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Binet's Conception Of General Intelligence

In devising tests of intelligence it is, of course, necessary to be guided by some
assumption, or assumptions, regarding the nature of intelligence. To
adopt any other course is to depend for success upon happy chance.

However, it is impossible to arrive at a final definition of
intelligence on the basis of _a-priori_ considerations alone. To demand,
as critics of the Binet method have sometimes done, that one who would
measure intelligence should first present a complete definition of it,
is quite unreasonable. As Stern points out, electrical currents were
measured long before their nature was well understood. Similar
illustrations could be drawn from the processes involved in chemistry
physiology, and other sciences. In the case of intelligence it may be
truthfully said that no adequate definition can possibly be framed which
is not based primarily on the symptoms empirically brought to light by
the test method. The best that can be done in advance of such data is to
make tentative assumptions as to the probable nature of intelligence,
and then to subject these assumptions to tests which will show their
correctness or incorrectness. New hypotheses can then be framed for
further trial, and thus gradually we shall be led to a conception of
intelligence which will be meaningful and in harmony with all the
ascertainable facts.

Such was the method of Binet. Only those unacquainted with Binet's
more than fifteen years of labor preceding the publication of his
intelligence scale would think of accusing him of making no effort to
analyze the mental processes which his tests bring into play. It is true
that many of Binet's earlier assumptions proved untenable, and in this
event he was always ready, with exceptional candor and intellectual
plasticity, to acknowledge his error and to plan a new line of attack.

Binet's conception of intelligence emphasizes three characteristics of
the thought process: (1) Its tendency to take and maintain a definite
direction; (2) the capacity to make adaptations for the purpose of
attaining a desired end; and (3) the power of auto-criticism.[11]

See Binet and Simon: "L'intelligence des imbeciles," in _L'Annee
Psychologique_ (1909), pp. 1-147. The last division of this article is
devoted to a discussion of the essential nature of the higher thought
processes, and is a wonderful example of that keen psychological
analysis in which Binet was so gifted.

How these three aspects of intelligence enter into the performances with
various tests of the scale is set forth from time to time in our
directions for giving and interpreting the individual tests. An
illustration which may be given here is that of the "patience test," or
uniting the disarranged parts of a divided rectangle. As described by
Binet, this operation has the following elements: "(1) to keep in mind
the end to be attained, that is to say, the figure to be formed; (2) to
try different combinations under the influence of this directing idea,
which guides the efforts of the subject even though he may not be
conscious of the fact; and (3) to judge the combination which has been
made, to compare it with the model, and to decide whether it is the
correct one."

Much the same processes are called for in many other of the Binet tests,
particularly those of arranging weights, rearranging dissected
sentences, drawing a diamond or square from copy, finding a sentence
containing three given words, counting backwards, etc.

However, an examination of the scale will show that the choice of tests
was not guided entirely by any single formula as to the nature of
intelligence. Binet's approach was a many-sided one. The scale includes
tests of time orientation, of three or four kinds of memory, of
apperception, of language comprehension, of knowledge about common
objects, of free association, of number mastery, of constructive
imagination, and of ability to compare concepts, to see contradictions,
to combine fragments into a unitary whole, to comprehend abstract terms,
and to meet novel situations.

Next: Other Conceptions Of Intelligence

Previous: Special Characteristics Of The Binet-simon Method

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