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Binet, Alfred

Binet, Alfred




Alfred Binet (1857–1911), French psychologist, was born in Nice. His father was a doctor, as were many of his ancestors on both sides of his family. If he owed to this medical tradition the concern for observing facts that was to mark all his work, it was no doubt from his mother, a painter, that he derived the artistic inclinations that later led to his interest in the psychological aspects of literature and art. He also wrote some quite successful plays. He studied at the lycée in Nice and then at the Lycée Louis le Grand in Paris. Initially he studied law, received a diploma as licentiate, and at the age of 20 took his first examination for a doctorate in law. Then his intellectual interests shifted entirely.

The 1880s saw the beginnings of scientific psychology in France. Taine had blazed the trail in 1870 with the publication of Intelligence. Influenced by John Stuart Mill and English positivism, Taine laid particular stress on pathology. Charcot, a physician at the Salpétrière hospital, had begun to study hysteria in 1871, and then hypnosis. His clinical lectures attracted large audiences. Taine attended them, as did a young philosopher, Théodule Ribot, who was to become the true founder of scientific psychology in France. Ribot’s program was set forth in an article in Mind in 1877 in which he severely criticized official doctrine and proclaimed his adherence to Mill and Taine. He advocated that French psychologists should emu-late the work done in England and Germany and that they should use the natural sciences, physiology, and psychiatry as models. Psychology should be purely experimental and should not deal with the soul; its scope should include the behavior of animals and genetic development. This program was placed under the aegis of Herbert Spencer and Ribot was rewarded by appointment first to the Sorbonne in 1885 and then to a chair of experimental psychology at the Collège de France in 1892.

Binet met Ribot in 1877 and on his advice went into psychology, initially the field of psychopathology, which was traditionally French. “With a few rare exceptions,” Binet wrote in 1889, “the psychologists of my country have left psychophysical research to the Germans and the study of comparative psychology to the English. They have devoted themselves almost exclusively to the study of pathological psychology” (Delay 1958, p. 86). And so he went to the Salpétrière and worked there with Charles Féré, a pupil of Charcot’s. At that time the Salpétrière was the center of psychological research in France. In 1885 Charcot founded the Société Française de Psychologie Physiologique, and in 1889 the First International Congress of Psychology was held under his chairmanship. He was surrounded by eminent colleagues who were interested in psychology: the physiologist Charles Richet, a future Nobel laureate; the neurologist Babinski; Féré foreign physicians like Sigmund Freud who came to him to study; young philosophers like Pierre Janet who, under Ribot’s influence, were turning toward psychology.

The school of Charcot was interested above all in the neuroses, especially hysteria, and in hypnosis. It was to these subjects that Binet devoted himself; his resulting work is contained in a series of publications: The Psychology of Reasoning (1886); Animal Magnetism, in collaboration with Féré (1887); On Double Consciousness (1889); and Alterations of Personality (1892). It is hard to judge these works fairly without taking into consideration the atmosphere in which they were conceived. (Axel Munthe’s The Story of San Michele gives a picturesque, if not entirely faithful, idea of that atmosphere.) Charcot’s authoritarian personality, his proclivity for systematization, and his great prestige in both Parisian and international medical circles created in his students an attitude of complete submissiveness to his views. A result of this was the hystérie de culture, or artificially induced hysteria. Its symptoms accorded with Charcot’s definitive description but were produced in part by more or less conscious suggestions made to the patient by Charcot’s students during preliminary examinations prior to his appearance before Charcot himself. Later Binet was very critical of Charcot, accusing him of allowing his stu-dents to deceive him: “The masters of science,” he wrote in 1909, “are like kings, surrounded by skillful courtiers, who tint the truth” (Binet & Simon 1910, p. 70). Binet himself, as a member of Charcot’s court, was led, no doubt unconsciously, to believe in facts that supported his mentor’s theory, as when he asserted that “the magnet and other aesthesiogenic agents may affect the transfer of cataleptic attitudes” (Binet & Féré 1887, p. 125). All the work Binet did before he was 30 is good work of its kind, but too much marked with the Zeitgeist to have other than historical interest.

While working at the Salpétrière, Binet decided that he needed biological training. No doubt his marriage to the daughter of Balbiani, professor of histology at the Collège de France, had something to do with this decision. He obtained a licence ès sciences and then a doctorat ès sciences naturelles, with a thesis, “Système nerveux sous-intestinal des insectes,” written with Henneguy, the successor to his father-in-law. In 1888, when a chair of experi-mental psychology was created for Ribot at the Collége de France, a laboratory was attached to it. Ribot asked that it be given to the physiologist Beaunis, a professor in the faculty of medicine at Nancy. Beaunis, who knew Binet through his family, asked him to collaborate, and so in 1891 Binet abandoned the Salpétrière. The quarters of the laboratory were in the Sorbonne buildings, but administratively the laboratory was connected with a national research institution, the École Pratique des Hautes Études. Binet, at first préparateur, became assistant director and, upon the retirement of Beaunis in 1895, director, a position he retained until his death in 1911. The title was actually honorific, for practically no salary was attached to it. Fortunately, Binet had independent means that enabled him to carry on his work. His efforts to win more official university recognition were in vain. Although he was a candidate for the chair at the Collége de France left vacant by the departure of Ribot, Pierre Janet was chosen for it. He then ap-plied for a chair at the Sorbonne, but the objection was raised that he was a doctor of natural sciences and not a docteur ès lettres, and Georges Dumas was elected. In 1895 his former fellow student Take Jonescu, a Rumanian who had become an important political figure in his own country, secured an appointment for him at the University of Bucharest, and Binet taught psychology there for several months.

