Alfred Binet, one of the most influential French psychologists and scientists, is known for his extensive research related to the mental capacity of humans. He literally revolutionized the fields of education and psychology, especially in regard to intelligence testing. Binet’s findings were way ahead of his time, and although he did not quite realise the true worth of his contributions, his name is cemented in the world of psychology.
Binet also authored many publications about psychophysics and creativity, including the legendary “L’Année psychologique”, which is still regarded as an important psychology journal.
Early Life and Education:
Born in July 1857, in Nice, France to a physician father and artist mother, Binet’s parents got divorced when he was quite young. He was mostly raised by his mother. At 15, he received several awards for his extraordinary skills in literary composition and translation at the prestigious Louis-le-Grand school. Binet took law and medicine as his favorite subjects. He acquired a degree in law but chosen not to pursue a career in any of these subjects.
While in his mid-twenties, Binet was given permission as a reader at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. There, he studied about the developments and trends in psychology. He was inspired by the works of Theodule Ribot and John Stuart Mill, and that boosted his enthusiasm for sensory and associationistic psychology.
Contributions and Achievements:
Binet met Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpêtrière Hospital in the early 1880s. He extensively studied, researched and published his works on hypnosis and hysteria. While asserting a controversial theory, he gradually comprehended the nature of suggestibility on psychological experimentation.
In 1884 he got married to Laure Balbiani, the daughter of the famous embryologist Edouard-Gérard Balbiani. They had two daughters together, Madeleine and Alice. Binet gave up his position at the Salpêtrière in 1890. He carried out home experiments with his daughters and observed their behavior and responses in a systematic approach. Subsequently, he published his work explaining these experiments that dealt with individual differences and measuring intelligence. His daughter’s ability to differentiate the relative size of collections premised conservation studies by Jean Piaget.
Binet volunteered at the Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, Sorbonne, where he was made a director in 1894. He worked with Henry Heaunis and Theodore Simon to lay down the psychology journal “L’Année psychologique”. The journal is widely considered to be one of the most important contributions in the history of psychology.
The approaches of Binet’s experimental research also addressed schoolchildren. French physical chemist Victor Henri briefly helped him with the investigations of visual memory and research regarding individual psychology. He advocated that the intelligence of a person, and the individual differences in intelligence of more than one persons, could well be measured. He became a member of the Free Society for the Psychological Study of the Child. Binet also performed his services to a Commission on the Education of Retarded Children for the French government. The landmark development of mothods related to the intelligence quotient (IQ) tests also took place during this time. In an effort to find out the inadequacies that influence mental subnormality, Binet and Simon devised an instrument.
The research emphasis of Alfred Binet on the variable intelligence of children offered a fundamental model for measuring and understanding the individual differences of both typically and atypically developing children.
Later Life and Death:
Alfred Binet also studied human sexual behavior (he coined the term “erotic fetishism”) and the palm reading abilities of the famous Paris chiromancer Valentine Dencausse. He died on October 18, 1911.