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 ag
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.