BINET, ALFRED (1857-1911)


Binet, originator of the first true intelligence test, was born in Nice, France. Though trained as a lawyer, he never practiced that profession but followed interests which grew out of his other studies, particularly medicine, biology, and abnormal psychology. These interests were reflected in his early works, which included a study of hypnosis entitled Animal Magnetism, with Fere as co-author (1886), and a volume on psychopathology entitled Alternations of Personality (1894). Between these dates, in 1889, Binet was instrumental in setting up his country’s first psychology laboratory at the Sorbonne, and in 1895 he founded the first French psychological journal, L’Annee Psychologique.Emphasis on Binet’s work in intelligence testing has tended to obscure his contributions to other fields of psychology. He performed pioneer experiments on handwriting abnormalities, suggestibility, and mental processes, using a number of original techniques.In one study, schoolboys were shown a number of lines, one at a time, and asked to estimate their length. The first five were progressively longer, but from there on they were exactly equal. Many of the children (particularly the younger ones) tended to overestimate the equal lines, and Binet concluded that they were especially suggestible. (Today this tendency would probably be attributed to set, or expectation, rather than suggestibility.) He also noted that subjects are frequently influenced by the judgments of people in authority and applied the term “prestige suggestion” to this phenomenon.The study of thought processes was an early and lasting interest of Binet’s. His first work on the subject, The Psychology of Reasoning (1886), was written from the associationist point of view. Later, however, he revised his views, largely on the basis of experiments conducted on his two daughters. The girls were given simple problems to solve, and then were asked to report on their methods of attack and their train of thought. To his surprise, Binet found that many of their reports conflicted with interpretations prevalent at the time, particularly the idea that all thought, no matter how complex, could be reduced to simple sensory experiences and simple laws of combination. He found, for example, that the girls often solved problems without using images at all, and concluded that these are not essential to the process. He also employed ink blots and pictures in testing his daughters’ mental processes, and thereby foreshadowed their use in projective techniques.Binet then turned his attention to the study of individuals whose thinking deviated from the average, notably mental defectives, lightning calculators, chess players, and multiple personalities. His study of chess players who played several games simultaneously suggested that attention cannot easily be divided, and he concluded that the players were therefore shifting their full attention from one game to the next. He also showed that interference ordinarily occurs when we try to do several things at once unless the tasks are very similar or very easy. Influenced by Galton’s work, Binet also undertook the study of eminent artists, writers, and mathematicians. In his earlier studies he tried to relate their abilities to handwriting, head measurements, and body build, but later on he became interested in developing tests which would reveal complex mental processes.In 1903 Binet presented the results of his investigations of intellectual ability in a book entitled Experimental Studies of Intelligence. This work offered a new concept of intelligence measurement which contrasted directly with the approach of the German school of psychology. lames M. Cattell and others, believing that higher mental ability could be reduced to sensory capacities, had been exclusively concerned with tests of reaction time, discrimination and other relatively simple processes. In contrast, Binet claimed that these tests could not explain the higher functions of imagination, esthetic appreciation, comprehension, and memory. He believed that the higher abilities, which are so important for adaptation to life, would have to be approached directly on their own level instead of on the sensory level. He therefore abandoned the “brass instruments” approach in favor of devising a variety of intelligence test problems, including paper and pencil tests, pictorial items, and objects which could be handled by the subject.It was soon recognized that problems of the Binet type might be more useful in predicting school success than the laboratory-inspired tests of Cattell. As a consequence, the French government asked Binet to construct a test that would differentiate between pupils who were mentally defective and those who had the ability to succeed in the usual curriculum but who were not applying themselves. His first scales, developed in collaboration with a physician, Theo- phile Simon, were published in 1905, and later revised in 1908 and 1911, the year of Binet’s death. The scales were all based on the ability of average children to solve different verbal and numerical problems at different ages. A child’s “mental age” was determined by noting how many he was able to do correctly below, above, and at his own age level. The same scoring technique is used today in the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale, except for the addition of the I.Q., which is the ratio between the mental age and the chronological age. See INTELLIGENCE TESTS,STAN-FORD-BINET TEST, CATTELL, GALTON.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "BINET, ALFRED (1857-1911)," in, November 28, 2018, (accessed September 30, 2022).


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