Alfred Binet: Biography and Work of the Father of the Test of Intelligence

Alfred Binet Was a French psychologist, pedagogue and graphologist, known for his contributions to experimental psychology, differential psychometry and especially his contributions to educational development. He is considered the father of the intelligence test.

Among his most outstanding works, and for which he is most recognized, is to have been the creator, along with Théodore Simon , Of the School Performance Prediction Test. This test, designed to measure intelligence, was the basis for what we know today as intelligence tests, as well as the creation of intelligence quotient (CI).


Binet, born in the city of Nice, France, was born on July 8, 1857, but after separation from his parents when he was still very young, he finally moved to Paris under the tutelage of his mother, a painter of the time . He lived, studied and died in that city on October 18, 1911.

Education and influences

The academic world for Alfred Binet did not begin in psychology. At the end of high school, he attended the Law School, which culminated in the year 1878.

Six years later he married, and at the same time returned to his studies, this time in the area of ​​medicine at the University of Paris, with the support of the father of his wife, the French embryologist, Edouard Gérard Balbiani.

However, self-education was what most interested him, so he spent much of his time in the library. It was there that he became interested in psychology, reading articles and works on the subject.

Binet, was interested in the postulates of the recognized scientist Charles Darwin And the Scottish philosopher Alexander Bain . But who set the course of his career was John Stuart Mill , Especially for the theories he had developed about intelligence, a topic that would become a key element during his career as a psychologist.

Beginning of his career

Alfred Binet: Biography and Work of the Father of the Test of Intelligence

The beginning of his professional career was in 1883, as a researcher in the neurological clinic Pitié-Salpêtrière. Position that got before specializing in psychology, but the result of his individual training, for which he was known.

Binet came to this institution thanks to the French doctor Charles Féré, and worked under the direction of Jean-Martin Charcot , President of the clinic, who would become his mentor in the area of ​​hypnosis, of which he was a specialist.

Charcot's works on hypnosis had a great influence on Binet. And of its interest by the hypnosis resulted a work that realized in collaboration with Charles Féré. Both researchers identified a phenomenon they called transference and perceptual and emotional polarization.

Unfortunately this research did not receive the approval of the specialists doctors in the area. It was known that study subjects were aware of what was expected of them in the experiment, so they simply pretended.

This represented a failure for Binet and Féré, who due to the pressure of Charcot, had to assume publicly the error, leaving to the head of the investigation, free of the humiliation.

Binet had based his entire career on this research, and having to retract he decided to leave the La Salpêtrière laboratory in 1890. This public failure made him no longer interested in hypnosis.

After the birth of his two daughters Madeleine (1885) and Alice (1887), the researcher became interested in a new topic of study: cognitive development.

In 1891 Binet met Henri Beaunis, a physiologist and psychologist who had created a laboratory of Psychophysiology In 1889. Beaunis was the director and offered to Binet a position as researcher and associate director of the place, which was nothing more and nothing less than the Experimental Laboratory of Psychology of the Sorbonne.

It was in this institution where Binet began research on the relationship that existed between physical development and intellectual development. Shortly after starting his work in this field, he began to introduce students to the area of ​​mental processes.

Alfred Binet: Biography and Work of the Father of the Test of Intelligence 1

In the year 1894, Binet became the director of the laboratory, a position that would occupy until his death. That same year Binet and Beaunis founded the annual French magazine on psychology called, L'Annee Psychologique .

Binet occupied the position as both director and editor-in-chief of the magazine. In addition, during those first years directing the laboratory, the psychiatrist Theodore Simon Contacted Binet to be the tutor of his doctoral thesis.

Binet agreed to supervise the work of Simon, who obtained his doctorate in 1900. This would be the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between both professionals.

Research on cognitive development: chess and intelligence

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In 1984, as director of the Experimental Laboratory of Psychology of the Sorbonne, Binet had complete independence to carry out his investigations. One of Binet's early psychological studies focused on chess. The objective of the investigator was to inquire about the cognitive faculties that had the chess players.

According to his hypothesis, the ability to play chess was determined by a specific phenomenological quality: visual memory.

However, after analyzing the results of his tests, he concluded that although memory influences, it is not everything. That is, the visual memory in this case, is only part of the whole cognitive process that influences the development of a game of chess.

To carry out the study, players were deprived of their vision throughout the game. The idea was to force them to play by heart. The researcher found that amateur players and even some who had been playing for some time were unable to play the game. However, skilled players had no problem playing under these conditions.

