Alfred Binet, born in Nice, France, on the eleventh of July, whose mother was an artist and whose father was a physician, became one of the most prominent psychologists in French history.
Having received his formal education in both Nice and later, in Paris, at the renowned Lycee Louis -le-Grand, Binet went on to become a lawyer. This profession, however, was not suited to him, and he found himself immersed in the works of J.S. Mill, Bain and Sully at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. He identified strongly with the associationism theory in following that his mentor was J.S. Mill.
Binet began working with Charcot and Fere at the Salpetriere, a famous Parisian hospital, where he absorbed the theories of his teachers in regards to hypnosis, hysteria and abnormal psychology. During the following seven years, he continuously demonstrated his loyalty in defending Charcot’s doctrines on hypnotic transfer and polarization until he was forced to accept the counterattacks of Delboeuf and the Nancy School, which eventually caused a split between student and teacher.
Having been married in 1884 to Laure Balbiani, whose father was E.G. Balbiani, an embryologist at the College de France, Binet was given the opportunity to work in his lab where his interest in ‘comparative psychology’ was piqued and in which he eventually wrote his thesis for his doctorate in natural science, focusing his research on the “the behavior, physiology, histology and anatomy of insects”(Wolfe, p.7). It was while working in Dr. Balbiani’s lab, that Binet wrote ‘Animal Magnetism’, an obvious breaking away from associationism, showing Binet’s ability to adapt and learn with every opportunity.
Binet’s next area of interest could be considered a precursor to some of Piaget’s work with child psychology and began with the systematic observation of his two daughters, to whom he devoted much of his time, studying and writing about. It was at this point, that Binet “came to realize that individual differences had to be systematically explored before one could determine laws which would apply to all people”(Pollack,p.xii).
Soon after, Binet was nominated co-director and one year later, became director of the Laboratory of Physiological Psychology at the Sorbonne. He and Beaunis, also co-director, initiated and edited the first French psychological journal ‘L’Annee Psychologique’, which remains in press today.
Although never having attained a professorship in his own country (a bitter disappointment for the proud nationalist) Binet did spend one spring in Bucharest where his knowledge in experimental psychology was fully appreciated as he taught to auditoriums filled to capacity, and was thus offered a chair in psychophysiology. Binet refused, unable to remain away from Paris.
The ‘Society Libre pour l’Etude Psychologique de l’Enfant’, was established in 1900 by Binet and Ferdinand Buisson. This organization’s concerns dealt with practical problems in the school setting. Binet, after having proven himself through his work here, was appointed to a commission which was to adorn Binet with his most famous contribution in Psychology…the ‘Methodes Nouvelles pour le Diagnostic du Niveau Intellectuel des Anormaux’, a series of tests developed by he and his partner, Theodore Simone, allowing the differentiation of normal from retarded children in the school system, thus allowing the slower children to be separated for remedial help. Although never used extensively in France, this of course, was the precursor (although used for different and opposable reasons than were initially intended by Binet) of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test.
Alfred Binet “attempted to penetrate the human mind, to analyze its wellspring, to understand [it as] a complete whole”(Wolfe, p. 327). His work was diverse, covering areas such as systematic introspection, suggestibility, research with abnormal, mental fatigue, psychology of legal testimony, experimental study of children and experimental pedagogy.
Binet died in Paris in 1911. As a French Psychologist, he was never appreciated, specifically by the French, to the extent that his work and dedication merited him to be. Binet’s work was diverse, showing interest in the person as a whole and therefore, trying to understand all facets comprising man. His work, although contributing much in the sense that it was often the precursor of more detailed, profound research, was never detailed enough to formulate any firm theories in any one area.
Pollack, B., The Experimental Psychology of Alfred Binet, Selected Papers. Springer Publishing Co., Inc., New York City, @ 1995.
Robinson, D.N., Significant Contributions to the History of Psychology 1750-1920 – Bine Psychometrics and Educational Psychology. University Publications of America, Inc., Washington, D.C., @ 1977
Rogers, T.B., The Psychological Testing Enterprise, An Introduction. Books/Cole Publishing Co., Pacific Grove, California, @ 1995.
Wolf, T.H., Alfred Binet. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London, @ 1973.