Arthur Sinton Otis and the American mental testing movement

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Richard H. Williams - Committee Chair


This study examines the role of Arthur Sinton Otis in the history of the American mental testing movement. Focusing on Otis's endeavors as test developer, statistician, and author from his early days as a student of Lewis Terman at Stanford University through his long-time appointment as Director of Test Service for World Book Company, it traces the full course of Otis's involvement in the testing movement and attempts to re-create the climate of the times in which he worked and to identify and analyze the particular circumstances that shaped his career.While Otis's lifelong contributions to statistical method resulted in major benefits for the advancement of psychological testing, it was his creation of the first scale for the group measurement of intelligence that would seem to place him most conspicuously among the pioneering figures in the history of mental testing. Arriving at Stanford University just as Lewis Terman was about to undertake his revision of the Binet Scale, Otis foresaw the impracticality of administering individual tests to large numbers of students and succeeded in translating the scale into a form that could be administered to whole groups of individuals at the same time, an innovation that was to revolutionize the practice of mental-ability testing.Otis's creation of a group-administrable scale coincided with the advent of American involvement in World War I. It was Otis's group scale that formed the basis of the famous Examination Alpha that was administered to almost two million army recruits in the first large-scale mental testing program ever conducted.After the war, at World Book Company, Otis was at the hub of the burgeoning mental testing movement. Setting high professional standards for test developers and consumers alike, he was the recognized "test expert" who provides these individuals with the guidance and advice that were so desperately needed during these years of intense "IQ" enthusiasm. Besides continuing the revise and refine his own tests over a twenty-five year period, Otis made numerous contributions to statistical method, the most significant of these probably being his introduction of a deviation method for computing IQs.


Education, Tests and Measurements; Biography; Education, History of; Psychology, Psychometrics

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