Between 1891 and 1900, Binet in effect established experimental psychology in France. Trained as he was in the school of the Salpétrière and by his reading of Mill, Taine, and Ribot, he was not interested in psychophysiology or, in particular, in the study of sensation that absorbed the first German psychologists. In contrast to Wundt, he affirmed that higher psychic processes can be studied experimentally. While Wundt developed a “general psychology,” Binet, for the rest of his life, was to construct an “individual,” or as we would now say, a differential psychology.

The direction of Binet’s interest derived from a number of sources. First, the scientific atmosphere of the time was dominated by evolutionist ideas. Spencer had acted as an intermediary between Darwin and Ribot. Now, evolution gave prominence to individual differences, which Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, had taken as the subject of his researches. Second, the industrial revolution had brought with it a social transformation, one of its most obvious aspects being the specialization of tasks within the framework of the division of labor. At the same time, the industrial revolution had made universal primary education indispensable. This development made it necessary to take into consideration individual differences, and it was in this context that Binet tried to develop an experimentally based differential psychology.

Under the influence of Ribot, Binet declared that “there is nothing much to be gained by turning the pages of authors who work apart from observation and experimentation” (1900, p. 330). It is only facts that count, and more than that, “We must always be hospitable to the facts that go counter to our theories” (1903, p. 130). At the outset of his career, Binet gave priority to facts gathered by introspection. He thought that the higher processes were accessible only by “the act by which we directly perceive what is going on in us, our thoughts, our memories, our emotions” (1894a, p. 95). But although it is necessary to take into account what the subject experiences, and in particular what he says, it is at the same time necessary to observe what he does. From a position initially dominated by Taine’s associationism, Binet’s thought gradu-ally evolved. In 1903 he published the Étude expérimentale de I intelligence, undoubtedly his best book, in which he studied his two daughters, Madeleine and Alice, from the perspective of differential psychology. By the painstaking observation of behavior, coupled with introspection, he came to contrast two types of intellectual functioning, “subjective” and “objective,” which foreshadowed Jung’s “introversion” and “extraversion.” But at the same time he recognized that “imageless thought” exists. Most important, he noted that the observation of an individual’s behavior with regard to a set task provides the best information about his intellectual performance. This was the first step along the road that was to lead Binet, at the end of his life, to recognize that “there are very large portions of our psychic life that are by their very nature inaccessible to consciousness” (1911c, p. 9), and to declare that psychology “has become a science of action” (Binet & Simon 1909, p. 146).

In 1905 Binet made the discovery that brought him fame. After 1900 he virtually abandoned his laboratory in favor of work in the schools and institutions for the feeble-minded, and at his suggestion, a commission was set up in the Ministry of Education to study the establishment of classes for the mentally abnormal. It was soon found that clinical methods could not detect accurately those children who could not profit by normal instruction. Within less than a year, Binet proposed a diagnostic method for determining the intelligence of children. In an article written with the psychiatrist Th. Simon, “Méthodes nouvelles pour le diagnostic du niveau intellectuel des anormaux” (1905), which appeared in the Année psychologique, Binet presented a series of 30 intelligence tests of increasing difficulty; revisions and minor improvements appeared later (Binet & Simon 1908; Binet 1911b).

The success of Binet’s diagnostic method was im-mediate, and Cyril Burt has humorously described the astonishment and admiration of the English psychologists, who were surprised that Binet’s tests, unlike certain French wines, lost none of their qualities in crossing the Channel. Several factors contributed to this success. In the first place, Binet implicitly assumed the existence of a “general intelligence,” a hypothesis which ran counter to the psychology of “mental functions” that he had him-self used in his other works. This eclectic approach was noted with some acerbity by Charles Spear-man, whose first article on factorial analysis had appeared a year earlier than Binet’s article.

A little more than a year afterwards appeared the great work of Binet and Simon. Here, this paradoxical recommendation to make a hotchpot was actually adopted in practice. Nevertheless the elaborate correlational theory which had in point of fact generated the idea, and had supplied the sole evidence for its validity, was now passed over. The said authors employed a popular substitute. “Intelligence,” as measured by the pool, was depicted as a “general level” of ability. So far as doctrine is concerned, this is the only thing introduced by them that was novel. And most surprisingly Binet, although in actual testing he took account of this “general level” alone, still in all his theoretical psychology continued to rely altogether upon his old formal faculties, notwithstanding that these and the “general level” appear to involve doctrines quite incompatible with each other. (Spearman 1927, p. 60)

