You know that one dude at works who always claims his IQ test says he should be in MENSA? Well, you have a French psychologist named Alfred Binet to thank for developing both the test and your co-worker’s superior attitude.
Bonjour IQ Test
Like beignets, croissants, and Andre the Giant, the father of the modern-day IQ tests was born in France in 1857.1
Alfred Binet started a career in law but soon fell in love with all things psychology and left law school to study science at the Sorbonne. He greatly admired the work of John Stuart Mill, who believed that intelligence could be explained by the laws of associationism, a theory that states that simple association or the co-occurrence of ideas or sensations is the primary basis of meaning, thought, and learning.2 Binet thought Mills didn’t have it all the way right, but figured his hero was on to something.
You’re Getting Sleepy
Before Binet got started creating the base for the quiz that determines whether or not you’re in the “fun group” at the company offsite, he was all about another form of entertainment often seen at those same company offsites: hypnotism. Well, maybe just company offsites where your boss waited too long to book a legit speaker.
In 1883, Alfred Binet met Jean-Martin Charcot, the director of a clinic called La Salpêtrière in Paris. Charcot was studying to effects of hypnotism and Binet was into it. So much so he even published four papers in support of Charcot. Once Charcot’s work was deemed unfounded, poor old Binet had to put his little French tail between his legs and admit that he was wrong to have gone along with Charcot.
Or maybe Charcot had him hypnotized the whole time…
When In Doubt, Use Your Kids
When Alfred Binet’s two daughters were born, Marguerite and Armande, he began to notice that the two girls, although they were full siblings and possessed the same lady parts, were different people!3
Rather than just letting his daughters live their lives, Binet labeled Armande a subjectivist and Marguerite an objectivist and started to develop the ideas he would later base his intelligence test on. Binet began publishing books and articles about the two girls and hopefully let them out to play from time to time, that is when he wasn’t treating them like the plants you play Beyonce music to see if they grow better than the ones you don’t.
Cool for School
Binet’s work with intelligence testing began to accelerate during the end of the 19th century when a law was passed in France that made it mandatory for children six to fourteen to attend school. No more strolling in the park snacking on croissants for these little Madelines and Madelinos, it was time to learn.
Appointed to the Commission for the Retarded, Binet was tasked with finding a way to figure out which children needed extra help and how to place them in the correct classroom for maximum learnitude. It was then that Binet teamed up with a medical student named Theodore Simon.
The two would go on to develop a test to measure intelligence using tasks of increasing difficulty that became known as the Binet-Simon Scale. An average data set was determined, and individuals who tested higher or lower than the data set for their chronological age would be awarded an Intelligence Quotient, or IQ.
Why Americans Can’t Have Nice Things
The Binet-Simon Scale was working pretty well in Europe, so American psychologist and author Lewis Terman brought it to the good ole US of A and used it on a larger sample of Americans. It was now called the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale and that wasn’t the only thing that change about the test.
Instead of it being used to help children find better ways to learn, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale was used in an attempt to weed out less intelligent children to mandate who could and could not reproduce.
Although Alfred Binet’s research has been used for evil as well as good, his ideas about the way intelligence is measured remain the base for every IQ test you take in a lab, an office, or the back of your Cosmo. But Binet wasn’t a one trick pony: he also coined the term “erotic fetishism” to describe those who have a sexual interest in non-human objects.
So the next time Ted from accounting brags about his high IQ, just ignore him and continue whispering sweet nothings to your stapler, your one true love, who doesn’t care if your IQ is 80 or 180.
Binet would be proud either way.