Sir Francis Galton

The baby of nine children, Francis Galton was born in Birmingham, England on February 16, 1822. He was born to Violetta Darwin Galton and Samuel Galton, a wealthy Quaker family. Galton was very smart, reading Shakespeare for fun as a young child. By the time he was four years old, he could read Fench and English, and recite Latin poetry. He knew how to multiply single digits, add and tell time (“Francis Galton 1822-1911”).

Setting out for a career in the medical field, Galton apprenticed at General Hospital in Birmingham and ended up in London at King’s College to complete his work. His next stop was Cambridge, where he studied mathematics and never finished studies in the medical field. Galton married Louisa late in life and had no children (Bynum, 2002). Even though Francis and Louisa had no problems with their marriage, it is said that it did not overflow with affection. Gillham guesses that they regretted not having children, however, Galton did not think his children would have been “eugenically unsound” (Bynum, 2002).

Galton spent a considerable amount of time traveling the world. He was very passionate about his and his favorite place to travel was Africa. While there, he studied race. After exploring different parts of the world, Galton took an interest in meteorology, and weather mapping. He also was the first to use questionnaires for research, fingerprint classification, and correlation and regression, which is now one of the widest used statistical methods in psychology (Irvine, 1986).

However, none of these held his interest as much as studying race and heredity. Galton’s cousin, Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species which pushed Galton to research and answer some of the questions about heredity that had been bothering him. Galton’s strong interest in heredity led him to study all characteristics of the human race. This was known as anthropometry. He created an “Anthropometric Laboratory”, which was included in the International Health Exhibition held in London in 1885. Galton used his studies in anthropometry, and twin studies to develop what he called “eugenics.” Galton felt that nature determined ability, skill and heredity (Irvine, 1986). He felt that intelligence was based on “sensory acuity.” Galton made the term “eugenics,” which was the study of heredity and abilities (” Sir Francis Galton”). He also used this word to describe his work to produce as large of a part as possible of each generation to be what he considered the best (Reilly & Wertz, 1999). Galton felt that women should be left out of his studies because men were the bearers of all noble qualities. He studied Darwin’s theory of “pangenesis.” This meaning that body fluids mixed during mating and this was what passed on good genes. Galton proposed to test this by having a series of experiments on rabbits, to see if blood transfusions would change heritable characteristics. Darwin was enthusiastic, and communicated extensively with Galton about the experiments. However, they were both disappointed when Darwin’s theory of pangenesis was disproved (Gillham, 2001).

There were two main reasons why Galton’s theory of eugenics was being accepted at the beginning of the twentieth century. England’s birth rate was rapidly declining in the middle and upper class, which led to concern over biological deterioration. England wanted to preserve the “best” of their people. Secondly, Darwinians battle with the Church was mostly over, and many people came to accept the theory of evolution through natural selection. Several years later, Galton made many lectures promoting eugenics and even made a “Eugenics Record Office.” Before his death, Galton started writing a novel, Kantsaywhere, (which was never published) in which he proposed his feelings that two people with desirable traits should marry (Gillham, 2001). It is noted that Galton never promoted the entire removal of any ethnic group (Reilly & Wertz, 1999), but wanted to improve the best, instead of removing the worst. Galtons work with heredity and eugenics led him to question how the evolutionary process shaped societies. He felt it was an ongoing struggle to challenge the workings of natural selection. Galton’s books, Natural Inheritance, and Inquiries into the Human Faculty are two of his most famous works that led others to study his work (Gillham, 2001). Galton was knighted in 1909, two years before his death (“Sir Francis Galton”).

Galton had a large impact in psychology. He had a lot of firsts. He was the first to study individual differences in his anthropomic laboratory and with his use of twin studies, mental inheritance, mental imagery, weather forcasting, and fingerprinting. His mental testing was sort of a pathway to the common day mental testing method. He found that most people assume that everyone has the same abilities as their own. I think this was important because we usually think everyone is about as good as we are in certain areas, but everyone is not equal. We need to realize everyone’s differences. We also need to realize that Galton was not far off with his eugenics theory. We tend to like people who are like us, and have the same traits and abilities as we do. We also tend to marry someone who is similar to us, and has a similar background, experience and is at the same point in their lives. I feel it is true that the strongest will survive whether or not we make an effort to do this or not.
I feel Galton still impacts psychology today because of several reasons. The first reason is his work in statistics. We still use correlation and regression a lot today. He laid the groundwork for others to continue his work in statistics to bring it to where it is now. It is known today that heredity plays a role in intelligence, and every other aspect. We can try to use this to help find where certain problems start in one’s family history. Galton’s experiments could be replicated today if we wished. He basically just measured a lot of people’s characteristics and also used rabbits to work with Darwin’s theory of pangenesis. He studied families to determine what was passed along to the next generation.

Galton’s work did not really change the way I view human behavior, but it just brought to my attention what we already do. After reading about his eugenics, it made me aware of the fact that we do seek a mate who has desirable traits. Everyone wants his or her genes to be passed on and this is a way that will ensure it will happen. Selective breeding is almost inbred in us, we do it subconsciously. We seek out others, even friends, who are similar to us, who have common backgrounds and experiences, people who are good influences on us and will help us to become better people. I would consider Galton to be a scientist rather than a clinician because his main focus was on studying people, not applying what he learned to other people. I would not consider Galton to be a dualist. I did not find anything that said he thought the mind and body functioned separately.

Galton impacted me in more than one way. Darwin sparked his interest and Galton ran with it. He was eager to do what he was interested in, and along the way, he contributed to psychology in more than one way. After working with Darwin, and finding some conclusions that he didn’t like, he kept trucking on. The way his work and theory influenced me is that I think about we do in our every day lives, even when we are not forced to do something. The way that we select people with desirable traits, even though we aren’t forced to, is interesting. It makes me wonder if nature plays a larger role than nurture at some times.

Bynum, W. (2002). The Childless Father of Eugenics [Book Review]. Science, 296. Retrieved November 13, 2003, from EBSCOhost.
Francis Galton. The Thoemmes Encyclopedia of the History of Ideas. Retreived November 13, 2003 from the World Wide Web:;
Gillham, N. (2001). Sir Francis Galton and the Birth of Eugenics. Annual Review of Genetics, 35. Retrieved November 13, 2003, from EBSCOhost.
Irvine, P. (1986). Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911). Journal of Special Education, 20. Retreived November 13, 2003, from EBSCOhost.
Reilly, P. and Wertz, D. (1999). Eugenics: 1883-1970. Retrieved October 10, 2003 from the World Wide Web:
Sir Francis Galton. Columbia Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 13, 2003, from EBSCOhost.

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