The second factor that contributed to Binet’s success was his opportunity to use the method of comparing groups, i.e., normal school children and the mentally retarded children of the hospital at Perray-Vaucluse. To be sure, there had been many psychologists before Binet who had used this method, starting with Galton. The work published by Bolton (1892), Gilbert (1894), and Bagley (1901) in the United States had compared the subjects’ test results with their performance in school. But here the third, and no doubt most important, factor in Binet’s success enters in. His predecessors, in the tradition of Wundt’s psychology, had employed tests that were presumed to be “elemental,” i.e., psychophysical, and the correlations they obtained were too low to have any practical value. This was true for Cattell’s researches in the United States as well as for those of Spearman in England. Binet declared instead that it was possible to get at the higher mental functions directly and above all to create suitable tests that would produce significant results. Finally, on the practical level, the success of the Binet scale was furthered by the discovery of the notion of mental age (which, incidentally, was not introduced until the 1908 revision). Whatever the drawbacks of this unit of measurement may be (and they have by now led to its almost total abandonment, even for children), when it was first proposed it could so easily be understood even by nontechnicians—e.g., teachers and physicians—that it facilitated the acceptance of the method of tests.

Within the total compass of Binet’s work on differential psychology, the scale of intelligence, which gave Binet his fame, occupies, quantitatively, only a small space. The diversity of his interests led him to take up the most varied subjects, and in every case he made an original contribution.

Binet played an important role in the development of biometrics and psychometrics. His concern with individual differences led him to propose a technique for assessing the variability of a particular trait, either over a population or for a single individual over time. He understood the inadequacy of describing an empirical distribution by its arithmetic mean and its extreme values, and he therefore abandoned Broca’s procedure (dividing the difference between the extreme values by the mean) and instead divided the difference between the means of the last and first quarters by the general mean. This method is characteristic of the period before the introduction into psychology of the standard deviation and the coefficient of variation as commonly used indexes of dispersion. Binet’s solution “may seem arbitrary, even over-simple, but on second thought it is no worse than various other measures of variability” (Schreider 1957, p. 309).

Binet tackled the problem of correlation as well as that of dispersion. One way in which he approached the problem was to use the “method of numerical scores”; a second way was to measure association as a function of ranks (Binet & Vaschide 1897; Binet & Henri 1898). The first method consists in selecting for reference one of two traits and subdividing the population into four subgroups that show this trait in order, from “weak” to “strong.” Then, for each subgroup one calculates the mean for the second trait. Inspection shows whether the variations for the two traits run parallel. The second method, which is more elaborate, is essentially identical with what was later called Spearman’s foot rule. However, it was abandoned by Binet, even though it was developed by a mathematician at his suggestion (Sée 1904).

Binet was one of the inventors of the questionnaire method. He also made the first scientific studies of graphology, of the psychology of arithmetic prodigies and chess players, and of the psychology of small groups (he even used the term “leader”), to cite only a few achievements of this “Paganini of psychology,” as Claparède called him. Toward the end of his life he again became interested in pathological psychology, having abandoned it after his days at the Salpétrière, and spent time at psychiatric hospitals and at a laboratory that he had set up in an elementary school in the Rue de la Grange aux Belles. He also studied pedagogical methods, to which his last book was devoted.

Binet had an essentially independent nature, and although he occasionally had collaborators, he never really had any students. Indeed, he lived in a kind of intellectual isolation that became painful to him toward the end of his life. He exerted an influence not so much by personal contacts, which he shunned (he never went to a scientific congress), as by his publications. In 1893 he established the Bulletin du idboratoire de psychologie physiologique de la Sorbonne as a vehicle for his works, and it was replaced two years later by the Année psychologique. This appeared annually, and most of it was edited by Binet, either alone or with some assistance, until his death. The Année psychologique played an important part in the diffusion of psychology, both by bringing together original work and by reviewing the world literature in the field.

Pierre Pichot

[For the historical context of Binet’s work, see the biographies ofCattell; Charcot; Galton; Mill; Spearman. For discussions of the subsequent development of Binet’s ideas, seeEducational psychology; Hysteria; intelligence and intelligence testing; statistics, descriptive; Terman.]


(1886) 1901 The Psychology of Reasoning. London: Routledge. → First published as La psychologie du raisonnement.

(1887) 1892 Binet, Alfred; and FÉrÉ, Charles. Animal Magnetism. New York: Appleton. → First published in French.

1889 On Double Consciousness. Chicago: Open Court. → Published in English.

(1892) 1896 Alterations of Personality. New York: Appleton. → First published as Les altérations de la personnalité.

1894a Introduction à la psychologie experimental. Paris: Alcan.

1894b La psychologie des grands calculateurs et joueurs échecs. Paris: Hachette.

1897 Binet, Alfred; and Vaschide, N. Corrélation des épreuves physiques. Année psychologique 4:142–172.

1898 Binet, Alfred; and Henri, V. La fatigue intellectuelle. Paris: Schleicher.

1900 La suggestibilité. Paris: Schleicher.

1903 L’étude expérimental de i’ntelligence. Paris: Schleicher.

1905 Binet, Alfred; and Simon, Th. Méthodes nouvelles pour le diagnostic du niveau intellectuel des anormaux. Année psychologique 11:191–244.

(1906) 1907 Mind and the Brain. London: Routledge. → First published as L’âme et le corps.

1908 Binet, Alfred; and Simon th. Le développement de I’intelligence chez les enfants. Année psychologique 14:1–94.

1909 Binet, Alfred; and Simon, Th. L’intelligence des imbéciles. Année psychologique 15:1–147.

1910 Binet, Alfred; and Simon. Th. Hystérie. Année psychologique 16:67–122.

1911a Les idées modernes sur les enfants. Paris: Flam-marion.

