Anne Anastasi and Psychological Testing of the Individual

Anne Anastasi was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1987

Anne Anastasi was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1987

On December 19, 1908, American psychologist Anne Anastasi was born. She is best known for her pioneering development of psychometrics. Her seminal work, Psychological Testing, remains a classic text in which she drew attention to the individual being tested and therefore to the responsibilities of the testers. She called for them to go beyond test scores, to search the assessed individuals’ history to help them to better understand their own results and themselves.

Anne Anastasi – Early Years

Anne Anastasi was born and grew up in New York City, the daughter of Anthony Anastasi and Theresa Gaudiosi Anastasi. Her father died already when she was still in her infancy. Thus, Anne was raised by her mother, maternal grandmother, and uncle. Her mother taught herself bookkeeping and successfully supported the family, opening a piano factory at one point. She was educated by her grandmother and a hired schoolteacher until she was nine years old. After entering a public school, she first skipped several grades but eventually dropped out. When she was 15, Anastasi enrolled at Barnard College at Columbia University.

Becoming a Psychologist

Early in her studies, Anastasi became enthusiastic about psychology, influenced by the lecture of Harry Hollingworth. After graduating from Barnard with a bachelor’s degree at age 20 in 1928, Anastasi began graduate work at Columbia University, and completed the PhD program in only two years. She was also able to attend the International Congress of Psychology at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where she saw such luminaries as Spearman and Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov.[5] Anne Anastasi was offered her first job in the spring of 1930 by Harry Hollingworth to teach at Barnard, where she stayed until 1946. Anastasi spent the rest of her career at Fordham University in New York City until her retirement in 1979.

Differential Psychology

In 1937, Anastasi published the first edition of Differential Psychology, a nearly 900-page pioneering work on what she defined as “the scientific study of differences between groups”. Her definition encompassed not only race and ethnicity, but also group differences reflective of age, education, family, gender, religion, and social class. Anastasi also addressed the methodological challenges involved in studying group differences. By 1954, Anastasi herself had moved from the study of group differences to that of individual differences. Overall, she published three editions of Differential Psychology (1937, 1949, 1958).

What do Intelligence Tests Measure?

In 1983, Anne Anastasi published an essay called “What Do Intelligence Tests Measure?”. In it, she attempted to correct misinterpretations regarding the understanding and use of aptitude and personality tests. The scientist pointed out that the testing boom of the 1920s caused the term IQ to be adopted and misused by the general public. According to Anastasi, the misappropriation of the term created connotations that intelligence is heritable, stable throughout one’s lifespan, and resistant to change.

Intelligence can change over Time

She emphasized that psychometric scores convey an individual’s present status of what he or she knows. She cautioned against interpreting such tests as serving a strong predictive function, as scores only indicated to what degree a person acquired the knowledge and skills for the criterion of a given test. They evaluate for what is in high demand within a specific context, what an individual can achieve in the future depends not only on his or her present intellectual status as determined by the test, but also on subsequent experiences. Anne Anastasi advocated against psychometric tests definitively labelling a person, as they assess for specific types of knowledge and do not account for how intelligence can change over time.

Psychological Testing

Anastasi mostly applied existing methods to individual and group ability testing, as well as self-report inventories and measuring interests and attitudes. She followed the methodological principles of norms, reliability, validity, and item analysis. The essay Psychological Testing: Basic Concepts and Common Misconceptions, encapsulates Anastasis methodological positions. Anastasi stressed that, in order to evaluate any psychometric test, the tester must be knowledgeable of the main features of the tests, particularly as they apply to norms, validity, and reliability. Her approach to standard scores and standard deviation was one in which she believed that understanding statistical concepts was essential to understanding the meaning of statistical computation.


Anastasi diverged from educational psychologist Robert Glaser in concerns of criterion-referenced tests. Instead of approaching such tests as fundamentally different from norm-referenced tests, Anastasi maintained that the two could be combined to give a more comprehensive evaluation of the individual’s test performance. An example is the Stanford Diagnostic Test in reading and mathematics, which assesses specific subject mastery by combining both interpretations. Anastasi recognized that when dealing with standardized testing, much of the variance in reliability can be minimized by controlling such conditions as the testing environment, rapport, instructions, and time limits.

Aptitude and Achievement Tests

Anne Anastasi further clarified differences between types of tests. Two differences between aptitude tests and achievement tests are test use and the degree of experiential specificity forming the foundation of the tests’ construction. Achievement tests are used to assess current status, aptitude tests can predict future performance as defined by their specific criteria. Experiential specificity is narrowly defined for achievement tests, such as SAT Subject Tests. In contrast, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales aptitude tests are based on broad knowledge of American culture beginning in the twentieth century.

Later Years

Anastasi’s theoretical framework that ability or intelligence change with experience and that their cultural context dictates their parameters informed her methodological approach to psychometric testing. Tests should be selected and used while bearing in mind their contextual appropriateness and limitations. She emphasized that tests serve specific functions in Western society, such as school or occupational placement or to assess for mental disabilities. Anastasi defined intelligence in 1992 as follows:

Intelligence is not a single ability, but is rather composed of different functions. It refers to the combination of skills necessary for survival and success in a particular culture.

Anne Anastasi died in New York on May 4, 2001

Joanne Powell, Psychological testing: An introduction, [5]

References and Further Reading:

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