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Alfred Binet: Theory & Test

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  • 0:01 Who Was Alfred Binet?
  • 0:20 Creating an Intelligence Test
  • 1:49 Age-Appropriate Scales
  • 2:48 Mental Age
  • 4:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gary Gilles

Gary has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and has been teaching and developing courses in higher education since 1988.

Alfred Binet was a pioneer in the development of intelligence tests used today to determine IQ. Learn more about the development of the intelligence test and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

Who Was Alfred Binet?

Alfred Binet lived from 1857-1911. He was a French psychologist who is credited with inventing the first reliable intelligence test. Binet is routinely considered one of the most influential psychologists in history, largely as a result of his pioneering work in measuring intelligence.

Creating an Intelligence Test

Binet's work on intelligence began in 1904 when the French government commissioned him to develop a test that would identify learning disabilities and other academic weaknesses in grade-school students. At the time, many students in the French education system showed signs of needing additional help with their studies. Binet, with the help of a colleague named Theodore Simon, took up the daunting task of trying to measure the mental abilities of students.

By 1905, Binet and Simon developed their first in a series of tests designed to measure intelligence. It was simply called the Binet-Simon Scale. The scale included 30 tasks that were progressive in their difficulty. Some of the easiest tasks required students to follow commands or repeat simple sentences. More difficult tasks included constructing sentences from given words or drawing images from memory. This test was given to students in Paris and acted as the reference point for future versions of the intelligence test.

At this stage in the development of the intelligence test, Binet had a growing conviction that there was great diversity in human intelligence. Based upon his research, he believed that intellectual development was a process that occurred over time. In other words, intelligence was not fixed at birth and simply a matter of genetics but was flexible and could be influenced by the environment to which a child was exposed.

Age-Appropriate Scales

In 1908, Binet and Simon revised their intelligence scale so that it considered the age of the person being tested. This revision was a significant step forward in their ability to accurately measure intelligence. It was based upon new evidence that a person's intelligence increased with age. The new revision of the test was organized according to age levels ranging from 3-13.

The new version of the test included a variety of tasks they thought represented a child's abilities at various ages. For example, it was considered age-appropriate for a 5-year-old child to explain how a fork is used or a 12-year-old to solve a particular mathematical problem. The child would then be given an age-specific version of the test that also included easier and more difficult tasks, indicative of younger and older children's abilities. If an 8-year-old boy, for example, passed all of the tasks for his age but none of the more advanced tasks, he would be considered average.

Mental Age

Based upon the test results, a child had both a chronological age (in our example, eight years of age) and what Binet called the mental age, which was a way of expressing the age at which the child was performing intellectually. If that same child was able to achieve tasks that were age-appropriate for a 10-year-old, then the mental age would be 10.

The reference points of chronological and mental age established by Binet would eventually go on to be central in the development of intelligence quotients or IQ tests in later years. This simple formula for determining a child's IQ was to divide the mental age by the chronological age and then multiply that figure by 100. For example, 10 divided by 8 equals 1.25. Multiply 1.25 by 100, and it gives you an IQ score of 125. The average IQ is considered to be 100, so a child with an IQ of 125 would be considered above normal.

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