Francis Galton

Surveys. Weather maps. Correlations. Racism. Personality theories. Identifying fingerprints. 

Francis Galton Francis Galton

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Table of contents

    Any thoughts on what these all have in common? All of these items or concepts were developed or heavily influenced by one man, Francis Galton.

    • Who was Francis Galton?
    • What was Francis Galton famous for?
    • How did Francis Galton contribute to psychology?
    • What was Francis Galton's intelligence testing?

    Sir Francis Galton Biography

    There are so many things to know about Sir Francis Galton; he could be one of the most influential people of whom you’ve never heard. Before we dive into specifics, let’s first understand his title of a polymath.

    A polymath is a person who is extremely knowledgeable and successful in a wide range of fields.

    The best example of a polymath is Leonardo da Vinci. DaVinci is known for his paintings, but he also was a scientist, sculptor, engineer, and worked on architecture. Most importantly, he was successful in all these fields!

    Galton was no different. Even though he lived 500 years after Leonardo da Vinci, his fields of study are equally as impressive. He studied and contributed to psychology, anthropology, sociology, statistics, geography, meteorology, and psychometrics. Not to mention he was an inventor as well. Could you imagine excelling in all those fields?

    It is unclear how Galton was dubbed a polymath, but it was a term used during his time. Benjamin Franklin was also considered a polymath. The term gained traction in the 1600s during the Renaissance as there was a focus on the "Renaissance man," someone who was well-rounded in his talents.

    Galton was born in 1822 and died in 1911, so how could he still truly be that influential? Buckle up!

    Sir Francis Galton’s Accomplishments

    We can attribute many unrelated items and works to Francis Galton. In the field of meteorology, he was the first person to create a weather map and helped develop the initial understanding of anticyclones (a weather concept where there is high pressure near the ground which pulls air down and circulates it). He contributed to forensic science by creating a way to identify fingerprints. In statistics, Galton was the person who came up with correlations and helped develop regression to the mean (taking data multiple times of an event will cause results to become more average the more tests are taken), both of which are used in psychology research to this day. He was also the first person to use a survey to collect data for his research in the fields of anthropology and anthropometry. Can you imagine being the first person to do all of those things?

    Francis Galton, Painting of Francis Galton, StudySmarterFrancis Galton, exhausted after all of his accomplishments. Wikimedia commons.

    However, not all of Galton’s accomplishments and works were good. Galton developed and was a leading proponent of eugenics – intentionally reproducing to improve desired traits and weed out undesirable traits. You’re probably wondering what people would consider desirable and undesirable traits. This is where the pushback is and was. The goal of eugenics was to create the perfect race where no one had any mental or physical disabilities. If that wasn’t bad enough, Adolf Hitler used Galton’s theory of eugenics as his way of justifying the murder of millions of Jews, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, and people with disabilities. Galton was influential, just not always in a good way.

    Sir Francis Galton Psychology

    Even in just the field of psychology, Francis Galton boasted many accomplishments.

    Have you heard of the phrase, nature versus nurture? Even though Galton didn’t consider himself a developmental psychologist, he is the person who coined that phrase and made it famous!

    Additionally, Galton was the creator of the subfield of psychometrics. Psychometrics focuses on the research aspects of measurements, tests, and other parts of studies that cannot be measured directly. Although psychometrics developed after Galton’s death, he was still crucial in the foundation of the field.

    Galton also was one of the founders of the subfield of differential psychology. Galton’s half-cousin, Charles Darwin, had the initial interest in the field and Galton expanded on Darwin’s progress. Differential psychology focuses on human behavior and tries to understand the reasons why people behave differently.

    Finally, Galton contributed to the lexical hypothesis theory. This concept was one of the precursors to many personality theories today, such as the Big Five. This theory says that people actually (and unconsciously) encode aspects of personality into the language they use. This initial theory led to the creation of more works within this field of psychology.

    Sir Francis Galton Intelligence

    However, despite these numerous psychological accomplishments, Francis Galton is most famous for his contributions to intelligence. As you might imagine, since Galton was so intelligent himself, he became curious about a way to measure people’s intelligence. Keep in mind that this all took place before IQ tests!

