Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

  • -id > 9:3

Yerkes, Robert Mearns

US psychometrician, comparative psychologist, and eugenicist. Harvard-trained, he went to Yale in 1924. Yerkes essentially had two careers. During the first, as a psychometrician and an Army colonel during WWI, he was a member of a team that developed and administered intelligence tests to 1.75 million soldiers. These tests were modified Binet instruments that later became the foundations of today’s IQ tests, SATs, and GREs. His eugenic interpretations of the outcome of the WWI tests had a significant impact on public policy, culminating in the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924. Yerkes has been judged harshly by succeeding generations for this work. His second career, as a pioneering primatologist, was very different. In 1929 he founded the Yale Laboratories of Primate Biology that later became the Yerkes Regional Primate Center; he observed chimpanzees and sent students to the field in 1929-31 to study apes in their natural habitat. Yerkes’ interest in primates was rationalized as a search for behaviors in common with humans that might be useful in human eugenics programs; he later viewed primate research as legitimate in its own right. His major work on primates was The Great Apes (1929), a compendium of extant knowledge about hominoids, and was co-authored with his wife, Ada W. Yerkes.

Full-Text Search Entries