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Robert C. Tryon and Cluster Analysis Essay

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Updated: Sep 14th, 2021


Robert C. Tryon, born on September 4, 1901 (Street, 1994) was very famous for his studies in the field of genetics and psychology, especially in psychometrics. One of his famous works includes the cluster analysis. In addition to that, he also did a research regarding heredity through his observations on the “maze-bright” and “maze-dull” rats and their succeeding generations.

There haven’t been many accounts about Robert C. Tryon. There have been more records regarding his studies than his life. By the records regarding his studies we may infer that he is affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley as most of his works were published in the said university.

Studies of Robert C. Tryon

It is interesting to tackle his studies on the maze learning of rats which was actually meant to probe into the possibility of having innate components in living things responsible for their characteristics. It was focused on the nature versus nurture issue in psychology. However, during this time heredity had a weak standpoint (Wills, 1993) and this particular study by Tyron provided substantial information that will support the concept behind genetics and the major role that it plays in individuals.

This study conducted in 1922 involves rats who were assessed in a task requiring the rats to find the food in the maze. Those who didn’t find it difficult to finish the task were labeled as “maze-bright” and those who found it difficult to finish the maze were labeled as “maze-dull”. After identifying which rats are maze-dull and maze-bright, male and female rats from the same group were mated in order to obtain the second-generation maze-dull and maze-bright rats (Pinel, 2006).

In order to validate the thinking that the environment, not genetics, has a larger effect on the characteristics of individuals the maze-dull second-generation rats were made to be reared by maze-bright parents and vice-versa (Pinel, 2006). Aside from the aforementioned groups of subjects the study also involved second-generation maze-dull rats reared by maze-dull parents. The same thing goes for the maze-bright second-generation rats. This has continued until several generations of both the maze-dull and the maze-bright groups of rats. It has been found that later generations of maze-dull and maze-bright rats have retained this characteristic unique to their group (Wills, 1993).

Later studies during the 1950s conducted by Tryon focused on psychometrics, genetics and heredity, and behavioral disorders. One of his greatest contributions in psychometrics is cluster analysis, which was one of his famous methods of research.

In 1939 Tryon coined the term cluster analysis (StatSoft, 2004). This analysis involves a very common activity done by people—clustering. The term includes several different algorithms utilized in order to group similar objects into specific categories. This analysis also entails that the association between two objects belonging to the same group is maximal and those from different groups have minimal association. In addition to that, cluster analysis comes up with structures in which the elements are included without actually trying to obtain explanation for their existence (StatSoft, 2004).

Cluster analysis has been used in different disciplines including medicine. Establishing taxonomies from the clustering of diseases, including their cures and symptoms has been one of the contributions of cluster analysis to the field (StatSoft, 2004). Also in the field of psychiatry, like in medicine, certain mechanisms of analysis involve the clustering of behavioral symptoms in order to come up with an effective mode of therapy. This method is not bounded to the medical sciences alone but also in anthropological studies including archeology which adopts the cluster analysis in order to come up with taxonomies or groups for essential finds and information about prehistoric and other traces of culture like human remains, stone tools, and burial objects (StatSoft, 2004).

Cluster analysis, together with the method of factor analysis, is said to be an exceptional case resulting from the different stages of the multidimensional analysis (Tryon, 1958). Key cluster analyses, according to Tryon, are very effective in determining a dimension as a collection of variables from a particular set. These key cluster analyses can be utilized to test a particular hypothesis (Tryon, 1958).

Robert Tryon was also involved in the study of physical proximity of people sharing the same social characteristics in the urban setting (Street, 1994). Particularly, he has identified social areas in the San Fransisco Bay Area using cluster analysis (“Identification of social areas”, 1956). This is another scenario in which the cluster analysis became very effective. This particular work by Tryon has aimed to classify people in the said area using the clustering method.

However, there is a particular review written by Otis Duncan which describes the use of cluster analysis in the study on the San Fransisco area as “a sort of poor man’s factor analysis” (“Identification of social areas”, 1956). He also describes the clusters, including the names and descriptions, as subjective. He adds that Tryon’s goal of trying to classify people wouldn’t be obtained with just identifying these people’s area of residence. Duncan was very particular with Tryon’s loose way of using the concepts like “structure, organization, integration, culture, homogeneity, and validity” (“Identification of social areas”, 1956).

In conclusion, Duncan has mentioned that Tryon has used inappropriate methods to describe the population of the city. Tryon, according to him, has disregarded literature explaining much of the mechanisms happening in the city with his reliance on his cluster analysis.


However, I think that Duncan didn’t cross out the importance of cluster analysis in psychometrics, as stressed in the last part of his critique of Tryon’s study. It’s just that Tryon didn’t actually use the proper method in dealing with a population in the goal of trying to classify its people and identifying social areas in this particular urban location.

With Duncan’s opinion on the social application of clustering, we may see that this method of analysis can be applied to almost any field of discipline provided that it takes into consideration other factors. This is very important because society is a very dynamic group and certain factors have undeniable effects on the members of the particular society.

Despite this critique on the cluster analysis, it is undeniable that this method has greatly contributed to several important studies, whether it is considered by some as a very mundane way of explaining things. Robert C. Tryon has indeed contributed much to the discipline of psychology and other fields as well.


Identification of Social Areas by Cluster Analysis: A General Method with an Application to the San Francisco Bay Area (Book). (1956). American Sociological Review. Web.

StatSoft (2004). Cluster Analysis. Web.

Street, W. R. (1994). A Chronology of Noteworthy Events in American Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Tryon, R. (1957). The communality of a variable: Formulation by cluster analysis. Psychometrika, 22(3), 241-260.

Wills, C. (1993). The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness. Basic Books: TN.

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