Journal of the [Royal] Anthropological Institute [Of Great Britain and Ireland]

Date: 1903

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There are probably few persons who would now deny the immense importance of ancestry in the case of any domestic animal The studbooks, which exist for horses, cattle, dogs, cats, and even canaries, demonstrate the weight practically given to ancestry when the breeding of animals has developed so far that certain physical characters possess commercial value. A majority of the community would probably also admit today that the physical characters of man are inherited with practically the same intensity as the like characters in cattle and horses. But few, however, of the majority who accept this inheritance of physique in man, apply the results which flow from such acceptance to their own conduct in life—still less do they appreciate the all important bearing of these results upon national life and social habits. Nor is the reason for this—or better, one out of several reasons for this—hard to find. The majority of mankind are more or less conscious that man has not gained his pre-eminence by physique alone. They justly attribute much of his dominance in the animal kingdom to those mental and moral characters, which have rendered him capable of combining with his neighbours to form stable societies with highly differentiated tasks and circumscribed duties for their individual members.

Within such communities we see the moral characters developing apparently under family influences; the mental characters developing not only under home training, but under the guidance of private and public teachers, the whole contributing to form a complex system of national education. To use technical terms, we expect correlation between home influence and moral qualities, and between education and mental power, and the bulk of men too rashly, perhaps, conclude that the home and the school are the chief sources of those qualities on which social stability so largely depends. We axe too apt to overlook the possibility that the home standard is itself a product of parental stock, and that the relative gain from education depends to a surprising degree on the raw material presented to the educator. We are agreed that good homes and good schools are essential to national prosperity. But does not the good home depend upon the percentage of innately wise parents, and the good school depend quite as much on the children’s capacity, as on its staff and equipment?

It is quite possible to accept these views and yet believe that the moral and mental characters are inherited in either a quantitatively or a qualitatively different manner from the physical characters. Both may be influenced by environment, but the one in a far more marked way than the other. Since the publication of Francis Galton’s epoch-making books, Hereditary Genius and English Men of Science, it is impossible to deny in tote the inheritance of mental characters. But we require to go a stage further and ask for an exact quantitative measure of the inheritance of such characters and a comparison of such measure with its value for the physical characters.

Accordingly some six or seven years ago I set myself the following problem: What is the quantitative measure of the inheritance of the moral and mental characters in man, and how is it related to the corresponding measure of the inheritance of the physical characters?

The problem really resolved itself into three separate investigations:

(a) A sufficiently wide inquiry into the actual values of inheritance of the physical characters in man.

This investigation was carried out by the measurement of upwards of 1000 families. We thus obtained ample means of determining both for parental and fraternal relationships the quantitative measure of resemblance.

(b) A comparison of the inheritance of the physical characters in man with that of the physical characters in other forms of life.

This has been made for a considerable number of characters in diverse species, with the general result that there appears to be no substantial difference, as far as we have been able to discover, between the inheritance of physique in man, and its inheritance in other forms of life.

(c) An inquiry into the inheritance of the moral and mental characters in man.

This is the part of my work with which we are at present chiefly concerned, and I want to indicate the general lines along which my argument runs.

In the first place it seemed to me absolutely impossible to get a quantitative measure of the resemblance in moral and mental characters between parent and offspring. You must not compare the moral character of a child with those of its adult parents. You can only estimate the resemblance between the child and what its parents were as children. Here the grandparent is the only available source of information; but not only does age affect clearness of memory and judgment, the partiality of the relative is a factor which can hardly be corrected and allowed for. If we take, on the other hand, parents and offspring as adults, it is difficult to appeal to anything but the vox populi for an estimate of their relative moral merits, and this vox is generally silent unless both are men of marked public importance. For these and other reasons I gave up any hope of measuring parental resemblance in moral character. I confined my attention entirely to fraternal resemblance. My argument was of this kind. Regarding one species only, then if fraternal resemblance for the moral and mental characters be less than, equal to, or greater than fraternal resemblance for the physical characters, we may surely argue that parental inheritance for the former set of characters is less than, equal, to, or greater than that for the latter set of characters.

