Cognitive Psychologist



  • Central Normal College (B.S., B.P., B. A., 1894, 1898)
  • Indiana University at Bloomington (B.A., M.A., 1903)
  • Clark University (PH.D. in Psychology, 1905)


  • School principal, San Bernardino, CA (1905)
  • Professor, Los Angeles Normal School (1907)
  • Professor, Stanford University (1910-1956)

Major Contributions

  • Mental Testing
  • Refinement of Binet-Simon Tests – The Stanford Achievement Test
  • Studies of Gifted Children – Terman’s Termites

Ideas and Interests

For his Ph.D. thesis, Terman decided to see what mental tests could do in distinguishing unusually backward students from very bright ones. His study was titled, “Genius and Stupidity: A Study of the Intellectual Processes of Seven “Bright” and Seven “Stupid” Boys.” The tests he used emphasized “higher” and complex cognitive functioning, and fell into eight categories:

1. Tests of invention and creative imagination,
2. A typical test of logical processes,
3. Several tests of mathematical ability,
4. Anagrams, blanks in stories, and reading aloud to demonstrate language mastery,
5. Interpretation of fables,
6. Skill in learning the game of chess,
7. Memory tests, and
8. Tests of motor skill.

Later, in 1906 while at Stanford, Terman published a revised and perfected Binet-Simon scale for American populations. This “Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale,” soon became known as the “Stanford-Binet”, and was by far the best available individual intelligence test.

The new Stanford-Binet scale, as highlighted in Chapter I of the manual, would allow for the scientific diagnosis and classification of children to be placed in special classes; bring tens of thousands of high-grade defectives under the surveillance and protection of society; reduce delinquency; help the schools respond to children of superior intelligence; assist in assigning children to school grades; help determine vocational fitness; and serve as a standard for research (White, 2000).

In 1916, Terman adopted William Stern’s suggestion that the ratio between mental and chronological age be taken as a unitary measure of intelligence multiplied by 100 to get rid of the decimals. The resulting “intelligence quotient” became known as the “IQ” and is now known in the classic formula: IQ = Mental Age/Chronological Age X 100.

Terman is also well known for his studies with intelligence in children. Terman’s “Termites” as they are known were chosen to test the early ripe-early rot myth. In other words, Terman wanted to know if high IQ children had intellectual success or failure as adults. According to Terman, unusually precocious children were more likely to turn out well than poorly in their later lives. Terman found, among other things, that the gifted were taller, healthier, physically better developed, superior in leadership and social adaptability, dispelling the often held contrary opinion. Terman’s points of view regarding gifted youth include:

  • They are the top 1 percent in intelligence,
  • They should be identified as early as possible in childhood,
  • They should be accelerated through school
  • They should have a differentiated curriculum and instruction,
  • They should have specially trained teachers,
  • They should be viewed as a national resource for the betterment of society, and
  • They should be allowed to develop in whatever directions their talents and interests dictate.

“Of the founders of modern psychology, my greatest admiration is for Galton. My favorite of all psychologists is Binet, not because of his intelligence test, which was only a by-product of his life-work, but because of his originality of insight, and open-mindedness, and because of the rare charm of personality that shines through all his writings.” (Lewis Terman The Intelligence Men)


References: 5, 8, 14, 20, 21, 28, 42

Image Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine