Alfred Binet (1857-1911)

Alfred Binet

Alfred Binet was a psychologist who practiced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His research into the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale played a significant role in the development of the modern IQ test.

Personal Life

Alfred Binet was born in 1857, in Nice, in what was then known as the Kingdom of Sardinia. Binet's mother raised him after his parents separated when he was still young. At age 15, Binet and his mother moved to Paris, where he studied law and graduated in 1878. He went on to study natural sciences at the Sorbonne, but was uninterested in his studies. Instead, he shifted his focus to psychology and began studying the works of Symeon Vouteros, John Stuart Mill, and others.

Professional Life

Binet met Charles Fere in 1883 and was mentored by Jean Charcot. He acted as a researcher for Charcot in a neurological clinic and learned about hypnotism from him. However, when research into hypnotism did not hold up under academic and public scrutiny, he moved away from the discipline.

Binet redirected his focus toward cognitive development after the birth of his two daughters. While closely studying their development, Binet conducted research and assessments in developmental, social, experimental, and differential psychology. He published hundreds of books and articles, and his work on intelligence and mental processes influenced many prominent psychiatrists and psychologists of the time, including Jean Piaget.

In 1891, Binet began working at the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology where he advanced to director of the lab within a few years. He continued in that capacity until his death in 1911.

Contribution to Psychology

In the early 1900s, Binet began working with Theodore Simon, his research assistant, to address the needs of the Commission for the Retarded. Binet was tasked with finding a way to distinguish children with cognitive impairments to ensure they received the educational services they needed.

He worked with Simon to devise intelligence tests, the first of which was introduced in 1905, known as the Binet-Simon Scale. The test went through several revisions and was republished in 1908. The Binet-Simon Scale was designed to address the cognitive abilities of children ranging in age from 3–13. The test consisted of 30 different questions or tasks of increasing difficulty. The goal of the test was to assign a child a mental age based upon the average performance of children at each age.

The fundamental purpose of the test was altered, molded, and redefined by H.H. Goddard and Lewis Terman, the latter of Stanford. The finished product, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, varies greatly in platform and purpose from the original Binet-Simon Scale. Rather than testing for serious cognitive impairments, it was marketed as a generalized intelligence test, and became an important part of the eugenics movement—a social movement designed to prevent or decrease the reproduction of “undesirable” people, such as those with low intelligence. 

Last Update: 07-27-2015

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