Alfred Binet took his first degree in law in Paris. While in Paris he became acquainted with Jean Charcot and studied hypnosis under him. His interests changed to the natural sciences, in which he received his second degree. He became particularly interested in the higher mental processes of humans.
Binet soon became interested in abnormal psychology and wrote the Alterations of Personality and Suggestibility. In addition, he became concerned about the thinking process in children and much of his data was based on studying his own daughters. He gave them problems to solve and asked them to report to him the steps they went through in the process. All this led to his concept of intelligence. He became aware that considerable individual differences existed in children. He realized that there were those who were slow, whom he identified as “feebleminded.” He was sharply critical of the medical profession for considering mental deficiency a disease.
He was aware of the work of Ebbinghaus on memory and forgetting, as well as the research on sensory, perceptual, and motor measures, which included reaction time, sensory acuity, and the span of attention. In association with Victor Henri he discovered that there were different kinds of memory: visual memory, memory for numbers, musical memory, and memory for sentences. Together they developed tests to measure these different types of memory.
The preceding studies set the stage for the development of a scale of intelligence. In 1904 the Minister of Public Instruction appointed a committee to recommend what should be done about the education of “subnormal” children in the schools of Paris. The decision to place them in special schools depended on the development of some means of identifying them. Binet was called upon to develop a test that became the first scale for the measurement of intelligence. In 1905 this test appeared as a result of the collaboration of Binet and Theodore Simon. The scale consisted of a series of tasks increasing in difficulty. In 1908 the test was revised and the individual tasks were arranged, not only according to difficulty, but also according to the age at which the average child could complete them. It was called the Binet-Simon Scale
In the emergence of the tests, these tasks were arranged and rearranged so as to be appropriate for various age levels. If a test was too easy at the 8-year level, for example, it was then placed at an earlier level, say, at 7 years. The general rule was that if 60–90% of the children passed it at a given level, than that level was appropriate for the test. Thus, the “mentally retarded” child who performed appreciably below the norm for his or her age was considered a deviant from the norm and could be identified. In this way the mental age of the child could be computed, regardless of his or her actual chronological age. Binet identified labels for three levels of mental retardation: idiots (lowest), imbecile, and moron.
The last of Binet’s revisions appeared in 1911, the year of his death. He added new tests, and he discarded old ones that he thought depended too much on school information. He also designated a given number of tests for a particular year, so mental age could be expressed in months. If there were six tests at a particular age level, each test passed could be given a score of two months at that level. The tests passed, regardless of the years at which they were passed, could be added together to give a total mental age. In 1916, the Binet-Simon Intelligence Test was translated and standardized by Lewis Terman at Stanford University, and it was called the “Stanford-Binet” scale.
Binet did not develop the concept of intelligence quotient, or IQ; this was developed by a German psychologist, William Stern.
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