Alfred Binet (July 8, 1857 – October 18, 1911) was a French psychologist who invented the first practical intelligence test, the Binet-Simon scale.
His principal goal was to identify students who needed special help in coping with the school curriculum. Along with his collaborator Théodore Simon, Binet published revisions of his intelligence scale in 1908 and 1911, the last appearing just before his death.
Binet had done a series of experiments to see how well chess players played when blindfolded. He found that only some of the master chess players could play from memory and a few could play multiple games simultaneously without looking at the boards. To remember the positions of the pieces on the boards, some players envisioned exact replicas of specific chess sets, while others envisioned an abstract schema of the game. Binet concluded that extraordinary feats of memory such as blind chess playing could take a variety of mnemonic forms. He recounted his experiments in a book entitled Psychologie des grands calculateurs et joueurs en echec, (Paris: Hachette, 1894).
In 1899, Binet was asked to be a member of the Free Society for the Psychological Study of the Child. French education changed greatly during the end of the nineteenth century, because of a law that passed which made it mandatory for children ages six to fourteen to attend school. This group to which Binet became a member hoped to begin studying children in a scientific manner. Binet and many other members of the society were appointed to the Commission for the Retarded. The question became “What should be the test given to children thought to possibly have learning disabilities, that might place them in a special classroom?” Binet made it his problem to establish the differences that separate the normal child from the abnormal, and to measure such differences. L’Etude experimentale de l’intelligence (Experimental Studies of Intelligence) was the book he used to describe his methods and it was published in 1903.
Development of more tests and investigations began soon after the book, with the help of a young medical student named Theodore Simon. Simon had nominated himself a few years before as Binet’s research assistant and worked with him on the intelligence tests that Binet is known for, which share Simon’s name as well. In 1905, a new test for measuring intelligence was introduced and simply called the Binet–Simon scale. In 1908, they revised the scale, dropping, modifying, and adding tests and also arranging them according to age levels from three to thirteen.
In 1904 a French professional group for child psychology, La Société Libre pour l’Etude Psychologique de l’Enfant, was called upon by the French government to appoint a commission on the education of retarded children. The commission was asked to create a mechanism for identifying students in need of alternative education. Binet, being an active member of this group, found the impetus for the development of his mental scale.