Lee Willerman and eugenics

Lee Willerman (26 July 1939—10 January 1997) was an American psychology professor and eugenicist known for his work on twin studies.

Willerman was born and grew up in Chicago. Willerman received BA and MA degrees from Roosevelt University in 1961 and 1964 respectively, and his Ph.D. from Wayne State University in 1967. After a three-year stint at National Institutes of Health, Willerman completed a post-doctoral year at the University of Michigan in the Department of Human Genetics. In 1971 he took a position at University of Texas at Austin, where he remained until his death.


In 1974, Willerman joined the American Eugenics Society, and his work over the remainder of his life involved eugenics-themed hypotheses. His first study examined IQ and birth weight differences between identical twins, finding that the twin who had been heavier at birth tended to be higher in IQ. Willerman worked with Joseph M. Horn and John C. Loehlin on a major study of adoptive families, the Texas Adoption Project. Much of his work involved psychometrics and research into neuroanatomical predictors of intelligence.

Drawn to the most controversial types of studies (e.g., research that shows “interracial” children born of white mothers had higher IQs than those born of black mothers, trying to prove that a larger brain was linked to higher IQ, and tangled capillaries in fingernail beds — no doubt common for certain ethnicities — seemed to prove a likelihood of schizophrenia because the jangled capillaries were “allowing free radicals to leak into the brain.”)

Eugenicists and hereditarians have long recognized the value of twin studies because they provide a natural control for experiments. Among the most notorious proponents of twin studies was Nazi Josef Mengele, who carried out experiments on 1500 sets of twins, only 200 of these twins survived. Bailey’s initial work on twins led to several papers on the heritability of homosexuality.

Willerman and J. Michael Bailey

Willerman seems to have been a father figure for Bailey, shaping his thinking and setting him on the path he would follow to this day:

My advisor, Lee Willerman, was a much better role model. Lee was one of the most intellectually and personally delightful people I’ve ever met, and he led me to discover a love of individual differences·IQ, sex differences, psychopathology, behavior genetics, etc. And he taught me the human sexuality course when I learned about an interesting theory of sexual orientation, which I investigated for my dissertation. The theory involved maternal prenatal stress, and I found no evidence for it. However, I loved the research area, and have stayed there, more or less.


Bailey JM. Personal information. via his Northwestern University website.

Faulkner LR, Durbin JR Lee Willerman obituary via University of Texas at Austin.

Loehlin JC, Horn JM, Schultz R, Raz N, Bailey JM. Lee Willerman (1939-1997). Intelligence, 1997, 24, 323-328.

Twin studies via bookrags.com