Alfred Binet

Test Developed:
Binet-Simon Test of Intelligence

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Born in Nice, France, to a family in which both his father and his grandfather were physicians, young Alfred was also expected to take up medicine as his calling. It is believed, however, that a childhood exposure to a cadaver by his father pushed the young Binet away from medicine and into law school instead. Binet was a lawyer by age 21, but because of his family’s wealth felt no necessity to practice law. Binet spent much of his time in the library, reading psychology books, among other things. In 1880, Binet himself published a psychology-related article, though it was subsequently criticized as having been plagiarized. Binet’s interest was caught for a while by the subject of "animal magnetism"—"hypnosis—"and he published numerous papers detailing how magnets could change emotions, influence perceptions, and accomplish all sorts of other things—"things that hypnosis is known to be able to accomplish. To Binet’s embarrassment, his findings would be shown to have been an artifact of poor experimental methodology.

In 1894, Binet earned a doctorate in natural science from the Sorbonne. His doctoral dissertation concerned the correlation between insects’ physiology and behavior. In 1899, while he was director of the physiological psychology laboratory at the Sorbonne, Binet took into his employ a 26-year-old physician named Théodore Simon. The association was to be of historic significance. Given impetus by Binet’s growing dedication to finding a way of identifying and then properly educating the slow child, the Binet-Simon test of intelligence would be published in 1905—a test that most historians view as the

launching stimulus for the testing movement.

Consistent with present-day beliefs concerning the assessment of intelligence, Binet also acknowledged that an intelligence test could provide only a sample of all of an individual’s intelligent behaviors. Further, Binet wrote that the purpose of an intelligence test was to classify, not to measure:

I have not sought in the above lines to sketch a method of measuring, in the physical sense of the word, but only a method of classification of individuals. The procedures which I have indicated will, if perfected, come to classify a person before or after such another person, or such another series of persons; but I do not believe that one may measure one of the intellectual aptitudes in the sense that one measures a length or a capacity. Thus, when a person studied can retain seven figures after a single audition, one can class him, from the point of his memory for figures, after the individual who retains eight figures under the same conditions, and before those who retain six. It is a classification, not a measurement... we do not measure, we classify. (Binet, quoted in Varon, 1936, p. 41)


Varon, E. J. (1936). Alfred Binet’s concept of intelligence. Psychological Review, 43, 32–"49.

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