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Lewis Madison Terman (born 15 January 1877 in Johnson County, Indiana, died 21 December 1956 in Palo Alto, California) was a U.S psychologist, noted as a pioneer in cognitive psychology in the early 20th century at Stanford University. He is best known as the inventor of the Stanford-Binet IQ test. He was a prominent eugenicist and was a member of the Human Betterment Foundation.


Terman received a B.S., B.P., and B.A. from Central Normal College in 1894 and 1898, and a B.A. and M.A. from the Indiana University Bloomington in 1903. He received his Ph.D. from Clark University in 1905.

He worked as a school principal in San Bernardino, California in 1905, and as a professor at Los Angeles Normal School in 1907. In 1910 he joined the faculty of Stanford University as a professor of cognitive psychology and remained associated with the university until his death. He served as chairman of the psychology department from 1922 to 1945.

During World War I, Terman served in the United States military while conducting psychological tests. In 1916 he published the Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale (1916; with Maud A. Merrill, 2d rev., 1937; 3d rev. 1960) [1], based on previous work by Alfred Binet and Theodore de Simon of France. Terman promoted his test, known colloquially as the "Stanford-Binet" test, as a measure of human intelligence. Still used today, despite varying degrees of controversy, the test is currently in its fifth revision.

Unlike Binet and Simon, whose goal was to identify less able school children in order to aid them with the needed care required, Terman proposed using IQ tests to classify children and put them on the appropriate job-track. He believed IQ was inherited and was the strongest predicter of one's ultimate success in life.

Terman adopted William Stern's suggestion that mental age/chronological age times 100 (to get rid of the decimal) be made the intelligence quotient or IQ. (NB: Most modern IQ tests calculate the intelligence quotient differently.)

In 1921, Terman initiated the Genetic Studies of Genius, a long-term study of gifted children. He found that gifted children did not fit the existing stereotypes often associated with them: they were not weak and sickly social misfits, but in fact were generally taller, in better health, better developed physically, and better adapted socially than other children. The children included in his studies were colloquially referred to as "Termites."[1]

Terman later joined the Human Betterment Foundation, a Pasadena, based eugenics group founded by E.S. Gosney in 1928 which had as part of its agenda the promotion and enforcement of compulsory sterilization laws in California. [

Terman Middle School in Palo Alto, California is named after himself and his son. Lewis Terman was the father of Frederick Terman, who, as provost of Stanford University, greatly expanded the science, statistics and engineering departments that helped catapult Stanford into the ranks of the world's first class educational institutions, as well as spurring the growth of Silicon Valley.

Thoughts and Research on Gifted Children

Terman’s study of genius and gifted children was a lifelong interest [2]. His fascination with the intelligence of children began early in his career since he was familiar with Alfred Binet’s research in this area [3]. Terman followed J. McKeen Cattell’s work which combined the ideas of Wilhelm Wundt and Francis Galton saying that those who are intellectually superior will have better “sensory acuity, strength of grip, sensitivity to pain, and memory for dictated consonants” [4]. During his time at Clark University working on his Ph.D., Terman wrote his dissertation entitled Genius and stupidity: a study of some of the intellectual processes of seven “bright” and seven “stupid” boys where he administered Cattell’s tests on boys who were considered intelligent versus boys who were considered unintelligent[5].

In 1915, he wrote a paper called The mental hygiene of exceptional children[6]. He pointed out that though he believes the capacity for intelligence is inherited, those with exceptional intelligence also need exceptional schooling. Terman wrote that, “[Bright children] are rarely given tasks which call forth their best ability, and as a result they run the risk of falling into lifelong habits of submaximum efficiency” [7]. In other words, nature (heredity) plays a large role in determining intelligence, but nurture (the environment) is also important in fostering the innate intellectual ability.

With Binet’s development of IQ tests, it became possible to identify early on the children who were gifted or geniuses given their age and study them from their early childhood into adulthood [8]. Terman noted in his 1922 paper called A New Approach to the Study of Genius that this advancement in testing marked a change in research on geniuses and giftedness [9]. Previously, the research had looked at genius adults and tried to look in retrospect into their early years of childhood. Through these studies on gifted children, Terman hoped to find how to properly educate a gifted child as well as dispel the negative stereotypes that that gifted children were “conceited, freakish, socially eccentric, and [insane]” [10].

Terman found his answers in his longitudinal study on gifted children called Genetic Studies of Genius which had five volumes [11]. The children in this study were called “Termites” [12]. The volumes reviewed the follow-ups Terman did throughout their lives. The fifth volume was a 35 year follow-up, and looked at the gifted group during mid-life [13]. The results from this study showed that gifted and genius children were actually in good health and had normal personalities. Few of them demonstrated the previously held negative stereotype of gifted children. Most of those in the study did well socially and academically in school and had lower divorce rates later in life [14]. Additionally, those in the gifted group were generally successful in their careers and had received awards recognizing their achievements. Though many of the “Termites” reached their potential in adulthood, some of the children did not perhaps because of personal obstacles, insufficient education, or lack of opportunity [15]. Terman was an advocate for early identification of gifted children so that proper encouragement could be provided [16]. Because of this support, the children would be more likely to reach their full potential. He also promoted early identification because it made it possible to accelerate the education of gifted children through skipping grade levels in school.

Terman died before he completed the fifth volume of Genetic Studies of Genius, but Melita Oden, a colleague, completed the volume and published it [17]. Terman wished for the study to continue on after this death, so he selected Robert Sears, one of the many successful participants in the study as well as a colleague of his, to continue with the work [18]. The study is still supported by Stanford University and will persist until the last of the “termites” withdraw from the study or die.

Preceded by:
Knight Dunlap
Lewis Terman elected APA President
Succeeded by:
G. Stanley Hall



  • Terman, L.M. (1916) The Measurement of Intelligence, Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Terman, L.M. (1916)The Use of Intelligence Tests
  • Terman, L.M. (1923)The Stanford Achievement Test
  • Terman, L.M. (1925)Genetic Studies of Genius (1947, 1959)
  • Terman, L.M. and Merrill, M. (1937) Measuring Intelligence: a Guide to the Administration of the New Revised Stanford-Binet Tests of Intelligence, Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin.

Book Chapters



  1. Terman's Kids: The Groundbreaking Study of How the Gifted Grow Up by Joel N. Shurkin, Little Brown & Co, 1992, ISBN 0316788902
  2. (Vialle, 1994)
  3. (Bernreuter, Miles, Tinker, & Young, 1942)
  4. (Seagoe, 1975)
  5. (Terman, 1906)
  6. (Terman, 1915)
  7. (Bernreuter, Miles, Tinker, & Young, 1942, p. 10)
  8. (Bernreuter, Miles, Tinker, & Young, 1942)
  9. (Terman, 1922)
  10. (Bernreuter, Miles, Tinker, & Young, 1942, p. 11)
  11. (Minton, 1988)
  12. (Seagoe, 1975)
  13. (Terman, 1959)
  14. (Seagoe, 1975)
  15. (Bernreuter, Miles, Tinker, & Young, 1942)
  16. (Minton, 1988)
  17. (Terman, 1959)
  18. (Seagoe, 1975)

Further reading

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