GALTON, FRANCIS (1822-1911)


Galton, the first to make a systematic study of individual differences, was a native of Birmingham, England. In view of his later investigations of genius it is interesting that he was himself a true “child prodigy” who was able to read at two and a half, write a letter before he was four, and read both Latin and French by five. He studied medicine at Birmingham University, St. George’s General Hospital in London, and later at Cambridge. However, he did not actually enter the medical profession, since his father died and left him a considerable fortune. Instead, he traveled widely in Europe and made a number of expeditions to Africa, for which he received the Gold Medal Award of the Royal Geographic Society. His major objective in these efforts was to study human individuals and races in the light of the evolutionary concepts developed by his half-cousin, Charles Darwin. See DARWIN. Gabon’s first major work, Hereditary Genius (1869), was undertaken to show that eminent men have eminent offspring. By comparing the genealogies of over 1000 British leaders with an equal number of average citizens, he showed that the former group had far more distinguished relatives than the latter, and concluded that the difference was due to heredity. He carried this view even further by claiming that specific types of genius were inherited— for example, a great jurist would tend to have children who became eminent in the field of law. In applying this “pedigree method,” Galton ignored the influence of environmental factors and did not question the authenticity of the historical documents on which he based his case. In spite of these obvious deficiencies, the study had the positive effect of stimulating research on individual differences, and of demonstrating the importance of exceptional individuals in the survival of mankind. See GENIUS, PRODIGY.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "GALTON, FRANCIS (1822-1911)," in, November 28, 2018, (accessed August 17, 2022).


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