Black History Month: About Herman George Canady

About Herman George Canady

The current psychological theory of ‘intergroup anxiety’ describes a feeling of discomfort many people feel when interacting with people from groups that are not their own. A lot of that theory owes a great deal to Herman George Canady, whose work looked at Black students interacting with white examiners while taking IQ tests. If the examiner is white, and the Black child has experienced discrimination and prejudice from white people in the past, they are likely to be anxious and perform poorly on the test simply because it is administered by a person whose presence makes them nervous.

Dr. Canady’s study ‘The Effect of ‘Rapport’ on the I.Q.: A New Approach to the Problem of Racial Psychology’ was the first of its kind to look at intelligence tests through this lens and led to many further studies examining the effect of a distrust of White people on the test scores of Black children. In many ways, Canady was one of the first psychologists to focus research on the Black experience in the United States.

This lack of Black inclusion in research, and a lack of psychological knowledge for Black Americans in general, led Dr. Canady to lead a movement organizing Black psychologists. He wrote A Prospectus of an Organization of Negroes Interested in Psychology and Related Fields and sent it to fellow members of the American Teachers Association (formerly the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools), proposing a psychology section within the ATA.

Canady presented his proposal at the ATA convention, held at the Tuskegee Institute, in 1938. It was unanimously approved – but then quickly derailed by the onset of World War II. In later years the cause would be taken up again when Black psychologists organized at an APA convention in 1968 to discuss their dissatisfaction with "psychology's exploitations and the white definitions for behavior that placed Blacks in a negative light."

Dr. Canady obtained his B.A., his Master’s, and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University. He later served 40 years as the chair of the psychology department at the West Virginia Collegiate Institute (now West Virginia State College) before his retirement in 1968. He died in 1970, but his influence is still felt in intergroup anxiety research, stereotype threat studies, and in the ongoing effort to move psychology out of a white-centric model.