William Stern

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William Stern, around 1931

William Louis Stern , born as Ludwig Wilhelm Stern (born April 29, 1871 in Berlin ; † March 27, 1938 in Durham , North Carolina ), was an important German psychologist , founder of differential psychology and developer of the first intelligence quotient . He was a co-founder of the University of Hamburg , the German Society for Psychology ( DGPs ) and the journal for applied psychology . As a philosopher he represented personalism . William Stern was the father of the translator and resistance fighter against National Socialism Hilde Marchwitza (1900–1961), the philosopher , essayist , prose poet and poet Günther Anders (1902–1992) and the co-founder and head of the working group for children and youth aliyah in Berlin, later London, and resistance fighter Eva Michaelis-Stern (1904–1992). The gestalt psychologist and psychoanalyst Erwin Levy was his nephew.


William Stern, son of Sigismund Stern (1837–1890) and Rosa Stern born. Stern (1839–1896) and grandson of the Jewish reformer Sigismund Stern (1812–1867), came from an assimilated Jewish family in Berlin. He received his doctorate in 1893 at the University of Berlin under Moritz Lazarus and completed his habilitation in 1897 under the guidance of the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus .

He married Clara Joseephy , the daughter of a wealthy Berlin family, with whom he had three children, Hilde (1900–1962), Günther (1902–1992) and Eva (1904–1992). The diaries meticulously kept by him and his wife between 1900 and 1918 have gained great importance as a diary method for developmental psychology . The computer transcription is now accessible worldwide via CHILDES .

In 1904, Stern was a founding member of the "German Society for Psychology". Together with Otto Lipmann (1880–1933), Stern founded the "Institute for Applied Psychology and Collective Psychological Research" in 1906. A year later, the first issue of the journal for applied psychology appeared , which Stern also published together with Lipmann.

In accordance with his chair for pedagogy in Wroclaw, he dealt extensively with the theoretical further development of child psychology. From the scientific evaluation of the long-term study of the observation diaries carried out jointly by the Stern couple , the specialist books “Die Kinderssprache” (1907), “Memory, Testimony and Lies in First Childhood” (1908) and “Psychology of Early Childhood” arose up to the age of six ”1914. Stern was also an innovator in developing scientific methods for examining the credibility of (adolescent) testimony . In 1903, Stern was the first forensic psychologist in Germany to work there, and later frequently in court proceedings.

He was rather critical of Freud's psychoanalysis. In 1913 he wrote a “Warning against the Assault by Youth Psychoanalysis” as well as critical statements in journals on a scientific level. In 1909 Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, and Stern jointly received honorary doctorates from Clark University . They met again in 1928 at a Congress in Vienna, but the opposition remained. Heinz Werner was later to continue Stern's personalistic tradition here.

In 1911, Stern founded differential psychology with his textbook of the same name . Stern increasingly dealt with questions of intelligence research, in particular using the test procedures developed mainly by Alfred Binet . In 1912, Stern proposed a new way of calculating the degree of intelligence of a child, which differed from Binet, and coined the concept of the intelligence quotient . This term prevailed in the following years and, as “IQ”, became one of the most well-known psychological terms.

He turned down a call to the Berlin University, that is to say to his hometown, as it was compulsorily linked to converting to the Christian denomination. From 1916, after the death of Ernst Meumann , he took over the chair for philosophy at the general lectures in Hamburg. When the soldiers, including many students, returned from the First World War in November 1918 , William Stern, together with the professors of the Hamburg Colonial Institute that existed at the time, initiated private university courses. These courses were hugely popular, which ultimately led to the establishment of the University of Hamburg in 1919 .

William Stern took over the management of the Philosophical Institute (together with Ernst Cassirer ) and the Psychological Institute (together with Heinz Werner) at the University of Hamburg. Because in the cosmopolitan, liberal Hanseatic city there were fewer prejudices against his denomination. From 1919 on, Erich Stern, who deals with intelligence research, occupational psychology / professional aptitude and career counseling for the brain-injured, was one of his permanent scientific collaborators at the Psychological Institute . One of his students was Gordon Allport . From 1918 to 1924 he published his series "Person und Ding" Vol. I-III, which dealt specifically with personalism . He defined psychology as an intersecting science : as having a share in all three areas, namely the humanities, social and life sciences.

