian position; emphasized the role of experiential, environmental and cultural influences on intelligence test scores
  • More than 150 publications, including two classic textbooks: Psychological Testing (1st edition 1954; 7th edition, 1996) and Differential Psychology (1st edition 1937; 4th edition, 1981)

Ideas and Interests

Anne Anastasi grew up in New York City, the only child in a small Sicilian family. Her father died when she was an infant, and she was raised by her mother, grandmother and uncle. Anastasi described her grandmother as a domineering woman who maintained stewardship over most issues in family life, including young Anne’s education. She believed herself to be a true aristocrat, and categorized all those whom she met as either aristocrats or peasants (Anastasi, 1989) Anastasi’s uncle was a man of superior classical education, but he was ill prepared for real-world employment. In contrast, Anastasi’s mother was a practical, resourceful woman, and it was she who shouldered the burden of supporting the family (Reznikoff & Procidano, 2001; Sexton & Hogan, 1990). Anastasi believed that the juxtaposition of these three personalities might have been a reason for her later professional interest in the psychology of individual differences (Anastasi, 1989).

Anastasi’s grandmother disapproved of the boisterous neighborhood children, and insisted that she be educated at home (Anastasi, 1989). When she was nine years old, a private tutor convinced her grandmother to allow her to attend a public elementary school. Anastasi enjoyed her early schooling, but her high school experience was disappointing. The building was overcrowded, rundown and very far from her home. She dropped out after only two months (Anastasi, 1972). At the suggestion of a family friend, she decided to skip high school entirely. She spent two years preparing for the college entrance examinations, and was admitted to Barnard College at the age of fifteen (Anastasi, 1972; Reznikoff & Procidano, 2001; Sexton & Hogan, 1990).

Anastasi entered college as a math major. During her sophomore year she enrolled in an elective psychology class taught by H.L. Hollingworth. His enthusiasm and intensity impressed her, as did his sharp criticisms of sloppy research practices (Anastasi, 1989; Sexton & Hogan, 1990). Later the same year, Anastasi read a Charles Spearman article on correlation coefficients, (Spearman, 1904) and realized that she did not need to abandon mathematics to pursue her emerging interest in psychology (Anastasi, 1972, 1989; Reznikoff & Procidano, 2001). She switched majors and completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the age of nineteen. After graduation from Barnard, she entered Columbia University, requesting that her undergraduate work be accepted in lieu of a master’s degree. She completed her doctorate in two years (Anastasi, 1972, 1989).

Anne Anastasi’s research focused on understanding and measuring the factors underlying the development of individual differences in psychological traits (Anastasi, 1972, 1989). She argued against the strictly hereditarian position, emphasizing the role of experiential and environmental influences on intelligence test scores and psychological development. She stressed that intelligence test scores are not pure measures of innate ability:

…not only does the nature of one’s antecedent experiences affect the degree of differentiation of “intelligence” into distinct abilities, but it also affects the particular abilities that emerge, such as verbal, numerical, and spatial abilities. Thus, experiential factors affect not only the level of the individual’s intellectual development, but also the very categories in terms of which his abilities may be identified (Anastasi, 1972).

Anastasi believed that most claims about “culture-free” and “culture-fair” testing are untrue. She stressed that different cultures have different concepts of what an “intelligent person” is, and that traditional psychometric tests measure only those skills which are valued in academic and work circles within modern, industrialized social contexts. The dominant intelligence test paradigm presupposes that intelligence tests should assess the individual’s ability to succeed in this environment. However, the value of these tests is ephemeral; new tests will have to be developed as society advances and new technology demands cultivation of different cognitive skills. Anastasi emphasized that there is an alternative to this testing model. Other assessments could be developed to measure “how well individuals have acquired skills and knowledge valued in [their own] culture.” She believed that although both types of tests can be valid as intelligence tests, the way in which intelligence is defined would necessarily be different for each construct (Anastasi, 1981).

Anastasi’s research increased awareness of what intelligence tests should and should not be used for. She cautioned test users against misinterpreting results, emphasizing that intelligence is changeable over time, and that intelligence (not just intelligence test scores) can improve with experience. Therefore, intelligence test scores should never be used to label a student indelibly (Anastasi, 1992):

Tests can serve a predictive function only insofar as they indicate to what extent the individual has acquired the prerequisite skills and knowledge for a designated criterion performance. What persons can accomplish in the future depends not only on their present intellectual status, as assessed by the test, but on their subsequent experience (Anastasi, 1981).

According to Anastasi, intelligence tests can do three things:

    1. They permit a direct assessment of prerequisite intellectual skills demanded by many important tasks in our culture.
    2. They assess availability of a relevant store of knowledge or content also prerequisite for many educational and occupational tasks.
    3. They provide an indirect index of the extent to which the individual has developed effective learning strategies, problem-solving techniques and work habits and utilized them in the past.(Anastasi, 1981)

When intelligence test scores are used properly, they are valuable descriptive tools that allow teachers and counselors to determine a student’s current level of academic performance. Although an intelligence test score cannot tell us why a student scored as he did, the score can make it easier to meet a student at his level, and to design educational experiences that will improve intelligence (Anastasi, 1981).

Selected Publications

Anastasi, A. (1981). Differential psychology. (4th ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Anastasi, A. (1983). Psychological testing. In C.E. Walker (Ed.), Handbook of clinical psychology: Theory, research and practice (Vol.1, pp.420-444). Homewood, Ill: Dow-Jones Irwin.

Anastasi, A. (1983). What do intelligence tests measure? In S. B. Anderson & J. S. Helmick (Eds.), On educational testing: Intelligence, performance standards, test anxiety, and latent traits (pp.5-28). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Anastasi, A. (1984). Aptitude and achievement tests: The curious case of the indestructible strawperson. In B. S. Plake (Ed.), Social and technical issues in testing: Implications for test construction and usage (pp. 129-140).Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Anastasi, A. (1985). Psychological testing: Basic concepts and common misconceptions. In A. M. Rogers & C. J. Scheirer (Eds.), The G. Stanley Hall Lecture Series (Vol. 5, pp.87-120). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Anastasi, A. (1986). Intelligence as a quality of behavior. In R. J Sternberg & D. K. Detterman (Eds.), What is intelligence? Contemporary viewpoints on its nature and definition (pp. 19-21). Norwood NJ: Ablex.

Anastasi, A. (1996). Psychological testing (7th ed.). New York: Macmillian.


Anastasi, A. (1972). Reminiscences of a differential psychologist. In T. S. Krawiec (Ed.), The psychologists (pp.3-37). London: Oxford University Press.

Anastasi, A. (1981). Diverse effects of training on tests of academic intelligence. In B. F. Green (Ed.), Issues in testing: Coaching, disclosure, and ethnic bias. (pp.5-20). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Anastasi, A. (1989). Anne Anastasi. In G. Lindzey (Ed.), History of psychology in autobiography: Vol. 7. (pp.1-37). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Anastasi, A. (1992). What counselors should know about the use and interpretation of psychological tests. Journal of Counseling and Development, 70 (5), 610-615.

Reznikoff, M., & Procidano, M. (2001). Anne Anastasi. American Psychologist, 56 (10), 816-817.

Sexton, V. S., & Hogan, J. D. (1990). Anne Anastasi. In A. N. O’Connell and N. F. Russo (Eds.), Women in psychology: A bio-bibliographic sourcebook. (pp.13-22). New York: Greenwood Press.

Spearman, C. (1904). “General intelligence” objectively determined and measured. American Journal of psychology, 15, 201-293.

Image courtesy of The Archives Of The History Of Psychology, The University Of Akron