In the next place it seemed impossible to obtain moderately impartial estimates of the moral and mental characters of adults. Who but relatives and close friends know them well enough to form such an estimate, and which of us will put upon paper, for the use of strangers, a true account of the temper, probity and popularity of our nearest? Even if relatives and friends could be trusted to be impartial, the discovery of the preparation of schedules by the subjects of observation might have ruptured the peace of households and broken down life-long friendships. Thousands of schedules could not be filled up in this manner. The inquiry, therefore, resolved itself into an investigation of the moral and mental characters of children. Here we could replace the partial parent or relative by the fairly impartial school teacher. A man or woman who deals yearly with forty to a hundred new children, rapidly forms moderately accurate classifications, and it was to this source of information that I determined to appeal. . . .

To illustrate the method I will examine a little at length the degree of resemblance of brothers in a physical character. I choose cephalic index and this for two reasons:

(a) Because from the first few years of life onwards the cephalic index scarcely changes with growth.

I have not yet investigated my own school data from this standpoint, but I have every confidence in the care taken by the late Dr. W. Pfitzner in his elaborate system of measurements, and the above is the conclusion he reaches.

(b) Several great authorities have recently stated that they do not "believe" in the cephalic index, i.e., consider it of small value for anthropometric purposes.

In the Appendix,2 we have the cephalic index given for 1982 pairs of brothers. This table is, I hope, perfectly intelligible. Taking the boys, for example, with cephalic indices between 74 and 75, these boys had 78 brothers who were distributed according to the arrangement in the column headed 74 to 75. Brothers are not alike in cephalic index, but distributed with a considerable range of variation. We now take in the usual way the arithmetic mean of this array of brothers, and find it to be 77.45. The average brother of a boy with cephalic index = 74.5 has an index of 77.45. This is the phenomenon of regression towards the general population mean (78.9) as discovered by Francis Galton. Now turning to Diagram 1 we plot to 74.5, the mean brother 77.45, and doing this for all arrays we get the series of points there exhibited. You will see at Once that they lie almost exactly on a straight line. This is the well-known regression line. If that line has a slope of 1 in 1, the brother of 74.5 would have a mean brother of 74.5 cephalic index. If it had no slope at all the brother of 74.5 would have a brother like the mean of the general population. In the one case we have absolute resemblance, in the other case no resemblance at all. The actual degree of resemblance, our brothers being equally variable, is measured by the steepness of this regression line. In our case that steepness is .49, almost .5 or 1 in 2. That is the measure of fraternal resemblance in brothers for cephalic index—the correlation between brothers as we term it.

Diagram 1. Resemblance of Brothers in Cephalic Index.

Now we have learnt two great features of inheritance in man. First, that the points in Diagram 1, within the limits of observation, are on a line, and secondly, that the slope of this line is about .5. Are these results true for characters other than the cephalic index? Undoubtedly for all the physical characters yet worked out in man. . . . We cannot hesitate about the regression line being essentially linear. Has it for brethren usually a slope of about .5?

In Table I are given my observations on some 1000 families for adult brothers and sisters. You will see that the steepness of the regression line is essentially about .5.


In table 23 are given my observations on the head measurements of school children. We note at once precisely the same convenient number .5.

I think we, therefore, may safely conclude that for the measurable physical characters in man, we have quite a definite regression line, and that it ascends 1 in 2. . . .

