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Special Characteristics Of The Binet-simon Method

Psychologists had experimented with intelligence tests for at least twenty years before
the Binet scale made its appearance. The question naturally suggests
itself why Binet should have been successful in a field where previous
efforts had been for the most part futile. The answer to this question
is found in three essential differences between Binet's method and those
formerly employed.

1. _The use of age standards._ Binet was the first to utilize the idea
of age standards, or norms, in the measurement of intelligence. It will
be understood, of course, that Binet did not set out to invent tests of
10-year intelligence, 6-year intelligence, etc. Instead, as already
explained, he began with a series of tests ranging from very easy to
very difficult, and by trying these tests on children of different ages
and noting the percentages of successes in the various years, he was
able to locate them (approximately) in the years where they belonged.

This plan has the great advantage of giving us standards which are
easily grasped. To say, for illustration, that a given subject has a
grade of intelligence equal to that of the average child of 8 years is a
statement whose general import does not need to be explained. Previous
investigators had worked with subjects the degree of whose intelligence
was unknown, and with tests the difficulty of which was equally unknown.
An immense amount of ingenuity was spent in devising tests which were
used in such a way as to preclude any very meaningful interpretation of
the responses.

The Binet method enables us to characterize the intelligence of a child
in a far more definite way than had hitherto been possible. Current
descriptive terms like "bright," "moderately bright," "dull," "very
dull," "feeble-minded," etc., have had no universally accepted meaning.
A child who is designated by one person as "moderately bright" may be
called "very bright" by another person. The degree of intelligence which
one calls "moderate dullness," another may call "extreme dullness," etc.
But every one knows what is meant by the term 8-year mentality, 4-year
mentality, etc., even if he is not able to define these grades of
intelligence in psychological terms; and by ascertaining experimentally
what intellectual tasks children of different ages can perform, we are,
of course, able to make our age standards as definite as we please.

Why should a device so simple have waited so long for a discoverer? We
do not know. It is of a class with many other unaccountable mysteries in
the development of scientific method. Apparently the idea of an
age-grade method, as this is called, did not come to Binet himself until
he had experimented with intelligence tests for some fifteen years. At
least his first provisional scale, published in 1905, was not made up
according to the age-grade plan. It consisted merely of 30 tests,
arranged roughly in order of difficulty. Although Binet nowhere gives
any account of the steps by which this crude and ungraded scale was
transformed into the relatively complete age-grade scale of 1908, we can
infer that the original and ingenious idea of utilizing age norms was
suggested by the data collected with the 1905 scale. However the
discovery was made, it ranks, perhaps, from the practical point of view,
as the most important in all the history of psychology.

2. _The kind of mental functions brought into play._ In the second
place, the Binet tests differ from most of the earlier attempts in that
they are designed to test the higher and more complex mental processes,
instead of the simpler and more elementary ones. Hence they set
problems for the reasoning powers and ingenuity, provoke judgments about
abstract matters, etc., instead of attempting to measure sensory
discrimination, mere retentiveness, rapidity of reaction, and the like.
Psychologists had generally considered the higher processes too complex
to be measured directly, and accordingly sought to get at them
indirectly by correlating supposed intelligence with simpler processes
which could readily be measured, such as reaction time, rapidity of
tapping, discrimination of tones and colors, etc. While they were
disputing over their contradictory findings in this line of exploration,
Binet went directly to the point and succeeded where they had failed.

It is now generally admitted by psychologists that higher intelligence
is little concerned in such elementary processes as those mentioned
above. Many of the animals have keen sensory discrimination.
Feeble-minded children, unless of very low grade, do not differ very
markedly from normal children in sensitivity of the skin, visual
acuity, simple reaction time, type of imagery, etc. But in power of
comprehension, abstraction, and ability to direct thought, in the nature
of the associative processes, in amount of information possessed, and in
spontaneity of attention, they differ enormously.

3. _Binet would test "general intelligence."_ Finally, Binet's success
was largely due to his abandonment of the older "faculty psychology"
which, far from being defunct, had really given direction to most of the
earlier work with mental tests. Where others had attempted to measure
memory attention, sense discrimination, etc., as separate faculties or
functions, Binet undertook to ascertain the _general level_ of
intelligence. Others had thought the task easier of accomplishment by
measuring each division or aspect of intelligence separately, and
summating the results. Binet, too, began in this way, and it was only
after years of experimentation by the usual methods that he finally
broke away from them and undertook, so to speak, to triangulate the
height of his tower without first getting the dimensions of the
individual stones which made it up.

The assumption that it is easier to measure a part, or one aspect, of
intelligence than all of it, is fallacious in that the parts are not
separate parts and cannot be separated by any refinement of experiment.
They are interwoven and intertwined. Each ramifies everywhere and
appears in all other functions. The analogy of the stones of the tower
does not really apply. Memory, for example, cannot be tested separately
from attention, or sense-discrimination separately from the associative
processes. After many vain attempts to disentangle the various
intellective functions, Binet decided to test their combined functional
capacity without any pretense of measuring the exact contribution
of each to the total product. It is hardly too much to say that
intelligence tests have been successful just to the extent to which they
have been guided by this aim.

Memory, attention, imagination, etc., are terms of "structural
psychology." Binet's psychology is dynamic. He conceives intelligence as
the sum total of those thought processes which consist in mental
adaptation. This adaptation is not explicable in terms of the old mental
"faculties." No one of these can explain a single thought process, for
such process always involves the participation of many functions whose
separate roles are impossible to distinguish accurately. Instead of
measuring the intensity of various mental states (psycho-physics), it is
more enlightening to measure their combined effect on adaptation. Using
a biological comparison, Binet says the old "faculties" correspond to
the separate tissues of an animal or plant, while his own "scheme of
thought" corresponds to the functioning organ itself. For Binet,
psychology is the science of behavior.

Next: Binet's Conception Of General Intelligence

Previous: How The Scale Is Used

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