    Charles Darwin inspired his half-cousin yet again. Darwin’s theory of evolution sparked an idea in Galton about the evolution and genetics of intelligence. Do you think it’s hereditary?

    If you were in Galton’s position what would you do? At this point in his life, it’s the late 1800s and there have been no intelligence tests ever made. You know some people are more intelligent than others, but how can you prove it?

    Sir Francis Galton’s Theory

    Francis Galton’s intelligence theory was founded upon Darwin's observations and Galton’s theory of eugenics. Galton used eugenics to lead him to believe that certain intelligence traits were more desirable than others. He thought that, due to evolution, specific traits were more beneficial to intelligence in the long run. One of these traits is speed. Galton decided that people who had a faster reaction time on an intelligence test were smarter.

    Francis Galton, Cartoon of a man with a chart, StudySmarterAre faster people smarter?

    Sir Francis Galton Intelligence Test

    Francis Galton developed his intelligence based on testing reaction times. As stated before, he founded his entire theory of intelligence on the premise that if you were smart, you would have a faster reaction time than someone less intelligent than you.

    One way that Galton tested reaction time was through sounds. He would have the participants listen to a sound and identify it as fast as possible. The faster the person identified the sound, the more intelligent he declared them to be.

    Ultimately, even though Galton put forth the first version of intelligence testing, it is not the version that stuck. A couple of decades later, Alfred Binet developed an intelligence test that later became known as the IQ test. Interestingly, Binet initially developed his test for different reasons than Galton. The French government hired Binet to create a test to determine which students would struggle academically in school. From there, it took off and became what we know today as the IQ test.

    Limitations to Galton’s Test

    Let’s make sure we understand the clear reason why Galton’s test did not stick as the principal way to measure intelligence. Galton used a characteristic, such as physical ability, to determine intelligence.

    Even though Galton’s intelligence test did not persist in the same way other of his accomplishments did, it still was a breakthrough contribution to the fields of psychology and education.

    Francis Galton Quotes

    • “Exercising the right of occasional suppression and slight modification, it is truly absurd to see how plastic a limited number of observations become, in the hands of men with preconceived ideas.”1

    • “The phrase 'nature and nurture' is a convenient jingle of words, for it separates under two distinct heads the innumerable elements of which personality is composed. Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence without that affects him after his birth.”2

    • “All male animals, including men, when they are in love, are apt to behave in ways that seem ludicrous to bystanders.”2

    • “The huger the mob, and the greater the apparent anarchy, the more perfect is its sway. It is the supreme law of Unreason. Whenever a large sample of chaotic elements are taken in hand and marshalled in the order of their magnitude, an unsuspected and most beautiful form of regularity proves to have been latent all along.”2

    Francis Galton - Key takeaways

    • Francis Galton was a polymath who contributed to psychology, anthropology, meteorology, sociology, and statistics
    • Francis Galton developed the concept of eugenics, the belief that through intentional reproduction, specific negative traits can be weeded out
    • Francis Galton developed the first form of intelligence testing
    • Francis Galton's intelligence testing was based on the speed at which a person reacted to hearing a sound
      • The faster the response to the sound, the more intelligent Galton believed them to be


    1. AtoZ Quotes. (n.d.). TOP 25 QUOTES BY FRANCIS GALTON. A-Z Quotes. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from
    2. Goodreads. (2022). Francis Galton Quotes (Author of The Art Of Travel). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from
    Frequently Asked Questions about Francis Galton

    What is Francis Galton famous for? 

    Francis Galton is famous for inventing or influencing many things, but in psychology is famous for developing the first intelligence test. 

    What did sir Francis Galton contribute to psychology? 

    Sir Francis Galton contributed the phrase "nature versus nurture," differential psychology, influenced the lexical hypothesis theory, and intelligence testing. 

    What did sir Francis Galton believe in? 

    Sir Francis Galton believed in eugenics -- certain traits are better than others and people should procreate to weed out the negative traits. 

    What was one of Francis Galton's most important contributions to intelligence theory? 

    One of Francis Galton's most important contributions to intelligence theory is the beginning of intelligence testing. While his intelligence test didn't stick as the one that is used today, it still was the first one proposed. 

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