So far we have seen surprising uniformity in the inheritance of the measurable physical characters. How are we to extend our results to physical characters not capable of accurate measurement, and to psychical characters? Clearly the whole problem turns on this: Can we find the steepness or slope of this regression line without all the paraphernalia of the correlation table and the means of arrays? The answer is: Yes; providing we assume a certain distribution of frequency for the Gauss-Laplacian normal curve of deviations from the mean. Grant this distribution, and by very simple classifications indeed we can determine the steepness of the regression line. Now the problem before us is the following one: Is this assumption legitimate? It is certainly not true for organs and characters in all types of life. But it really does describe in a remarkable manner the distribution of most characters in mankind. We have shown that within the limits of random sampling, it is very true for a great variety of characters in the human skull. Dr. Macdonell has demonstrated it also for measurements on criminals, and you can be fairly convinced of its suitability by looking at one or two diagrams. . . . I should be the last to assert that no human characters can be found that do not diverge sensibly from this Gaussian distribution. But I believe they are few, and that for practical purposes we may with nearly absolute safety assume it as a first approximation to the actual state of affairs. This being once granted we can obtain the slope of our regression line by an exceedingly simple process. We can make a mere classification of the following kind, say, into boys with breadths of head below 145 mm., and boys with breadth of head above 145 mm. . . .

Now from such a division the mathematician can deduce the slope of the regression line on the assumption of normal distribution. Here, to give us confidence, are the results for head breadth and height in boys, which were worked out both ways:

For practical purposes these results are identical . . .

I now come to the fundamental idea of my comparison of the psychical and physical resemblance of brothers. Suppose we assume that moral and mental qualities in man, like the physical, follow a normal law of distribution, and that the regression is linear. What results shall we obtain by thus assuming perfect continuity between the physical and the psychical? No doubt the drums will begin to beat the tattoo, we shall hear talk of the hopeless materialism of some men of science. But to use Huxley’s appropriate words: "One does not battle with drummers." I cannot free myself from the conception that underlying every psychical state there is a physical state, and from that conception follows at once the conclusion that there must be a close association between the succession or the recurrence of certain psychical states, which is what we judge mental and moral characteristics by, and an underlying physical confirmation be it of brain or liver. Hence I put to myself the problem as follows: Assume the fundamental laws of distribution which we know to hold for the physical characters in man, and see whither they lead us when applied to the psychical characteristics. They must: (a) Give us totally discordant results. If so, we shall conclude that these laws have no applications to the mental and moral attributes. Or, (b) Give us accordant results. If so, we may go a stage further, and ask how these results compare with those for the inheritance of the physical characters: are they more or less or equally subject to the influence of environment? Here are the questions before us. Let us examine how they are to be answered. As an illustration I take Ability in Girls. I measured intelligence by the following seven classes: (i) Quick Intelligent; (ii) Intelligent; (iii) Slow Intelligent; (iv) Slow; (v) Slow Dull; (vi) Very Dull; and a quite distinct category: (vii) Inaccurate-Erratic. . . .

My next stage was to ask two or three different teachers in several schools to apply the classification to 30 to 50 pupils known to each of them. The classifications were made quite independently, often by teachers of quite different subjects, and a comparison of the results showed that 80 to 85 per cent of the children were put into the same classes by the different teachers, while about 10 per cent more only differed by one class. This gave one very great confidence not only in the value of this scale, but of other psychical classifications when used by observant teachers. The next stage was to obtain exactly, as in the case of Health, a general scale of intelligence.

Diagram 12. Resemblance of Sisters in Ability.

Diagram 114 gives the normal distribution of intelligence in a population of 2014 girls. It is a curious, if a common result of experience, to find that the modal ability is on the borderland between the Intelligent and Slow Intelligent. We have here for the first time a quantitative scale of intelligence, and we can at once apply it to the problem of the degree of resemblance between sisters as regards ability. Just as in the case of Health, all the girls of a given class are taken, say the Slow Intelligents, and at the average value of this class, is plotted upon this scale of intelligence, the average value of the intelligence of the sisters of these girls on the same scale. We thus obtain the six points of Diagram 12, all well within the limits of random sampling, lying on the straight line found from the fourfold division of the data. The slope of this line is .47 or 47, close to 50, in the 100. There can, I think, be small doubt that Intelligence or Ability follows precisely the same laws of inheritance as General Health, and both the same laws as Cephalic Index, or any other physical character.