1911b Nouvelles recherches sur la mesure du niveau intellectuel chez les enfants d’école. Année psychologique 17:145–201.

1911c Qu’est-ce qu’un acte intellectuel? Année psychologique 17:1–47.


[Alfred Binet.] 1957 Revue de psychologie appliquée 7:229–316. → Contains five articles about Alfred Binet by Cyril Burt, Pierre Oléron, R. Perron and J. de Gobineau, E. A. Fleishman, and Eugène Schreider.

Bertrand, FranÇois-Louis 1930 Alfred Binet et son oeuvre. Paris: Alcan.

Delay, Jean 1958 La vie et I’oeuvre d’Alfred Binet. Psychologie française 3:85–88.

[La vie et I’oeuvre d’Alfred Binet.] 1958 Psychologie française 3:85–121. → Contains five articles about Alfred Binet by Jean Delay, Henri Piéron, Piérre Pichot, Paul Fraisse, and René Zazzo.

Pichot, Pierre 1963 Alfred Binet. Volume 3, pages 209–220 in Kurt Kolle (editor), Grosse Nervenärzte. Stuttgart (Germany): Thieme.

Schreider, EugÈne 1957 La place d’Alfred Binet dans I’évolution de la biométrie. Revue de psychologie appliquée 7:305–316.


Année psychologique. → Founded by Binet in 1894. Most of his work was published in this journal.

Bagley, William C. 1901 On the Correlation of Mental and Motor Activity in School Children. American Journal of Psychology 12:193–205.

Bolton, Thaddeus L. 1892 The Growth of Memory in School Children. American Journal of Psychology 4: 362–380.

Centenaire de Th. Ribot: Jubilé de la psychologie scientifique frangaise. 1939 Agen (France) : Imprimerie moderne.

Gilbert, J. Allen 1894 Researches on the Mental and Physical Development of School Children. Yale Psychological Laboratory, Studies 2:40–100.

SÉe, A. 1904 Une formule mathématique applicable aux recherches sur la psychologic. Société libre pour 1’étude psychologique de 1’enfant, Bulletin 4:492–498.

Spearman, Charles E. 1927 The Abilities of Man: Their Nature and Measurement. London: Macmillan.

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Binet, Alfred (1857–1911)

BINET, ALFRED (18571911)

Best known for his development with Théodore Simon of the first standardized intelligence test, Alfred Binet can be considered one of the few "renaissance" psychologists of the twentieth century. His research included the measurement of individual differences in reaction times, association of auditory times with specific colors, auditory and visual imagery, and children's memory capabilities. In his early research, Binet also investigated children's fears. Using questionnaires, he studied creative artists of his time, such as Alexandre Dumas, in an attempt to provide insight into their methods of work and the sources of their creativity. As Theta Wolf notes, Binet also was known for his severe criticism of the methods of experimental psychology for its "sterile laboratory conditions" (pp. 9091). His work on individual differences described in a 1896 article with Victor Henri initiated his work on measuring individual differences and took into account both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of individuals' responses. Binet was also a leader in providing programs for children with mental disabilities and establishing a pedagogical institute to provide appropriate instructional methods.


Binet's choice of a career as a psychologist matured outside of any formal educational study. He first entered law school earning his license at age twenty-one and then began study for the doctorate. However, he lost interest in that field and began medical studies, but did not complete them. Soon after, he began reading books in psychology. For the next six years he worked in the laboratory of Jean-Martin Charcot, a well-known neurologist, with mental patients and also developed an interest in hypnosis. At age thirty Binet completed a paper that stressed the importance of studying the normal individual before studying persons with serious emotional problems. The paper, which received a substantial monetary award from the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences, was cited for the demonstration of Binet's competence as an observer and his knowledge of the experimental method. The award committee concluded that Binet had a "gifted and uncommon mind" (Wolf, p. 6).


In 1890 Binet published papers that dealt with the observational study of his two daughters. Wolf suggests that these studies preceded those of Piaget's and possibly influenced Piaget in his research. Between 1888 and 1894 Binet studied in his father-in-law's laboratory at the College de France and took courses in botany and zoology. Wolf also noted that he became interested in comparative psychology, and researched the behavior and physiology of insects, earning a doctorate in 1894.

At the same time Binet and Henri Beaumis began the first French psychological journal. In 1894 Binet published four original papers, eighty-five reviews, and was appointed to the board of associates of the American Psychological Review. He also published two books: one on experimental psychology and other "on the psychology of master calculators and chess players" (Wolf, p. 9).

Binet's wide range of interests in a number of different academic areas was demonstrated by his authorship of several articles for biology journals and his review of research findings from the field of histology, anatomy, and physiology. In 1895 Binet was invited to give a series of lectures at the University of Bucharest. Though offered a professorship, Binet declined the appointment to return to Paris. Although Binet was now considered to be the "fore-most, if not the only French experimental psychologist," he never received an appointment at a French institution of higher learning (Wolf, p. 22). Raymond Fancher believes this was due in part to Binet's lack of official credentials resulting from his self-trained status and lack of personal support from his instructors.

