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 on Alfred Binet

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 Biography Sources

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