In precisely the manner indicated here all the other physical and psychical characters recorded may be dealt with. . . .

Thus far my whole object has been to describe the sources of my material, and to throw some light, perchance, on the new methods we have adopted in classification and computation. I have spent a considerable time over this latter topic, because to the anthropologist of the older school, the biometrician too often appears as a juggler in figures. It is impossible, perhaps, to help this at present, when the biometrician is introducing a new calculus, which cannot be learnt without hard work, and which cannot be handled without training. We are not endeavouring to discredit anthropology, but to furnish such branches of it as anthropometry and craniology with new tools—a little sharp-edged to the uninitiated who handle them incautiously—but which will raise anthropometry and craniology in the future into the more exact sciences. Such must be my excuse for describing so fully, and yet, I fear, so ineffectually, the processes we have adopted. It is another point to ask you to admit that I came to this inquiry without prejudice. I expected a priori to find the home environment largely affecting the resemblance in moral qualities of brothers and sisters. I expected to find a spurious emphasis of the inheritance of the moral qualities owing to this environment. Putting any thought of prejudice on one side, accept for a moment the methods adopted, and listen—regardless of the drummers—to the broad results of the inquiry. You have in Table 1 the mean of the resemblance in physical characters of brothers and sisters from my records of family measurements. You have in Table 3 the mean of the physical measurements of our school records—16 series in the first, 24 series in the latter. I venture to say that remembering the possible slips in measurement and in classification, there is not the slightest doubt that those two series absolutely confirm each other, and give a mean degree of resemblance of nearly .5 between children of the same parents for physical characters. How much of that physical resemblance is due to home environment? You might at once assert that size of head and size of body are influenced by nurture, food, and exercise. It is quite true; even curliness may be subject to home influences. But what is the broad effect of such environment on our coefficients of heredity? Can any possible home influence be brought to bear on cephalic index, on hair colour, or eye colour? I fancy not, and yet these characters are within broad lines inherited exactly like the quantities directly capable of being influenced by nurture and exercise. I am compelled to conclude that the environmental influence on physical characters, however great in some cases, is not to the first approximation a great disturbing factor when we consider coefficients of fraternal resemblance in man. I do not believe it to be at all comparable with the irregularities that arise from random sampling and occasional carelessness in measurement or in appreciation of character.

Now turn to Table 4 of the degree of resemblance in the mental and moral characters. What do we find? Perhaps slightly more irregularity in the values than in the case of the physical characters. The judgment



required is much finer; and the classification is much rougher. Let me frankly admit the difficulties of the task, both for observers and computers. I will lay no weight whatever, if you like, on the second place of decimals. But what is the obvious conclusion? Why, that the values of the coefficient again cluster round .5. If anything the average degree of resemblance for the psychical is rather less than for the physical, it certainly is not greater. Personally I would lay not a grain’s weight on the difference. . . .

It has been suggested that this resemblance in the psychical characters is compounded of two factors, inheritance on the one hand and training or environment on the other. If so, you must admit that inheritance and environment make up the resemblance in the physical characters. Now these two sorts of resemblance being of the same intensity, either the environmental influence is the same in both cases, or it is not. If it is the same, we are forced to the conclusion that it is insensible, for it cannot influence eye colour. If it is not the same, then it would be a most marvellous thing, that with varying degrees of inheritance, some mysterious force always modifies the extent of home influence, until the resemblance of brothers or sisters is brought sensibly up to the same intensity! Occam’s razor will enable us at once to cut off such a theory. We are forced, I think literally forced, to the general conclusion that the physical and psychical characters in man are inherited within broad lines in the same manner, and with the same intensity. The average home environment, the average parental influence is in itself part of the heritage of the stock and not an extraneous and additional factor emphasising the resemblance between children from the same home.

