The Edison Brainmeter

The Psychologist has a fantastic article on one of the first psychological ability measures, created not by a psychologist but by the inventor of the domestic light bulb, Thomas Edison, who devised his trivia-based ‘brainmeter’ test as a way of selecting employees.

Although earlier tests had been in use, such as the prototype of the modern IQ test created by French psychologist Alfred Binet, they were designed to detect disability rather than ability – specifically, to identify children with learning difficulties.

Edison’s test was quite different though. It consisted of a 163 seemingly unconnected obscure general knowledge questions of which the pass mark was arbitrarily set at 70%.

The test was considered by be nonsense by psychologists of the day, lacking both statistically validity and a proven connection with other mental abilities, but it became wildly popular and became a frequent media topic:

After the complete test was leaked to newspapers, the questions spread across the country in a national craze. ‘If You Cannot Answer These You’re Ignorant, Edison Says,’ declared one Pennsylvania newspaper, while police in Massachusetts picked up a deranged young man claiming that he was on the run from assassins who were after his book of Edison test answers, ‘valued at $1,000,000’.

Journalists gleefully sprang Edison questions on politicians, professors and captains of industry. New York‚Äôs governor failed; so did the mayor of New York City, its police commissioner and, rather alarmingly, its superintendent of schools. One particularly enterprising reporter tracked down Edison’s son Theodore, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also failed. ‚ÄòDad would find me amazingly ignorant,‚Äô the younger Edison admitted.

His father faced a media circus: the Fox movie studio ran mock Edison tests of biblical trivia to advertise its ‘super-screen spectacle’ The Queen of Sheba, while ads for Vogue magazine assured women readers ‘Never mind the Edison questions! All you need to know is how to be becomingly dressed’. Others were more seriously interested in its value: within days, the Eastman Kodak company announced a similar test for its employees, and the elite Groton School in Massachusetts extended its use to applicants.

The article goes on to explain that Edison’s ‘brainmeter’ test was the inspiration for the American college entry exam, the SAT, which is still in use today.

There turns out to be a few articles on Edison’s test in the archives of The New York Times, my favourite, from 1921, being titled “EDISON BRAINMETER DIVIDES THE CRITICS; Comments on Questionnaire Continue and About One-Half Are From Scorners. COLLEGE MEN NOT SOOTHED Suggestion That Chess Game Would Be a Better Test Meets With Favor From Players.”

Link to The Psychologist article ‘163 ways to lose your job’.

Full disclosure: I am an unpaid associate editor and occasional columnist for The Psychologist and I file all knowledge under the categories ‘psychology/neuroscience’ and ‘miscellaneous’.

One thought on “The Edison Brainmeter”

  1. Irrefutable Proof ICTY Is Corrupt Court/Irrefutable Proof the Hague Court Cannot
    Legitimately Prosecute Karadzic Case
    (The Documentary Secret United Nations ICC Meeting Papers Scanned Images)
    This legal technicality indicates the Hague must dismiss charges against Dr Karadzic
    and others awaiting trials in the Hague jail; like it or not.
    Unfortunately for the Signatures Of the Rome Statute United Nations member states
    instituting the ICC & ICTY housed at the Hague, insofar as the, Radovan Karadzic, as
    with the other Hague cases awaiting trial there, I personally witnessed these United
    Nations member states openly speaking about trading judicial appointments and
    verdicts for financial funding when I attended the 2001 ICC Preparatory Meetings at
    the UN in Manhattan making the iCTY and ICC morally incapable trying Radovan
    Karazdic and others.
    I witnessed with my own eyes and ears when attending the 2001 Preparatory Meetings
    to establish an newly emergent International Criminal Court, the exact caliber of
    criminal corruption running so very deeply at the Hague, that it was a perfectly viable
    topic of legitimate conversation in those meetings I attended to debate trading verdicts
    AND judicial appointments, for monetary funding.
    Jilly wrote:*The rep from Spain became distraught and when her country’s proposal
    was not taken to well by the chair of the meeting , then Spain argued in a particularly
    loud and noticably strongly vocal manner, “Spain (my country) strongly believes if we
    contribute most financial support to the Hague’s highest court, that ought to give us and
    other countries feeding it financially MORE direct power over its
    ((((((((((((((((((((((((( ((((((((((((((((((((((((( Instead of censoring the country representative
    from Spain for even bringing up this unjust, illegal and unfair judicial idea of bribery for
    international judicial verdicts and judicial appointments, all country representatives
    present in the meeting that day all treated the Spain proposition as a ”totally legitimate
    topic” discussed and debated it between each other for some time. I was quite shocked!
    The idea was “let’s discuss it.” “It’s a great topic to discuss.”
    Some countries agreed with Spain’s propositions while others did not. The point here is,
    bribery for judicial verdicts and judicial appointments was treated as a totally legitimate
    topic instead of an illegitimate toic which it is in the meeting that I
    attended in 2001 that day to establish the ground work for a newly emergent
    international criminal court.))))))))))))))))))))))))))))
    In particular., since “Spain” was so overtly unafraid in bringing up this topic of trading
    financial funding the ICC for influence over its future judicial appointments and verdicts
    in front of every other UN member state present that day at the UN, “Spain” must have
    already known by previous experience the topic of bribery was “socially acceptable” for
    conversation that day. They must have previously spoke about bribing the ICTY and
    ICC before in meetings; this is my take an international sociological honor student.
    SPAIN’s diplomatic gesture of international justice insofar as, Serbia, in all of this is,
    disgusting morally!
    I remind everyone, when I attended those ICC Preparatory Meetings in 2001,
    witnessing first hand the country plenipotentiary representatives present with me
    discussing so openly, trading judicial funding of a new international criminal court, for
    its direct judicial appointments and judicial verdicts, those same state powers were
    those same countries and people were already simultaneously, funding the already
    established ICTY which was issuing at that time, arrest warrants for Bosnian Serbs
    under false primary diplomatic pretenses.
    The ICTY and ICC is just where it should be for once. Cornered and backed into and
    an international wall, scared like a corned animal (and I bet it reacts in the same way a
    rabid cornered animal does too in such circumstances). (ICTY associates)
    (Evidence Agaisnt the ICTY)
    (Documents: Hague war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has
    destroyed all material evidence about the monsterous KLA Albanian/KLA organ trade in
    Kosovo) I believe strongly that ICYU assocaites murdered former Serb President,
    Slobodan Milosevic, tried to murder me, as well and other Serbs prisoners and presently
    places , Doctor Radovan Karadzic’s life in direct danger as well as Ratko Mladic’s life
    in danger should he be brought there.
    The ICTY has no other choice than to halt all further court proceedings against, Doctor
    Radovan Karadzic, and others there both serving sentences and awaiting trials.
    Miss JIll Louise Starr (The UN Security Council has no choice but to act on this now).
    I accuse the Hague ICTY war crimes tribunal of attempted assassination on my life and
    others, contempt of court and obstruction of international justice and “international
    witness tampering” in complicity with Richard Holbrook and Bill Clinton (Former US
    President of the USA) as well as political playersin Spain and the Netherlands .
    I represented the state interests’ of the Former Yugoslavia, in Darko Trifunovic‚Äôs
    absence in those meetings and I am proud to undertake this effort on Serbia’s behalf.

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