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 wou

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.