But we are not yet at the end of our conclusions. By assuming our normal distribution for the psychical characters we have found, not only self-consistent results—linear regression, for example, as in the case of the inheritance of intelligence, but we have found the same degree of resemblance between physical and psychical characters. That sameness surely involves something additional. It involves a like heritage from parents. The degree of resemblance between children and parents for the physical characters in man may be applied to the degree of resemblance between children and parents for psychical characters. We inherit our parents’ tempers, our parents’ conscientiousness, shyness and ability, even as we inherit their stature, forearm and span.

At what rate is that? I show you a table . . . which represents our present knowledge of parental inheritance in man, and in other species. I venture to say that—within broad lines—the physical characters are inherited at the same rate in man and in the lower forms of life. The resemblance of parent and offspring is again roughly .5.

What conclusion flows upon us irresistibly from the inspection of such a table? Why, that the psychical characters are not features, which differentiate man from the lower types of life. If they are inherited like man’s physical characters, if they are inherited even as the protopodite of the water flea, what reason is there for demanding a special evolution for man’s mental and moral side? We look upon the universe and wonder. The man of science probes a little deeper into nature than the ordinary mortal, but the deeper he probes, the greater his wonder, for the more complex and mysterious the universe appears. Do you wish to draw the line of mystery at living forms? Look at the sky on a clear night, and realise that while astronomers have described the motions of a tiny corner of the universe, they have not the least explanation of how and why those motions are taking place. . . .

But I would not leave you with a mere general declaration that all is mystery, that scientific ignorance of the ultimate is profound. Rather I would emphasize what I have endeavored to show you to-night, that the mission of science is not to explain but to bring all things, as far as we are able, under a common law. Science gives no real explanation, but provides comprehensive description. In the narrower field it has to study how its general conceptions bear on the comfort and happiness of man. Herein, I think, lies especially the coming function of anthropology. Anthropology has in the first place to study man, to discover the sequence of his evolution from his present comparative stages and from his past history. But it cannot halt here; it must suggest how those laws can be applied to render our own human society both more stable and more efficient. In this function it becomes at least the handmaiden of statecraft, if indeed it were not truer to call it the preceptor of statesmen.

If the conclusion we have reached to-night be substantially a true one, and for my part I cannot for a moment doubt that is is so, then what is its lesson for us as a community? Why simply that geniality and probity and ability may be fostered indeed by some home environment and by provision of good schools and well equipped institutions for research, but that their origin, like health and muscle, is deeper down than these things. They are bred and not created. That good stock breeds good stock is a commonplace of every farmer; that the strong man and woman have healthy children is widely recognized too. But we have left the moral and mental faculties as qualities for which we can provide amply by home environment and sound education. . . .

Do not let me close with too gloomy a note. I do not merely state our lack. I have striven by a study of the inheritance of the mental and moral characters in man to see how it arises, and to know the real source of an evil is half-way to finding a remedy. That remedy lies first in getting the intellectual section of our nation to realize that intelligence can be aided and be trained, but no training or education can create it. You must breed it, that is the broad result for statecraft which flows from the equality in inheritance of the psychical and the physical characters in man.


2 Omitted here.

3 Omitted here.

4 Omitted here.


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Chicago: "Mental and Moral Inheritance1," Journal of the [Royal] Anthropological Institute [Of Great Britain and Ireland] in Source Book in Anthropology, ed. Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1920), Original Sources, accessed July 21, 2024,

MLA: . "Mental and Moral Inheritance1." Journal of the [Royal] Anthropological Institute [Of Great Britain and Ireland], Vol. 33, in Source Book in Anthropology, edited by Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T., Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1920, Original Sources. 21 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: , 'Mental and Moral Inheritance1' in Journal of the [Royal] Anthropological Institute [Of Great Britain and Ireland]. cited in 1920, Source Book in Anthropology, ed. , University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 21 July 2024, from