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USC Psychology Professor John Horn Dies

USC Psychology Professor John Horn Dies

John Horn, psychology professor in the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, passed away on Aug. 18, 2006. He was 77.

Horn was best known for his groundbreaking work in the field of psychometrics, the measurement of human cognitive ability. The study of general intelligence, as measured by the IQ test and other similar exams, dates back at least as far as the earliest 20th century, but the research of Horn and his well-known mentor, Raymond B. Cattell, resulted in a revamping of the field’s paradigms.

The Cattell-Horn theory of multiple intelligences, developed and validated over the course of a series of studies beginning in 1966, postulated distinct types of intelligence, dubbed crystallized intelligence (or acquired knowledge) and fluid intelligence (or problem-solving skill). This theory has been described as the most empirically grounded theory of cognitive ability and is now widely accepted.

Horn’s breakthrough in psychometrics wasn’t his only contribution to psychological research, however.

“He worked in multiple domains of psychology,“ said Jack McArdle, a USC psychology professor and former student of Horn’s. “There are at least five major areas of study where his work is seminal.”

His diverse research interests included the results of alcohol use and abuse, cognitive ability over the human lifespan and research methodology. In recent years, Horn had focused on identifying how people’s lifestyles related to changes in their cognitive ability. He collaborated on numerous studies with his wife, Penelope Trickett, a professor in the USC School of Social Work.

Horn was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1969. In 1992, the Society of Multivariate Experimental Psychology recognized Horn with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

“John was a brilliant scholar,” said Joseph Hellige, a psychology professor who helped recruit Horn, “always inquisitive and open to new ideas but with a down-to-earth, unassuming demeanor. And he was a superb colleague.”

Horn also displayed a strong social conscience and commitment to serving his community. As a student, he was vice president and president of the University of Illinois chapter of the NAACP. Throughout his career, he dedicated time to a variety of efforts to help those suffering from alcohol and drug addiction.

“In many ways,” said McArdle, “John was a tower of strength, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and he used his powers to help other people.”

Born in St. Joseph, Mo., Horn had to overcome much adversity in his youth. As an orphan growing up in a rough neighborhood of Denver, he had a number of minor run-ins with the law. He never completed high school, instead receiving his GED after serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

Said McArdle, “John was a very great man who, even though he entered the world in hard times, was basically in love with life.”

Horn attended the University of Denver thanks to the GI Bill, where he studied psychology, mathematics and chemistry, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. A Fulbright fellowship brought him to Australia to study at the University of Melbourne for one year. He went on to earn his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1965.

He returned to the University of Denver as a faculty member, where he taught, won many honors and conducted his innovative research until 1986. In that year, Horn joined the faculty at USC College, serving as head of the psychology department’s program in adult development and aging. He’s remembered for helping obtain training grants for doctoral students. At the time of his death, he was still active in research and had plans for a pair of books on research methods.

“This man was looking to the future,” said Gerald Davison, professor and chair of psychology. “He had a lively, young mind and a lot of intellectual fervor. He knew that he had a lot to offer yet to the field. His death is such a loss to the field, because he had more good stuff in him. He wasn’t finished yet.”

Horn is survived by his wife, four children, two stepchildren, five grandchildren and one sister. A university ceremony in his memory is planned for Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. in the Davidson Conference Center. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the John L. Horn Foundation at the San Pedro and Peninsula YMCA.