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David Wechsler: biography of the creator of intelligence scales

David Wechsler: biography of the creator of intelligence scales

November 27, 2021

David Wechsler is an old acquaintance of all those who have studied intelligence at the scientific level, from disciplines such as psychology or branches or specializations such as neuropsychology or neuropsychiatry. Not in vain is the author of one of the most famous and used batteries for evaluating cognitive abilities , the Wechsler Intelligence Scales, both in its version for adults (WAIS) and in children (WISC).

We are probably one of the most recognized and important professionals who researched and carried out various studies on intelligence and cognitive ability, and who transformed this research into a practical material that would allow assessing the status of patients. We'll see now a short biography of David Wechsler .


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The life of the creator of the Wechsler Scales: biography of David Wechsler

David Wechsler was born on January 12, 1896 in the city of Lespedi, in Romania, as the youngest of seven brothers. He came from a family of Jewish origin, being the son of Professor Moses S. Wechsler and the shopkeeper Leah W. Pascal.

In 1902, when David was six years old, the Wechsler family emigrated to the United States , specifically to the city of New York. Nationalized in that country, he would carry out his primary and secondary studies.

University education and World War I

Once finished the secondary one would initiate its university studies in the City College of New York, of which would graduate in 1916. Later it would realize a master in Experimental Psychology in the University of Columbia, in 1917.


After that and before the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted in the army, in which he would participate as a psychologist . Initially he worked in Long Island, in the Yaphank camp, being assigned the pass of general intelligence test (concretely the Army Alpha and Army Beta, which pretended to be used to value the assignment of the recruits as officers or private soldiers) facing the selection of recruits.

He would perform the same tasks in the psychological division in Fort Logan, Texas, where he would meet and work with authors such as Thorndike, Yerkes, Spearman or Pearson. Throughout his military experience, he would begin to realize that the tests used had serious limitations and biases (for example, they were not adapted for illiterates or foreigners, being the verbal excessively important).

He also served in France. After the war, the army he was awarded a scholarship in 1918 to study at the University of London , where he would meet again with Pearson or Spearman.


After that, in 1919 he would be accepted at the University of Paris, where he carried out research in experimental psychology on the variations of electrical conductivity in the skin before emotional changes with Piéron and Lapique, until 1922.

That same year he returned to the United States, working initially at the Boston Psychiatric Hospital for, months later, move to New York and enter as a psychologist at the Bureau of Child Guidance, a center where he observed and practiced as a clinical psychologist until 1925. That year he completed his research on the electrical conduction of the skin, doing his doctorate with Columbia University (having been tutored by Woodworth).

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Postdoctoral life and World War II

After taking his doctorate he would spend the following years, specifically until 1932, practicing as a clinical psychologist in private practice, as well as a secretary at the New York Psychological Corporation (where he introduced a lie detector in 1926). His investigations made him see that the magnitude of interpersonal differences was overestimated in terms of cognitive abilities, as well as starting at certain ages these begin to decline.

In 1932 he would be offered the position of chief psychologist at the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, a position he would hold until 1967. He would also remain in contact with the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of New York. His studies were varied, but the intelligence would continue being the subject that more interest produced .

In 1934 he married Florence Felske, although weeks after the wedding she died in a traffic accident. He would not marry again until 1939, the year in which I would marry Ruth Halpern (with which he would end up having two children).

The same year of this second marriage would also be a milestone in psychology, the publication of its first scales of intelligence. We are talking about the Wechsler-Bellevue Scale of Intelligence.However, unfortunately, it was also in that same year that World War II began.

During this second warlike conflict he would be appointed advisor by the Secretary of War of the United States. His role would also be relevant after the war, developing and implementing a mental health program for the survivors of the Holocaust in Cyprus during 1947 and working with war veterans. He also visited the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, working briefly as a professor in 1967.

Another remarkable aspect in which over the years was developing different tests, including the Wechsler Memory Scale, or the well-known WAIS (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale), WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) or WPPSI (Wechsler Primary and Preschool Scale) of Intelligence, for preschool children) as well as some of their revisions. His contributions were highly respected and valued while he was alive, receiving different decorations for them.

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Death and legacy

Wechsler died at his home in Manhattan on May 2, 1981 , in the city of New York. His death occurred at 85 years of age, leaving a wife, children and grandchildren. However, his legacy is broad and still valid today.

His studies on intelligence and the scales he created have been very useful to assess and assess the cognitive status of patients who manifest some type of deterioration.

In fact, although the entire battery is not usually used as it would involve considerable time, it is common for many of the tests generated for it to be used today in the evaluation of people with memory complaints, to assess cognitive ability and to adjust the aid in case it is necessary (for example in the case of necessity of educational aid in the school) or that present some type of cognitive deterioration (to evaluate deterioration generated by age or even observe alterations generated by some type of dementia) .

Tests such as the WAIS and the WISC continue to be conducted periodically , improving and updating its scales but retaining the name of its original designer, Wechsler.

Bibliographic references:

  • Saxon, W. (1981). Dr. David Wechsler, 85, Author of Intelligence Tests. The New York Times.

What is the Wechsler scale and its Versions (November 2021).


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