From 1921, Stern was on the board of directors of the "German Society for Psychology" founded in 1904, and in 1929 was elected deputy chairman. In 1931 the society's congress met in Hamburg and Stern was elected chairman of the society. In 1933 Stern was dismissed from university by the National Socialists under unworthy circumstances.

1933 fled the couple Stern, warned by his 31-year-old son Günther regarding the threat of destruction, before the onset of the persecution of the Jews of the Nazi regime into exile , first in the Netherlands . During his emigration he wrote “The general psychology on a personalistic basis”, which he had printed in his mother tongue by a Dutch publisher in 1935 . The Sterns later fled to the USA because of the threatened German occupation of the Netherlands. In North Carolina , Stern received a professorship at Duke University in Durham , which he held until his death in 1938.

useful information

Stern is also known for his term " interpretation botch ", first introduced in 1905 , with which he described psychologists who use their profession to sell their private opinions and their personal attitudes and prejudices as psychological, scientific knowledge.

Son Günther recalled that he was not in agreement with the mindless use of the intelligence quotient he had invented as a quick test for intelligence: "The assumption that being able to paint is proof of thinking reveals the deepest IQ and a total educational deficit."


William Stern's scientific papers are kept at the National Library of Israel .

William Stern Society eV

The William Stern Society, founded in 1982 at the University of Hamburg, gave itself its name in honor of William Stern and promotes mathematically gifted boys and girls from grade 7 onwards. The aim of this promotion is primarily the development of mathematical creativity in the sense of the namesake and intelligence and only subordinate to the teaching of formal procedures for solving mathematical problems. Numerous winners of national and international mathematics competitions such as the Federal Mathematics Competition, the German Mathematical Olympiad, the European Mathematical Olympiad and the International Mathematical Olympiad have emerged from the sponsorship of the William Stern Society.



- chronologically by year of first edition -


  • Journal for applied psychology and collective psychological research At the same time organ of the Institute for applied psychology and collective psychological research. Edited by William Stern and Otto Lipman. Extended continuation of the contributions to the psychology of the statement. First volume. Published by Johann Ambrosius Barth, Leipzig 1908

See also


  • Martin Chechne : William Stern , Ellert & Richter Verlag, Hamburg 2010 ISBN 978-3-8319-0404-4 .
  • James T. Lamiell: William Stern (1871-1938): A Brief Introduction to His Life and Works. Pabst Science Publishers, Lengerich, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-89967-589-4 .
  • Günther Stern-Anders: picture of my father. In: William Stern: General psychology on a personalistic basis. 2nd Edition. Nijhoff, Haag 1950, pp. XXIII-XXXII.
  • Gerald Bühring: William Stern or striving for unity. (= Contributions to the history of psychology, vol. 13. Ed. Helmut E. Lück), Frankfurt am Main et al. 1996, ISBN 3-631-49695-8 .
  • Werner Deutsch (Ed.): About the hidden topicality of William Stern. Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1991 ISBN 978-3-631-43397-3 .
  • H. Behrens, W. Deutsch: The diaries of Clara and William Stern. In: HE Lück, R. Miller (Ed.): Theories and methods of research in the history of psychology. Hogrefe, Göttingen 1991, pp. 67-76.
  • Journal of Psychology. With a journal for applied psychology. ISSN  0044-3409
  • Norbert Kleinefeld: Rediscovery of Wholeness. On the meaning of idealistic holistic approaches in the German Empire at the end of the 19th century and on the concept of wholeness in William Stern. BIS, Oldenburg 1997.
  • Utz Maas : Persecution and emigration of German-speaking linguists 1933–1945. Entry on William Stern (accessed: April 15, 2018)

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ German biography: Stern, William - German biography. Retrieved January 7, 2018 .
  2. ^ Jewish Women's Archive: Eva Michaelis Stern 1904-1992
  3. ^ German biography: Stern, William - German biography. Retrieved April 8, 2020 .
  4. Gernot Huppmann, Reinhold Ahr: Erich Stern (1889-1959) and medical psychology: an ergobiographical sketch. In: Medical historical messages. Journal for the history of science and specialist prose research. Volume 34, 2015, pp. 137–155, here: pp. 139 f.
  5. ^ Paul Probst: History of the Department of Psychology at the University of Hamburg, s. Web links
  6. calendar page , Dradio 19 April, 2012.