Measurement of Children's Abilities

In the 1890s, Binet became associated with Théodore Simon, who had earned a medical degree and was an intern at an institution for retarded children. He became Binet's collaborator in the development of the first intelligence scale.

In 1899 Binet was invited to become a member of the new Society for the Study of the Child because of his interest in children's intellectual development. Wolf mentions that under Binet's leadership, members of the society aggressively pushed the French Ministry of Instruction to offer suitable instructional programs for children with mental disabilities. Binet's leadership also led to an appointment to a government commission to study the needs of these children in the public schools. He became convinced of the need to ascertain how to differentiate children with learning problems from those who could not learn adequately.

Wolf considers that Binet's greatest productivity was between 1901 to 1911. After his appointment to the government commission on the retarded in 1904, Binet noted that educational officials were primarily interested in administrative problems of the schools. There was no interest in how to differentiate objectively retarded children from normal children or to provide appropriate instruction for them. In 1905 Binet and his colleagues recommended special classes and schools for the retarded, which up to that time did not exist. A bill for such provisions was introduced in 1907 and in 1909 a law passed establishing classes for educational improvement. Binet and Simon were provided the criteria for entry and aided in the selection of students for the first special classes in the Paris schools. In 1905 Binet along with Simon published the first standardized scale of intelligence for which he is best known. The scale was composed of thirty items and was the product of more than fifteen years of careful investigations and experimental research with children. Subsequent revisions of the scale appeared in 1908 and 1911. A number of these items are still included in the latest (1960 and 1986) revisions of their test. During this period Binet also helped to establish the first pedagogical laboratory in France. Wolf noted that in the same time period he worked on the psychology of court testimony and, in 1909, published a popular book for teachers and parents about children, which contained many of his ideas about intelligence. In 1906 Binet and Simon published a paper that addressed "new methods for diagnosing idiocy, imbecility, and moronity," an important contribution because, for the first time, criteria were specified that allowed professionals to agree on different levels of retardation (Wolf, pp. 142143).


Alfred Binet remains an important figure in modern psychology. He was among the first to emphasize that no child suspected of retardation should be removed from the regular classroom without undergoing a psychological and medical assessment that would help confirm the retardation. Binet and Simon emphasized that diagnostic errors could be due to lack of "attitude" on the part of the examiner; variability in the meaning of the terms used, or lack of precision in the examination of the child.

Binet and Simon stated that test items used in assessment of children needed to be graded in difficulty and be age appropriate. In their discussion of new methods for the diagnosis of retarded children, Binet and Simon emphasized the properties inherent in the assessment of intelligence. These included the need to separate natural intelligence from lack of performance due to inadequate instruction. Attempting to reduce the effects of instruction, Binet and Simon did not require the child to read or write any material. For them the heart of the meaning of intelligence was judgment, to comprehend well, and to reason well.

Binet's sophisticated comments written in 1911 on how to proceed with an examination of the child could easily be repeated word-for-word for early-twenty-first-century psychology students. He stressed the importance of the observation of children and their activities, and outlined with Simon the normal development of intelligence in children from three to twelve years of age in an article published in 1916 (b). These comments were the result of detailed presentation of many test items and careful observations of the responses of the subjects. This article also contained a revision of the 1905 scale. Their monograph could also be read in the early twenty-first century by psychologists for its observational insights in the assessment of children's abilities. Binet and Simon's discussion of the different attitudes and motivations of school personnel concerning retarded children also remains relevant. The intelligence scale of 1908 was changed from one that assessed lack of intelligence into one that classified the intelligence of the retarded, the normal child, and those of superior intelligence. Of the thirty items that composed the 1905 scale, Binet and Simon retained only fourteen without any change.

Binet established the Laboratory of Experimental Pedagogy in Paris in 1905, the first such laboratory established in a school in Europe. The purpose of the laboratory was to provide a continuing source for experimental work with children and provide consultative help to teachers who wished to teach retarded children. Because of the work in these areas of psychology and education Binet can be considered the first school psychologist in the Western world.

One result of this lab-school collaboration was a study by Binet and Simon that focused on vision problems of school children. They noted that children might be labeled slow only because of difficulty in seeing the blackboard. Their concern resulted in the development of a standardized test of vision that teachers could use without the involvement of physicians. Binet was also interested in criteria for a good school, evaluation of teacher competence, the influence of environmental factors on intelligence, such as socioeconomic status, and the provision of classes for those of superior intelligence.

See also: Assessment; Intelligence.


Binet, Alfred. 1916. "New Investigations upon the Measure of the Intellectual Level among School Children" (1911). In The Development of Intelligence in Children. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.

Binet, Alfred, and Simon, ThÉodore. 1916a. "Applications of the New Methods to the Diagnosis of the Intellectual Level among Normal and Subnormal Children in Institutions and in Primary Schools" (1908). In The Development of Intelligence in Children, ed. Henry H. Goddard. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.

Binet, Alfred, and Simon, ThÉodore. 1916b. "The Development of Intelligence in the Child"(1908). In The Development of Intelligence in Children. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.

Binet, Alfred, and Simon, ThÉodore. 1916c. "New Methods for the Diagnosis of the Intellectual Level of Subnormals" (1905). In The Development of Intelligence in Children, ed. Henry H. Goddard. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins.

