The failure of Galton's and Cattell's intelligence tests opened the door for Binet to develop a more practical alternative. He succeeded where they had failed at devising a test that was related to intelligent behavior in real life. Today, most useful intelligence tests for people of all ages are still based on Binet's model. Such tests require people to use several mental abilities to perform a broad range of complex tasks.
One factor that may have helped Binet succeed was his choice of study population. Galton and his followers had been mainly interested in studying intelligence in adults at the high end of the ability range. Binet, in contrast, was interested in testing the intelligence of children at the low end. Because he worked with children, Binet was able to see the way intelligence developed over time. And because he looked at less advanced mental processes, basic patterns may have been easier to notice.
Binet's own studies of very creative adults, such as dramatists, had found that there was great individuality and complexity in higher-order abilities. When the Binet-Simon Scale was introduced, Binet noted that some children had a mental level that was a year or more ahead of their age in years. Were these children destined to grow up into very bright and talented adults? At first, Binet believed that it might be possible to answer that question by extending his scale upward. By 1908, however, he had developed doubts. The mixture of mental abilities measured by his test had only been shown to be something that prevented people from being retarded. They had not been shown to be the source of high ability, talent, or genius. Therefore, the very nature of the "intelligence" measured by Binet's test seemed to be rather different from the "intelligence" Galton had had in mind.
Another major difference between Binet and Galton was their position on the nature-nurture debate. Galton mainly focused on the nature side of the equation. He viewed the upper limits of a person's ability as fixed by genetics rather than culture. Binet, in contrast, was more interested in the role of nurture. He believed that cultural factors played a large role in shaping an individual's mental abilities. He also stressed that intelligence was changeable within limits through proper education.
Because Binet saw culture and intelligence as closely related, he had no qualms about including culturally based items on his test. Of course, this meant that the test was only valid for people who came from a certain background. Galton's and Cattell's physiological tests, on the other hand, would have been more applicable to people from many different backgrounds—if only they had worked.
By a twist of fate, both Galton and Binet died in 1911. After the two men's deaths, a strange thing occurred: Binet's scale was immediately taken up by scientists whose views and goals were otherwise much closer to Galton's. Clearly, Binet's test survived because it had practical value. The theory behind the test, however, was not as quickly embraced. In part, this may have been because Binet himself was always more interested in measuring intelligence than in explaining it within a theoretical framework.
It may also have been due, in part, however, to the way the two scientists led their lives. At the time of their deaths, Galton was an old man, long past his active research days, while Binet was still in the prime of his career. Yet Galton held greater sway in scientific circles. During the last years of his life, Galton drummed up considerable support for his eugenics program and the hereditary theory of intelligence. Binet, on the other hand, had gained far fewer followers. As a result, the next generation of intelligence testers tended to use Binet's techniques to advance Galton's ideas.
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