This lesson provides biographical information on the psychologist Raymond Cattell and also explains his theory on personality, which was a major contribution to the field of psychology.

Who was Raymond Cattell?

Raymond Cattell was a British-born psychologist best known for his work in the field of personality psychology. Cattell grew up in a small town in England, with a father who worked on projects developing military equipment for WWI. Cattell was the first in his family to attend university and was awarded a scholarship to study chemistry in London. Cattell completed a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of London.

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Cattell became interested in the social sciences, and specifically in psychology, because he believed psychology could provide an avenue for solving pressing human problems, particularly during the upheaval of WWI. Cattell was invited to study at Columbia University in New York, where his studies focused on understanding human intelligence. He eventually continued this work at Harvard University, where, surrounded by a group of gifted psychologists, he used the idea of factor analysis to understand human personality. Factor analysis is a statistical method used to observe correlation among variables.

After Harvard, Cattell took a research position at the University of Illinois, where he really began to further develop his theory of personality. Cattell and his associates produced hundreds of publications on this subject. He is credited with developing some of the most comprehensive psychological work on human personality and developing creative methodological approaches that are still highly influential in contemporary psychology.

Raymond Cattell died in Hawaii in 1998, leaving behind an important legacy for psychologists, particularly those interested in understanding human personality.

Cattell’s Personality Theory

Psychologists have long been interested in studying personality. Raymond Cattell was one of the first psychologists to study personality in-depth and he is perhaps best known for creating a taxonomy of human personality. Basically, a taxonomy is a fancy way of saying classification. Cattell was interested in classifying people based on different kinds of personalities.

16 Factor Personality Test

Cattell used a mathematical method called factor analysis to study human personality. He developed questionnaires and quizzes consisting of 164 statements that ask people about themselves. For example, the statements could be, ‘I am outgoing’ or ‘I like to start conversations.’ Respondents were asked to note the extent to which they thought each statement was an accurate reflection of themselves.

Cattell administered this instrument to a large number of people and also collected data on people from employee evaluations and student report cards. Once Cattell collected all of this data, factor analysis allowed him to see correlations between a large number of variables. Cattell used this data to come up with personality factors such as reserved, humble, and imaginative. Do you think any of these factors describe you?

Cattell’s Types of Data

Cattell used three different types of data: life data (L-data), experimental data (T-data), and questionnaire data (Q-data). L-data is the kind of data that is collected from a subject’s everyday life, such as looking at people’s relationships or performance in school. T-data is data collected from experiments in a lab, where a subject’s behavior is observed. Q-data is collected by administering test or questionnaires to individuals. Cattell believed that it was important to analyze all three of these data in conjunction so that we may see how common certain characteristics are.

Cattell designed his research in this manner in order to determine whether or not there are any universal personality traits. In other words, are there certain characteristics that nearly every person has? Not exactly. But Cattell did find that there are 16 personality characteristics that most of us have, just to varying degrees. Cattell argues that personality occurs on a continuum. For example, you might have tendencies to be both outgoing and social and reserved, depending on the situation. This test came to be known as the 16FP and is still used in personality research, as well as to diagnose certain personality disorders.

Lesson Summary

Raymond Cattell was a well-known British-American psychologist who made major contributions to personality theory. He is perhaps best know for developing the 16FP, or 16 personality continuum, which is a theory of personality that suggests most of our personalities fall along a continuum of 16 common traits. He used three different types of data: L-data, T-data and Q-data to come up with the 16FP.