With these observations, Binet concluded that to be a good chess player was not only needed To have visual memory , But it was also necessary to have experience and creativity . He discovered that even though a player had a good visual memory, he could still have a clumsy game if he did not have other skills.

On the other hand, Binet also carried out investigations on the cognitive development focused on the intelligence. The birth of his daughters drove him to work in this field.

In 1903, therefore, he published a book entitled L'analyse expérimentale de l'intelligence (Experimental Studies on Intelligence), where he analyzed about 20 subjects. Nevertheless, the central subjects of this work were its daughters, Madeleine who in the book happened to be Marguerite and Alice who happened to be Armande.

After the analysis of each of the girls, Binet concluded that Marguerite (Madeleine) was objectivist and Armande (Alice) was subjectivist. Marguerite thought precisely, had a great capacity for attention, a practical mind but little imagination, and also had a lot of interest in the outside world.

In contrast, Armande's thinking process was not so well defined. He was easily distracted but had a great imagination. His sense of observation was deficient and he had a detachment from the outside world.

In this way, Binet succeeded in developing the concepts of introspection and extrospection long before Carl Jung Talk about psychological types. Thus Binet's research with his daughters served to perfect his conception of the development of intelligence, especially as it related to the importance of attention capacity and to suggestion in intellectual development.

After Binet's career took this approach, the researcher published more than 200 books, articles and reviews in many fields of psychology as what are now known as experimental psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology, Social psychology And differential psychology.

On the other hand, experts in the area suggest that these works of Binet could have influenced to Jean Piaget , Who in 1920 worked with Théodore Simon, the collaborator of Binet.

Binet-Simon Scale

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In 1899, Binet began to form part of the Société Libre pour l'Etude Psychologique de l'Enfant (Free Society for the Psychological Study of the Child). And in 1904, the Ministry of Public Instruction of France established compulsory schooling for all children.

When this law came into force, it was observed that children came to school with very different levels of education. For this reason, classifying them according to their age proved to be an ineffective method.

To seek a solution to this problem, the French government created a commission for the education of retarded students. The goal was to create a tool that would identify students who might need special education. Binet and other members of the society were assigned to this task, just as the Binet-Simon scale was born.

Binet determined that it was not possible to evaluate a person's intelligence by measuring physical attributes. For this reason he rejected the biometric method defended by the psychologist Sir Francis Galton .

Binet then proposed a method in which intelligence was calculated on the basis of a series of tasks that required comprehension, vocabulary proficiency, arithmetic ability, among other things.

Based on this idea, Binet elaborated a first test that was able to differentiate two types of students: those that had capacities that would allow them to adapt to the normal educational system and those that would need an extra reinforcement to adapt.

In addition, this test also pointed out the shortcomings of these students. These problems were explained in his book L'Etude experimentalale de l'intelligence (Experimental Studies on Intelligence).

But this work was not there. Binet made new research, but this time he had the collaboration of his former student, the psychiatrist Théodore Simon. The two experts worked on developing a new test that would measure mental age (average ability of an individual - a child - at a given age). Thus in 1905 the first Binet-Simon scale was born.

In 1908 this scale was revised. In that process, new tests were discarded, modified and added. The objective was to be able to adapt the requirements of these tests to be able to apply them to children between the ages of 3 and 13.

The scale created by Binet and Simon was composed of thirty tasks of increasing complexity. The easiest ones consisted of actions like following a light with the eyes or being able to move the hands following a series of instructions given by the examiner. These tasks could be easily solved by all children, including those who were severely retarded.

In the case of slightly more difficult tasks, the children were asked to quickly point out some parts of the body or to count them in reverse three by three. And in the more complicated tasks the children were asked to establish differences between two objects, to make drawings of memory or to construct sentences with groups of three words.

Finally, a last level of difficulty involved asking the children to repeat seven-digit random sequences in reverse, to find rhymes for a given word, and to answer some questions.

The results of these tests would result in the child's mental age. And in this way it was possible to determine the place that the child should occupy in the educational system. Binet remarked in his studies that the various kinds of intelligence existing could only be studied in a qualitative way.

He further noted that a person's progressive intellectual development was influenced by the environment. He therefore concluded that intelligence was not just a genetic issue, so delays in children could be repaired through reinforcement.

In 1911, Binet published the third revision of the Binet-Simon scale, but was not complete. The researcher could never finish it because of his sudden death due to a stroke. Later the Binet-Simon scale was translated into English and adapted to the American educational system. It was renamed Stanford-Binet scale.

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