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Alfred Binet: biography of the creator of the first intelligence test

Alfred Binet: biography of the creator of the first intelligence test

January 25, 2022

Nowadays most of us know that it is an intelligence test. Employees in the fields of the clinic, the school and the working world, thanks to them we can have an approximate measurement of the intellectual capacity of each one, which allows for example to adjust the education and training to the specific individual needs of those subjects with a level well above or below the average.

However, intelligence tests have not always been there, being in fact a relatively recent invention. The first of them all was created by Alfred Binet ; then we will briefly review his biography.

  • Related article: "Types of intelligence tests"

Biography of Alfred Binet

From father doctor and mother painter, Alfred Binet was born in Nice on July 8, 1857 .


His parents would soon be separated, moving with his mother to Paris. There he continued his education at the Liceo Louis-le-Grand, where he would finish high school. After finishing these studies, and such would Piaget later, Alfred Binet decided to study law at the Sorbonne. However, he would end up developing some interest in psychology, in which he would start in a self-taught way.

Binet married in 1884 the daughter of the embryologist Edouard-Gérard Balbiani, who encouraged him to study the natural sciences, and later he would be encouraged by Ribot to continue his studies in psychology.

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Start and research in the psychological area

Attracted by psychological work on hypnosis and suggestion, topics of great interest at the time, I would end up working together with Charcot in the Salpêtrière in aspects such as hypnosis, transference and perceptual polarization. He remained in that hospital until 1891, when he was forced to publicly acknowledge as his own a series of methodological errors committed by Charcot as the director of the investigation during the investigation with supposedly hypnotized subjects. After that he would leave the Salpetriere and his until then mentor, as well as the research on hypnosis and suggestion.


The birth (in 1885 and 1888) and growth of his daughters would help him to focus on other aspects of psychology, contributing greatly to focus his research on evolutionary development. He would make a large number of observations regarding his growth, which would lead him to develop a concept of intelligence and even to begin to develop bases for the emergence of differential psychology.

Over time helped to found the first psychological research laboratory in his country in 1889. He would become director of said laboratory, holding the post until his death.

During the year 1892 he would be contacted by the psychiatrist Théodore Simon, who would eventually collaborate with him in the creation of the first intelligence scale. Binet would tutor his doctoral thesis regarding children with intellectual disabilities.


In addition, in the year 1895 Binet created the first French journal of psychology, l'Année Psychologique.

Measuring intelligence

At that time the French government declared the compulsory schooling of all those infants between six and fourteen years of age. However, the sudden emergence of this law caused a large difference in the basal level of knowledge and skills of the students , with which the administration decided that it was necessary to be able to classify the students who presented great difficulties to follow a formal education.

For this, the Gallic government organized a commission to study in a scientific way how to identify those individuals with difficulties to follow an ordinary education, as well as how they could be educated and the measures that should be taken with them. Binet would be part of this commission, which ended up dictating that it was necessary to establish a method to identify students with educational and / or intellectual delays. It would also determine the need to separate such students from ordinary classes, with special education emerging.

Although in order to classify the abilities of the students it was necessary to use some type of mechanism or instrument, at that time the only existing psychic measurements they were based on Galton's biometric method , which obtained data from the measurement of physical and physiological attributes. However, intelligence is a construct that could not be measured in the same way, so Binet would be asked to develop some kind of instrument for that purpose.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Francis Galton's theory of intelligence"

The Binet-Simon scale

With the help of Simon, Binet would develop in 1905 the first scale of measurement of intelligence, the Binet-Simon scale. This scale would use an executive-type criterion in which children had to use their abilities to solve certain tasks. These tests ranged from the most sensory to more abstract tests that forced the use of intellectual capacity. It attempts to measure what both Binet and Simon understood as a fundamental factor of intelligence, practical judgment or common sense (based on the ability to understand, judge and reason correctly).

A total of thirty tasks were developed, especially related to the verbal aspect and problem solving. The main objective was to be able to distinguish those children between three and thirteen who had difficulties to follow a normative education in order to be able to offer them a reinforcement. The age of the subject was taken into account, increasing the difficulty and the level of abstraction of the tests with age. No precise measurement of the intellectual level was intended, so that in its original version this scale does not include an accurate scoring method.

This would change in 1908, when Binet would make a review of this scale in which it would include the concept of mental age, understood as the age at which most of the people considered normative are capable of solving the same number of problems. This allowed to establish if there were more or less significant delays , as well as a better classification of individuals.

Alfred Binet it was contrary to the idea that intellectual capacities were unmodifiable , raising the need for those children with below-average abilities to take special training courses in order to increase them. He considered that the environment was of fundamental importance in the development of capacities, not believing that differences in intelligence were due solely to biological causes.

This scale was popularized quickly due to the need for it and its ease of application. Binet would continue making improvements in it, more soon after his third review was published due to a stroke, in 1911.

The legacy of Binet in Psychology

After his death and even before this, many other authors were interested in the scale created in collaboration with Simon. One year before his death Goddard would translate that scale into English and try to take it to the United States , although the presence of significant differences between the French and American population caused methodological difficulties.

Shortly after, in 1912, Stern would work on the results obtained from the scale and would emphasize that the presence of specific delays at different ages has a more relevant meaning and involves more or less alteration at a certain age, creating the concept of Intelligence Quotient .

Aware of the difficulties of application due to population differences and knowledge of the concepts that other authors such as Stern elaborated, Terman would carry out a revision of the Binet scale, which would receive the name Stanford-Binet scale . On this scale, it would include the measurement of Stern's Intelligence Quotient, multiplying it by a hundred in order to eliminate fractions. It would therefore create the Intellectual Quotient that is known today, allowing a more accurate measurement of the level of intelligence.

The Stanford-Binet scale would be the main intelligence test for decades, until to be outdone by the birth of Weschler's scales .

In conclusion, Alfred Binet's contributions to psychology have been of great importance, his works being inspiration for many other authors such as Weschler or Piaget. However, their work has been used on many occasions to separate, label and disaggregate children with intellectual difficulties, their scale being applied with a purpose opposed to the one intended by the author (to reinforce and help children with difficulties).

Other contributions

Although Alfred Binet is mainly known for being the creator of the first intelligence test, his work was not exclusively focused on this aspect.

For example, Binet He worked on the definition of what we now consider fetishism , understanding it as the product of the memory of a sexual arousal that appeared during childhood, the fetish object being the elicitator of that memory. Also, I would also propose a differentiation between small fetish and great fetish, being the paraphile behavior of the second.

He also made several contributions during his time in the Salpêtrière, as various studies on hypnosis and suggestibility, or other contributions such as some referred to the study of personality.

Other works of interest include several studies on visual memory and intelligence , which I would carry out based on the game of chess.Although initially it was stated that the good player had a high visual memory and this induced him to be able to play correctly, the conclusions of the study showed that creativity and experience were also necessary.

Finally, his work is also known about graphology, or how a person's way of writing can give us information about their way of being and perceiving.

Bibliographic references:

  • Binet, A. (1887). Le fétichisme dans l'amour. Paris, Payot.
  • Gregory, R.J. (2001). Psychological evaluation. Concepts, methods and case studies. Ed. Pyramid: Madrid.
  • Sanz, L.J. and Álvarez, C.A. (2012). Evaluation in Clinical Psychology. CEDE Preparation Manual PIR. 05. CEDE: Madrid.

Alfred Binet and Intelligence Testing [HPsy 8B] (January 2022).


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