Louis Leon Thurstone was a giant in the field of psychometrics, butbegan his career as an engineer. After receiving a masters degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University (1912), Thurstone was offered a brief assistantship in the laboratory of Thomas Edison. After two years as an instructor of geometry and drafting at The University of Minnesota, in 1914 he enrolled as a graduate student in psychology at The University of Chicago, from which he was to receive his doctorate in 1917. Thurstone spent the major part of his career at the University of Chicago (1924-1952), where in the 1930s he established the Psychometric Laboratory.
Thurstone's work contributed to major advances in the fields of test theory, psychophysics, and the measurement of attitudes. Perhaps his best-known contribution was the development of multiple-factor analysis, an approach to determining the number and nature of unobserved constructs giving rise to relationships among observed variables. He was among the core group of scientists responsible for establishing the Psychometric Society and its publication outlet, Psychometrika, the first journal devoted to the study of quantitative psychology.
In 1952 Thurstone retired from the University of Chicago and established his Psychometric Laboratory at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC. Thurstone's wife, Thelma, directed the laboratory from Thurstone's death in 1955 until 1957. Subsequent directors of the Thurstone Psychometric Laboratory have included Lyle V. Jones (1957-1974, 1979-1992), John B. Carroll (1974-1979), David Thissen (1992-2003), Robert C. MacCallum (2003-2010), and Patrick Curran (2010-Present).
From 1952 to 1967 the laboratory was located in Nash Hall (left), facing Pittsboro Street. In 1967 the laboratory was moved to the third floor of the newly expanded Davie Hall. The lab was named in Thurstone's honor soon after.
Until the late 1980s the Quantitative/Cognitive graduate training program was located within the Thurstone Laboratory and represented a range of interests across quantitative and cognitive psychology. In 1989, following ongoing evolution of the field and organizational trends in psychology departments, distinct graduate training programs were established in Quantitative and Cognitive Psychology. Today, both programs remain in the Thurstone Laboratory.
In the more than 50 years since L. L. Thurstone founded the Psychometric Laboratory, the Lab has provided support that has helped to maintain research and graduate training programs that have been and continue to be at the forefront of the field. Research activities of faculty and students have contributed important new knowledge across a range of areas, and the graduate training programs have produced many alumni who in turn have embarked on their own successful careers and have made new contributions to their fields.
Picture taken at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) on the occasion of the dedication of
Thurstone Hall; April 14, 1962.
From left to right:
Bob Thurstone, Conrad Thurstone, J.P. Guilford, Harold Gulliksen, Clyde Coombs, Henry Chauncey, Thelma Thurstone, Fritz Thurstone, Lyle Jones, Jim Regan, Harold Bechtoldt, Dorothy Adkins, Ledyard Tucker, Paul Horst, Bob Abelson, and Fritz Fredrickson
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- Announcing a new psychometric laboratory. (1952).
- Jones, L. V. (1998). L. L. Thurstone's vision of psychology as a quantitative rational science. In G. A. Kimble & M. Wertheimer (Eds.), Portraits of pioneers in Psychology, Vol. III, pp. 85-102. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Wood, D. A. (1962). Louis Leon Thurstone: Creative thinker, dedicated teacher, eminent psychologist. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Thurstone, L. L. (1952). L. L. Thurstone. In E. G. Boring, H. S. Langfeld, H. Werner, & R. M. Yerkes (Eds.), A history of psychology in autobiography, Vol. IV, pp. 295-321. Worcester, MA: Clark University Press.