Fancher, Raymond E. 1998. "Alfred Binet, General Psychologist." In Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology. Vol. 3, ed. Gregory A. Kimble and Michael Wertheimer. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Wolf, Theta H. 1973. Alfred Binet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gilbert R. Gredler

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Binet, Alfred

Binet, Alfred

(b. Nice, France, 8 July 1857; d. Paris, France, 18 October 1911)


The career of Binet, the founder of French experimental psychology, developed on the periphery of the traditional institutions and established frameworks. His training was unusual: he was a licentiate in jurisprudence and a doctor of natural sciences, but he did no teaching, with the exception of a course in psychology at the University of Bucharest, where he had been invited in 1895. In 1892 he was named assistant director of the Laboratory of Physiological Psychology created at the Sorbonne in 1889 and directed by Henri Beaunis. In 1895 Binet and Beaunis founded the first French journal of psychology, Année psychologique. In the same year he succeeded Beaunis at the Laboratory, now connected with the École Pratique des Hautes Études, where he worked until his death.

About 1900 Binet’s experiments began to go beyond the somewhat narrow framework of the Laboratory. He interviewed children in nurseries, schools, and school camps. In 1898 he and Ferdinand Buisson founded the Société Libre pour I’Étude Psychologique de l’Enfant, which after his death became the Société Alfred Binet. In 1904 the minister for public education appointed Binet to a commission for the study of problems connected with the education of retarded children. This appointment resulted in a series of studies leading to the creation of the metric intelligence scale.

Young Binet was interested in psychiatry; frequented the Salpêtrière, where Charcot taught; and studied Hippolyte Taine, Théodule Ribot, and John Stuart Mill. His first book, Psychologie du raisonnement (1886), based on experiments with hypnosis, related the reasoning process to an organization of images and taught associationism. It also touched off a long series of researches into intelligence and the thought process. To this series belong his studies on mathematical prodigies and chess players, retarded children, and especially the Étude expérimentale de l’intelligence (1903), which completed his break with Ribot’s associationism. The work described experiments with and observations of Binet’s two daughters, to whom he presented simple problems, insisting on justification of the replies as well as on the solution itself. These experiments demonstrated the impossibility of translating reasoning in sensory terms and proved the unity and activity of thought and its independence with respect to images. R. S. Woodworth and K. Bühler were to arrive at analogous results in 1907. Binet’s study was also a fine in-depth investigation of the individual differences of the two subjects; the experiment was made complete by introspection and was oriented toward a qualitative typology.

Binet expanded the idea of experimentation in psychology. Although he worked on esthesiometric thresholds, tactile sensibility, and optic illusions, he preferred to proceed by means of questionnaires, investigations, and personal interviews rather than the complicated apparatus and artificial techniques of the laboratory. His research covered much ground: he wrote on personality changes, suggestibility, intellectual fatigue, and graphology.

His major contribution to psychology consists in the introduction of new methods of measuring intelligence. When expansion of the educational system created the need to find criteria for detecting the mentally defective, Binet, at the government’s request, pursued his former work on the evaluation of intelligence in children. He proposed the metric intelligence scale, based on the idea of classifying the subjects according to the observed differences between individual performances. In 1905 Binet drew up a whole series of tests: a large number of short, varied problems related to daily situations, bringing into play “superior processes” such as memory and ratiocination. The series was arranged according to mental levels, and the measure of intelligence was established by comparison of the results and their classification. A revision of the scale in 1908 resulted in an important innovation: assuming that intelligence increases with age, Binet ranked the tests in accordance with age levels corresponding to performances by the average child. The mental age (the age the child attains on the scale) was distinguished from chronological age. This latter work of Binet, in collaboration with Théodore Simon, enjoyed wide popularity. It was translated, adapted, imitated, and administered on a large scale. It was the beginning of a new era in testing.


I. Original Works. Binet’s writings include La psychologie du raisonnement, recherches experimentales par l’hypnotisme (paris, 1886); Le magnétisme animal (Paris, 1887), written with C. Féré On Double Consciousness (Chicago, 1889); Les altérations de la personnalité (Paris, 1892); Contribution à l’étude du système nerveux sous-intestinal des insectes(Paris, 1894), his thesis at the Sorbonne; Introduction à la psychologie expérimentale (Paris, 1894), written with P. Courtier and V. Henri; Psychologie des grands calculateurs et joueurs d’échecs (Paris, 1894); La fatigue intellectuelle (Paris, 1898), written with V. Henri; La suggestibilityé (Paris, 1900); L’étude expérimentale de l’inlelligence (Paris, 1903); L’âme et le corps (Paris, 1906); and Les idéas modernes sur les enfants (Paris, 1911). Binet and Simon’s tests were published in Année psychologique, 11 (1905–1906), 163–336, and 14 (1908–1909), 1–94, and in the final form, in their La mesure du développement de l’intelligence chez les enfants (Paris, 1911), which has gone through numerous editions.

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Binet are F.-L. Bertrand, Alfred Binet et son oeuvre (Paris, 1930), which contains a bibliography of Binet’s writings; R. Martin, Alfred Binet (Paris, 1924); E. Varon, The Development of Alfred Binet’s Psychology, Psychological Monographs, Vol. XLVI (Lancaster, N. Y., 1935); and F. Zuza, Alfred Binet et la pédagogie expérimentale (Paris, 1948), with a bibliography of Binet’s works and secondary literature.

