Alfred Binet and the Intelligence Test

Alfred Binet

On July 8, 1857French psychologist Alfred Binet was born. He was a pioneer in the field of intelligence testing of the normal mind. He took a different approach than most psychologists of his day: he was interested in the workings of the normal mind. He invented the first practical intelligence test, the Binet-Simon scale rather than the pathology of mental illness.

After earning a law degree in 1878, Alfred Binet became more and more interested in psychology, he started educating himself on the topic at the National Library in Paris. He soon became fascinated with the ideas of John Stuart Mill, who believed that the operations of intelligence could be explained by the laws of associationism. Binet eventually realized the limitations of this theory, but Mill’s ideas continued to influence his work. Binet was appointed to his first formal position as a researcher at a neurological clinic, Salpêtrière Hospital, in Paris from 18831889. Jean-Martin Charcot, who was back then the director of the clinic, became his mentor. Binet started to publish further works and managed to increase his reputation.

Binet increased his interest in development, after his daughters Marguerite and Armande were born in the 1880s. He called Armande a subjectivist and Marguerite an objectivist, and developed the concepts of introspection and externospection in an anticipation of Carl Jung’s psychological types. In the following years, Binet published numerous books and scientific papers on his interests which are assumed to have highly influenced Jean PiagetBinet’s research with his daughters helped him to further refine his developing conception of intelligence, especially the importance of attention span and suggestibility in intellectual development. He continued as a researcher and later director of the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology at the Sorbonne. The position enabled him to pursue his studies on mental processes. Also, Theodore Simon applied to do doctoral research under Binet’s supervision, which was the beginning of their long, fruitful collaboration. When Binet was asked to join a committee psychologically studying children, it became his duty to distinguish ‘normal’ children from children with learning difficulties. His work was published as “L’Etude experimentale de l’intelligence” (Experimental Studies of Intelligence) in 1903. He continued his research on this topic and also started including Simon in his intelligence tests. In 1905, a new test for measuring intelligence was introduced and simply called the Binet–Simon scale. In 1908, they revised the scale, dropping, modifying, and adding tests and also arranging them according to age levels from three to thirteen. They managed to develop a variety of tasks they found representative for the abilities of children various ages. Their scale included thirty tasks of increasing difficulty. The first and most easy tasks assessed for example whether or not a child could follow a beam. Then, children were required to point at certain body parts, repeat numbers or sentences and to state the difference between pairs of things or reproduce drawings from memory. The hardest question was: “My neighbor has been receiving strange visitors. He has received in turn a doctor, a lawyer, and then a priest. What is taking place?” For the practical use of determining educational placement, the score on the Binet-Simon scale would reveal the child’s mental age. In 1908, the Simon-Binet scale was introduced in the U.S. and extended to the Stanford-Binet scale.

Binet published the third version of the Binet-Simon scale shortly before his death in 1911. The Binet-Simon scale became very popular around the world and in 1984, the journal Science 84 picked the Binet-Simon scale, as one of twenty of this century’s most significant developments or discoveries.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video on Intelligence as part of the lecture series ‘Introduction to Psychology’ by Professor William Knapp.

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