The Life of Alfred Binet
On July 8, 1857, Alfred Binet was born in Nice, France. He took a different tack than most psychologists of his day: he was interested in the workings of the normal mind rather than the pathology of mental illness. He wanted to find a way to measure the ability to think and reason, apart from education in any particular field (PBS, 1998). Over time, Binet became one of the most prominent psychologists in French history.
After receiving his formal education in Nice and Paris, Binet became a lawyer. However, this profession did not please him. He became fascinated with the work of French neurologist Jean Martin Charcot, who was studying hypnosis. In 1878, he abandoned his law career and devoted himself to medical and scientific studies at the Salpêtriere Hospital in Paris, where Charcot was working.
In 1884, Alfred married Laure Balbiani. Her father, E.G. Balbiani, was an embryologist at the College de France. Alfred was given the opportunity to work in his lab where his interest changed from comparative psychology to natural science. Research for his doctorate focused on the behavior, physiology, histology and anatomy of insects (Wolfe, 1973). While working in Dr. Balbiani”s lab, Binet wrote Animal Magnetism.
Binet”s next area of interest was in the field of child psychology. He developed and tried a wide range of tests and puzzles on his own daughters Madeleine and Alice. It was through this study of his daughters that he began to discover the importance of attention p on the development of adult intelligence. It was at this point that he came to realize that individual differences had to be systematically explored before one could determine laws which would apply to all people (Pollack, 1995).
Binet went on to became director of the Laboratory of Physiological Psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris. While at the Sorbonne, he founded the first French journal devoted to psychology, L”Annee Psychologique. Binet used the journal to publish the results of his research studies. The journal is still in circulation.
In 1900, Binet and Ferdinand Buisson established, La Societe Libre Pour L”Etude Psychologique de L”Enfant (The Free Society for the Psychological Study of Children), a Paris laboratory for child study and experimental teaching. It was later renamed La Societe Alfred Binet et Thedore Simon. The laboratory”s concerns dealt with practical problems in the school setting. Parisian school authorities asked Binet to develop a method to identify children who were unable to learn at a normal rate. He went on to develop a method that could measure the intelligence of every child as dull, bright, or normal (Newland, 1998). Binet determined that complex problems, especially those involving abstract thinking, were best for separating the bright and dull students.
Since problem-solving ability grows rapidly during childhood, Binet decided to make an age scale of intelligence. He chose tasks for each age level that could be performed by most youngsters of that age but that could not be done by the majority of children a year younger.
In 1905, Binet and Theodore Simon published a scale of intelligence for children from 3 to 13. Binet hoped his test would be used to improve children”s education, but he also feared it would be used to label children and limit their opportunities (Myers, 1981). Since 1905, several adaptations and revisions of the Binet-Simon scales have been published all around the world.
On October 18, 1911, while revising intelligence scales, he died. Despite his great achievements, he was never fully appreciated, especially by the French. His work was diverse, showing interest in the person as a whole. While Binet never provided any firm theories, his work was often the precursor of more detailed and profound research.