Jan Sebestik

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Binet, Alfred (1857-1911)

Binet, Alfred (1857-1911)

Alfred Binet is perhaps best remembered for his role in elaborating the first numerical scale of intelligence, but his contributions to individual psychology, experimental science, and applied pedagogy transcended the confines of intelligence testing. Binet was a pioneering scholar whose diverse and eclectic research interests fundamentally transformed the scientific study of the child in France as well as abroad.

Binet was born in Nice but moved to Paris at age twelve to study at the prestigious Lycée Louis le Grand; he spent the rest of his life in the capital region. Descended from at least two generations of medical doctors, Binet hesitated in choosing a career, passing his licence in law in 1878 but abandoning legal studies in favor of the emerging field of psychology; he earned a doctorate in natural sciences in 1894. Fascinated by the work of English associationists, particularly John Stuart Mill, Binet began an exceptionally prolific publishing career with an 1880 Revue philosophique article on the psychology of sensations; under the direction of the embryologist E. G. Balbiani (whose daughter, Laure, he would marry in 1884), he soon launched an equally prolific experimental career. In 1883 Binet joined the laboratory of the preeminent Parisian neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpêtrière hospital. During his seven-year tenure at the laboratory, Binet became embroiled in the controversies surrounding Charcot's studies of hypnosis, loyally defending Charcot against charges that his demonstrations had been tainted by experimenters' unintentional suggestions to the patients.

In 1891, chagrined by his experiences in Charcot's laboratory, Binet joined the Sorbonne's new Laboratory of Experimental Psychology; in 1894, he was named director of the laboratory and became cofounder of the Année psychologique, a journal he would edit until his death. In the mid-1890s Binet became increasingly fascinated with the higher mental faculties, breaking with the preoccupation of the first generation of scientific psychologists; he also devoted substantial attention to questions of experimental method. Perhaps most significant, his interest in children's mental faculties, first evident in a trio of 1890 articles about his two daughters, combined with his search for suitable experimental subjects to produce a research agenda that would dominate the rest of his career. The pupils of public primary schools in several working-class districts of Paris became important research subjects, and Binet quickly became the preeminent member of the Société libre pour l'etude psychologique de l'enfant, established in 1899. Elected president in 1902, Binet became a tireless advocate for rigorous experimentation in numerous educational and developmental domains.

At a time when the French governing elites were preoccupied with problems of juvenile delinquency and educational inefficacy, Binet's work soon attracted legislative attention. When, in 1904, the French government established a commission to explore ways of diagnosing and educating children who were described as "abnormal" and "backward," Binet was invited to become a member; it was in this context that he and Théodore Simon developed the first version of their metric intelligence scale. Meanwhile Binet received permission in 1905 to open a laboratory of experimental pedagogy at the public primary school in Paris's rue de la Grange-aux-Belles. He soon transferred the bulk of his activities to this laboratory. Until his sudden death in 1911 he pursued an ambitious research agenda, equally eager to improve the condition of "abnormal" children and to trace the contours of "normal" child development. Although contemporaries were skeptical about his insistence that education be adapted to the individual needs of all children, such ideas attracted additional interest after World War I, and in the late twentieth century French scholars began to grant Binet overdue recognition as one of the founders not only of scientific pedagogy but also of French experimental psychology.

See also: Child Development, History of the Concept of; Child Psychology; Intelligence Testing.


Avanzini, Guy. 1969. La Contribution de Binet à l'élaboration d'une pédagogie scientifique. Paris: Vrin.

Avanzini, Guy. 1999. Alfred Binet. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Binet, Alfred. 1890. "Perceptions d'enfants." Revue philosophique 30: 582-611.

Binet, Alfred. 1900. La Suggestibilité. Paris: Schleicher.

Binet, Alfred. 1909. Les Idées modernes sur les enfants. Paris: Flammarion.

Binet, Alfred, J. Philippe, and V. Henri. 1894. Introduction à la psychologie expérimentale. Paris: Alcan.

Binet, Alfred, and Théodore Simon. 1907. Les Enfants anormaux. Guide pour l'admission des enfants anormaux dans les classes de perfectionnement. Paris: Colin.

Binet, Alfred, and N. Vaschide. 1898. "La Psychologie à l'école primaire." Année psychologique 4: 1-14.

Vial, Monique. 1990. Les Enfants anormaux à l'école. Aux origines de l'éducation spécialisée, 1882-1909. Paris: Armand Colin.

Wolff, Theta H. 1976. Alfred Binet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Zazzo, René. 1993. "Alfred Binet (1857-1911)." Perspectives: Revue trimestrielle d'éducation comparée 23, nos. 1-2: 101-112.

Katharine Norris

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Alfred Binet

Alfred Binet

The French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857-1911) was the founder of French experimental psychology. He devised tests for measuring intelligence that have been widely used in schools.

Alfred Binet was born in Nice on July 11, 1857. He studied law and medicine in Paris and then obtained a doctorate in natural science. He became interested in hysteria and hypnosis and frequented Jean Martin Charcot's neurological clinic at the Sâlpétrière Hospital. During this time Binet wrote La Psychologie du raisonnement (1886; The Psychology of Reasoning), Le Magnétisme animal (1887; Animal Magnetism), and On Double Consciousness (1889).

