Date: Feb. 4, 1910

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Ranke, on testing natives of Brazil, a race notable for its feats of vision, found that their ability to discern the position of a letter or similar character at a distance, though good, was not remarkable, but fell within the range of European powers. The steppe-dwelling Kalmuks, also renowned for distant vision, being able to detect the dust of a herd of cattle at a greater distance with the naked eye than a European could with a telescope, have also been examined; and their acuity was indeed found to be very high, averaging considerably above that of Europeans; yet only one or two out of the forty individuals tested exceeded the European record, while the great majority fell within the range of good European eyes. Much the same result has been obtained from Arabs, Egyptians, and quite a variety of peoples. Among the most reliable results are those of Rivers on a wholly unselected Papuan population. He found no very exceptional individual among 115 tested, yet the average was somewhat better than that of Europeans. I had myself, through the kindness of Dr. McGee, the opportunity of testing individuals from quite a variety of races at the St. Louis Fair in 1904, and my results agree closely with those already cited, though I did not find any cases of very exceptional powers among about 300 individuals. There were a number who exceeded the best of the 200 whites whom I also tested under the same conditions, but none who exceeded or equaled the record of a few individuals who have been found in the German army. . . . Rivers has made an observation in connection with the test for eyesight, which I am able to confirm, and which is perhaps of much importance. He found that when the letter or character used in his test, the position of which had to be recognized at the greatest possible distance, was removed from him beyond the distance at which he felt that he could judge it, he could still guess it right nearly every time, though without confidence. By such guessing, one’s record in this test can be bettered considerably; and careful study enables one to see the slight and blurred indications of position which form the basis of the guessing. Now it may well be that the occupations of civilized life breed a habit of depending on clear vision, whereas the life of those who must frequently recognize objects at a great distance breeds reliance on slight indications, and so creates a favorable attitude for the test of eyesight. When this possibility is taken in connection with the deterioration of many European eyes from abuse, and in connection with the observed overlapping of all groups tested, the conclusion is not improbable that, after all, the races are essentially equal in keenness of vision. Even if small differences do exist, it is fairly certain that the wonderful feats of distant vision ascribed to savages are due to practice in interpreting slight indications of familiar objects. Both Rivers and Ranke, on testing some of the very individuals whose feats of keen sight seemed almost miraculous, found that, as tested, they had excellent but not extraordinary vision. A little acquaintance with sailors on shipboard is enough to dispel the illusion that such feats are beyond the powers of the white man.1

1Woodworth, R.S., n/an/an/an/a"Racial Differences in Mental Traits," , Feb. 4, 1910.

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Chicago: Sci. in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . Sci., in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , Sci.. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from