Black History Month Spotlight: Herman George Canady

We cannot fully understand U.S History without knowing Black History. African Americans have contributed and continue to contribute to U.S. society in valuable ways. Unfortunately, these contributions have been widely unrecognized. In response, February has become a special time for all to become aware of and remember these contributions. For example, in school, you may have learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and others. These figures are important and have shaped the way in which the world operates today, but there are also many hidden African American figures that have contributed just as much.

There are too many African American scholars whose work have gone overlooked, so the Center for Advanced Hindsight would like to celebrate Black History Month by highlighting African American scholars who have made great accomplishments and contributions to behavioral science. Each week we will cover a different scholar, starting with social psychologist Herman George Canady.

Dr. Herman George Canady (1901-1970) was born in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. He attended Northwestern University Theological School as a Charles F. Grey scholarship student, where his interest in behavioral science began. Dr. Canady held several degrees from Northwestern University including a B.A in sociology with a minor in psychology (1927), M.A. in clinical psychology (1928), and Ph.D. in psychology.

Dr. Canady has contributed to the field of psychology in many ways. Firstly, he became the first psychologist to study the relationship between an IQ test examiner and the tester. In his master thesis, “The Effects of Rapport on the IQ: A Study in Racial Psychology” he explored whether the race of the IQ examiner (Black versus White) had an influence on IQ testers’ scores. He hypothesized (predicted) that I.Q. scores for Black children tested by a White examiner would be different compared to a Black examiner. The participants in Canady’s study were 48 Black and 25 White elementary school children. All participants were given The Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon test, which they completed twice. Some of the children were tested first by a Black examiner and again by a White examiner, and the others were vice versa. Results failed to reveal any significant differences among the groups due to rapport with the examiner.

Despite the results, conducting this research enabled Dr. Canady to be the first to explore how external factors such as the race of the examiner can potentially create bias in IQ testing. He also went on to provide suggestions on how to foster a testing environment that is suitable to help Black students succeed. Dr. Canady not only found success with his master’s thesis, but with his dissertation as well. According to apa.org, his dissertation, “Test Standing and Social Setting: A Comparative Study of the Intelligence-Test Scores of Negroes Living Under Varied Environmental Conditions,” became a widely quoted study in sociology and psychology.

Secondly, he played a vital role in helping African Americans earn Ph.Ds. and join universities. For example, he helped to establish West Virginia’s Psychological Association and West Virginia’s state board of psychological examiners. He produced Psychology in Negro Institutions, which was the only known published research at that time which assessed the status, training, and research efforts of early psychologists in black colleges and universities.

Lastly, Dr. Canady held many leadership roles. For example, he served as the chairmanship of the psychology department at West Virginia Collegiate Institution (now West Virginia State College) and was a designated Diplomate of the American Board of Examiners in Professional Psychology. Outside of being a social psychologist, he was also a part-time clinical psychologist.

Throughout his career, Dr. Canady’s accomplishments paved the way to better understand testing environments for African Americans and helped to prepare universities and the workforce to train and accept Black psychologists. He is just one of many African American figures who has made valuable contributions to behavioral science. Please be sure to check out our next Black History Blog post to see more important African American figures that will be showcased!

Shanta Ricks is a researcher at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University, an applied behavioral science research lab that helps people be happier, healthier, and wealthier. You can reach her at shanta.ricks@duke.edu

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