In 1891 Binet joined the Laboratory of physiological Psychology of the École Pratique des Hautes Études; the following year he became assistant director and in 1895 director. He held this post for the rest of his life. In 1895 he founded the experimental journal L'Année psychologique, in which he published articles on emotion, memory, attention, and problem solving—articles which contained a considerable number of methodological innovations.

Although trained in abnormal psychology, Binet never ceased to be interested in the psychology of intelligence and individual differences. After publishing Les Altérations de la personnalité (1892; The Alterations of the Personality) with C. Féré, Binet studied complex calculators, chess players, and literary creativity by the survey method. In 1900 he also became interested in suggestibility, a normal continuation of his work on hysteria.

Binet's major interest, however, was the development of intelligence, and in 1899 he established a laboratory at the École de la Rue de la Grange aux Belles. Here he devised a series of tests to study intellectual development in his daughters Armande and Marguerite. His wellknown work, L'Étude expérimentale de I'intelligence (1903; The Experimental Study of Intelligence), in which he showed that there could be imageless thought, was based on these studies with his daughters.

Two years later, in response to the request of the minister of public instruction to find a means for enabling learning disabled children to benefit from some kind of schooling, Binet, in collaboration with Théodore Simon, created "new methods for the diagnosis of retarded children's mental level," which were partly based on his earlier work. His scale for measuring intelligence was widely adopted. In 1908 the American psychologist Lewis M. Terman revised it (Stanford Revision). Binet himself improved his test in 1908 and 1911. He also continued to be interested in psychological applications to pedagogical problems: Les Enfants anormaux (1907; Abnormal Children), written with Simon; and Less Idées modernes sur les enfants (1909; Modern Ideas on Children). Binet died on Oct. 8, 1911.

Further Reading

Several of Binet's papers are collected and translated in R.H. Pollack, ed., The Experimental Psychology of Alfred Binet: Selected Papers (1969), which included a complete bibliography of Binet's work, indicating those papers which are translated into English. Edith J. Varon, The Development of Alfred Binet's Psychology (1935), appeared as vol. 46 of Psychological Monographs, edited by Joseph Peterson. The best texts on the history of psychology, such as G. A. Miller, Psychology: The Science of Mental Life (1962), discuss the contributions of Binet. the E

Additional Sources

Wolf, Theta Holmes, Alfred Binet, Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1973. □

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Binet, Alfred

Alfred Binet

French psychologist and founder of experimental psychology in France and a pioneer in intelligence testing.

Alfred Binet was born in Nice, France, in 1857. After studying both law and medicine in Paris, he earned a doctorate in natural science. Binet's psychological trainingmostly at Jean-Martin Charcot's neurological clinic at the Salpetriere Hospitalwas in the area of abnormal psychology , particularly hysteria, and he published books on hypnosis (Le magnetisme animal, with C.S. Fere in 1886) and suggestibility (La suggestibilite, 1900). From 1895 until his death in 1911, Binet served as director of France's first psychological laboratory at the Sorbonne of the University of Paris. Also in 1895, he established the journal L'Annee psychologique. Binet had been interested in the psychology ofand individual differences in intelligence since the 1880s and published articles on emotion , memory , attention , and problem solving. In 1899 he set up a special laboratory

where he devised a series of tests which he used to evaluate the intellectual development of his two daughters. His 1903 book, L'Etude experimentale de l'intelligence, was based on his studies of them.

In 1905, Binet and Theodore Simon created the first intelligence test to aid the French government in establishing a program to provide special education for mentally retarded children. In 1908 they revised the test, expanding it from a single scale of measurement to a battery of tests for children in different age groups, with the focus now shifted from identifying retardation to the general measurement of intelligence. A further test revision in 1911 introduced the concept of mental age . In 1916, the American psychologist Lewis Terman used the 1908 Binet-Simon scale as the basis for the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, the best-known and most researched intelligence test in the United States. Binet coauthored Les enfants anormaux (Abnormal Children) (1907) with Simon and published Les idees modernes sur les enfants (Modern Ideas on Children) in 1909. He died in Paris in 1911.

See also Intelligence quotient; Mental retardation

Further Reading

Wolf, Theta Holmes. Alfred Binet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

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Binet, Alfred

Alfred Binet (älfrĕd´ bēnā´), 1857–1911, French psychologist. From 1894 he was director of the psychology laboratory at the Sorbonne. He is known for his research and innovation in testing human intelligence. With Théodore Simon he devised (1905–11) a series of tests that, with revisions, came into wide use in schools, industries, and the army. The Stanford, the Herring, and the Kuhlmann are important revisions. Binet and Simon wrote Les Enfants anormaux (1907, tr. Mentally Defective Children, 1914). Most of his writings were published in Année psychologique, a journal that he founded in 1895.

See study by T. H. Wolf (1973).

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Binet, Alfred

Binet, Alfred (1857–1911) French psychologist. He established the first French psychology laboratory (1889) and the first French psychology journal (1895). His best-known achievement was devising the first practical intelligence tests (1905–11), which profoundly influenced the assessment of abilities in psychology and education. See also aptitude test

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