Alfred Binet: Biography And Contributions To Psychology

Alfred Binet  (1857-1911) was a French psychologist, pedagogue and graphologist, known for his contributions to experimental and differential psychology, psychometry and especially for 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 for having been the creator, together 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 the intelligence quotient (IQ).




Binet, a native of the city of Nice, France, was born on July 8, 1857, but after the separation of his parents when he was still very young, he moved to live permanently in 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 Law School, a career that culminated in 1878.

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

However, self-taught education was what interested him the most, 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 discipline.

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

Beginning of his career

The beginning of his professional career was in 1883, as a researcher at the Pitié-Salpêtrière neurological clinic. A position he obtained 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 her interest in hypnosis resulted in a work she did 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 medical specialists in the area. The study subjects were known to have knowledge about what was expected of them in the experiment, so they simply pretended.

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

Binet had based his entire career on this research and, having to recant, decided to leave La Salpêtrière’s laboratory in 1890. This public failure caused him to cease to be interested in hypnosis.

Interest in cognitive development

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

In 1891 Binet met Henri Beaunis, a physiologist and psychologist who had created a psychophysiology laboratory in 1889. Beaunis was the director and offered 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 that Binet began research on the relationship between physical development and intellectual development. Shortly after beginning his work in this field, he began to introduce students to the area of ​​mental processes.

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

Binet served as both editor-in-chief and editor-in-chief of the magazine. In addition, during those first years directing the laboratory, the psychiatrist Theodore Simon contacted Binet so that he would 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 the two professionals.

Research on cognitive development: chess and intelligence

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

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 while memory plays a role, it is not everything. In other words, visual memory in this case is only one part of the entire cognitive process that influences the development of a chess game.

To conduct the study, players were deprived of their vision throughout the game. The idea was to force them to play by memory. The researcher found that amateur players and even some who had been playing for a while found it impossible to play the game. However, expert players had no problem playing under these conditions.

With these observations, Binet came to the conclusion that being a good chess player not only needed to have visual memory, but it was also necessary to have experience and creativity. He found that even though a player had a good visual memory, they could still have a clumsy game without other skills.


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

For this reason, in 1903 he published a book entitled L’analyse expérimentale de l’intelligence (Experimental Studies on Intelligence), where he analyzed about 20 subjects. However, the central subjects of this work were her daughters, Madeleine who in the book became Marguerite and Alice who became Armande.

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

In contrast, Armande’s thought process was not as well defined. He was easily distracted but had a great imagination. His sense of observation was poor and he had a detachment from the outside world.

Introspection and extrospection

In this way, Binet managed to develop the concepts of introspection and extrospection long before Carl Jung spoke of psychological types. Thus, Binet’s research with his daughters helped him to perfect his conception of the development of intelligence, especially in what referred to the importance of attention span and 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 such as those that are known today as experimental psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology, social psychology and psychology. differential.

On the other hand, experts in the field suggest that these works by Binet may have influenced Jean Piaget, who in 1920 worked with Théodore Simon, Binet’s collaborator.

Intelligence tests

In 1899, Binet became 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 French Ministry of Public Instruction 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 training. For this reason, classifying them according to their age turned out to be an ineffective method.

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

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

First intelligence test

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

Based on this idea, Binet developed a first test that was capable of differentiating two types of students: those who had abilities that would allow them to adapt to the normal educational system and those who would need extra reinforcement to adapt.

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

Mental age test: Binet-Simon scale

But this work did not stop there. Binet conducted new research, but this time he had the collaboration of his former student, the psychiatrist Théodore Simon. The two experts worked on the development of a new test that would measure mental age (average capacity possessed by 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 this process they were discarded, modified and new tests were added. The aim was to be able to adapt the demands 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 made up of thirty tasks of increasing complexity. The easiest consisted of actions such as following a light with the eyes or being able to move the hands following a series of instructions given by the examiner. This type of task could be solved without difficulty by all children, including those who were severely retarded.

For slightly more difficult tasks, the children were asked to quickly point to some parts of the body or to count backwards in pairs. And in the more complicated tasks, the children were asked to distinguish between two objects, to draw pictures from memory or to construct sentences with groups of three words.

Finally, a final level of difficulty involved asking the children to repeat random sequences of seven digits backwards, to find rhymes for a given word, and to answer some questions.

The results of these tests would give the mental age of the child; in this way it was possible to determine the place that the child should occupy in the educational system. Binet remarked in her studies that the various existing classes of intelligence could only be studied qualitatively.

Furthermore, he pointed out that a person’s progressive intellectual development was influenced by the environment. For this reason, he came to the conclusion that intelligence was not only a genetic issue, so that the delays in children could be repaired through reinforcement.

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

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