• Weslayan University, Mathematics (B.A., 1931)
  • Columbia University, Psychology (M.A., 1932; Ph.D., 1935)


  • Asst. Professor of Psychology, George Washington University (1934-1936)
  • Asst. Professor of Psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University (1936-1939)
  • Associate Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University (1940-1948)
  • Professor of Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia Uiversity (1948-1976)
  • President, Psychometric Society (1953)
  • Board of Directors, American Psychological Association (1958-1961)
  • President, American Educational Research Association (1974-1975)

Major Contributions

  • Prediction of future vocational success based on the differentiation of intellectual abilities
  • Cognitive Ability Test

Ideas and Interests

Thorndike followed his father, E. L. Thorndike, into the field of educational psychology by specializing in psychometrics. He used factor analysis in order to separate out differing abilities in the learning of rats (animals were the subject of his doctoral thesis). Thorndike then used these techniques in the study of human skills and personnel selection.

As an Air Force major and psychometrician during World War II, Thorndike addressed the problem of multiple sources of error that made tests and criteria of pilot and bombadier performance unstable. His developing expertise in the analysis of multiple abilities enabled him to identify the weaknesses of tests of aircrew performance, and to devise more subtle techniques (Personnel Selection… 1949).. The analysis of reliability showed thel hallmarks of Thorndike’s style: identification of confusion about a fundamental topic, orderly and pioneering reconceptualization, and clear exposition. The differentiation of abilities for long term prediction proved limited, however, and he began to place more reliance on global abilities.

In 1954, Thorndike published (with Irving Lorge) a group test of mental abilites for use in schools, which eventually became the Cognitive Ability Test (developed with Elizabeth Hagan). The aim was to produce a battery of tests, and to generate a profile of intelligence rather than just an IQ. Thorndike expressed great respect for the detailing of mental processes in cognitive psychology, which can assist in fine-grained remedial instruction. The Cognitive Ability Test met high standards, but the four components of the profile could not be reliably separated. Eventually, Thorndike came to conclude that general cognitive ability is indeed more important that he and many others had supposed.

Throndike’s ultimate brilliance was evidencd in his ability to see the faults in a test, and redesign it in an original fashion.


  • Personnel Selection: Test and Measurement Techniques (1949)
  • 10,000 Careers (1955)
  • Concepts of Over- and Under-Achievement (1964)
  • Measurement and Evaluation in Psychology and Education (1977)
  • Applied Psychometrics (1982)

References: 37, 41