Interest in intelligence dates back thousands of years, but it wasn't until psychologist Alfred Binet was commissioned to identify students who needed educational assistance that the first IQ test was born.
Alfred Binet and the First IQ Test
During the early 1900s, the French government asked psychologist Alfred Binet to help decide which students were mostly likely to experience difficulty in schools. The government had passed laws requiring that all French children attend school, so it was important to find a way to identify children who would need specialized assistance.
Faced with this task, Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon began developing a number of questions that focused on things that had not been taught in school such as attention, memory and problem-solving skills. Using these questions, Binet determined which ones served as the best predictors of school success. He quickly realized that some children were able to answer more advanced questions that older children were generally able to answer, while other children of the same age were only able to answer questions that younger children could typically answer. Based on this observation, Binet suggested the concept of a mental age, or a measure of intelligence based on the average abilities of children of a certain age group.
This first intelligence test, referred to today as the Binet-Simon Scale, became the basis for the intelligence tests still in use today. However, Binet himself did not believe that his psychometric instruments could be used to measure a single, permanent and inborn level of intelligence (Kamin, 1995). Binet stressed the limitations of the test, suggesting that intelligence is far too broad a concept to quantify with a single number. Instead, he insisted that intelligence is influenced by a number of factors, changes over time and can only be compared among children with similar backgrounds (Siegler, 1992).
The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test
After the development of the Binet-Simon Scale, the test was soon brought to the United States where it generated considerable interest. Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman took Binet's original test and standardized it using a sample of American participants. This adapted test, first published in 1916, was called the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale and soon became the standard intelligence test used in the U.S.
The Stanford-Binet intelligence test used a single number, known as the intelligence quotient (or IQ), to represent an individual's score on the test. This score was calculated by dividing the test taker's mental age by their chronological age, and then multiplying this number by 100. For example, a child with a mental age of 12 and a chronological age of 10 would have an IQ of 120 (12 /10 x 100).
The Stanford-Binet remains a popular assessment tool today, despite going through a number of revisions over the years since its inception.
Intelligence Testing During World War I
At the outset of World War I, U.S. Army officials were faced with the monumental task of screening an enormous number of army recruits. In 1917, as president of the APA and chair of the Committee on the Psychological Examination of Recruits, psychologist Robert Yerkes developed two tests known as the Army Alpha and Beta tests. The Army Alpha was designed as a written test, while the Army Beta was administered orally in cases where recruits were unable to read. The tests were administered to over two million soldiers in an effort to help the army determine which men were well suited to specific positions and leadership roles (McGuire, 1994).
At the end of WWI, the tests remained in use in a wide variety of situations outside of the military with individuals of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities. For example, IQ tests were used to screen new immigrants as they entered the United States at Ellis Island. The results of these mental tests were inappropriately used to make sweeping and inaccurate generalizations about entire populations, which led some intelligence "experts" to exhort Congress to enact immigration restrictions (Kamin, 1995).
The Wechsler Intelligence Scales
The next development in the history of intelligence testing was the creation of a new measurement instrument by American psychologist David Wechsler. Much like Binet, Wechsler believed that intelligence involved a number of different mental abilities, describing intelligence as, "the global capacity of a person to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment" (1939). Dissatisfied with the limitations of the Stanford-Binet, he published his new intelligence test known as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) in 1955.
Wechsler also developed two different tests specifically for use with children: the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI). The adult version of the test has been revised since its original publication and is now known as the WAIS-IV.
The WAIS-IV contains 10 subtests along with 5 supplemental tests. The test provides scores in four major areas of intelligence: a Verbal Comprehension Index, a Perceptual Reasoning Index, a Working Memory Index, and a Processing Speed Index. The test also provides two broad scores that can be used as a summary of overall intelligence: a Full Scale IQ score that combines performance on all four index scores and a General Ability Index based on six subtest scores.
Subtest scores on the WAIS-IV can be useful in identifying learning disabilities, such as cases where a low score on some areas combined with a high score in other areas may indicate that the individual has a specific learning difficulty (Kaufman, 1990).
Rather than score the test based on chronological age and mental age, as was the case with the original Stanford-Binet, the WAIS is scored by comparing the test taker's score to the scores of others in the same age group. The average score is fixed at 100, with two-thirds of scores lying in the normal range between 85 and 115. This scoring method has become the standard technique in intelligence testing and is also used in the modern revision of the Stanford-Binet test.
Learn more about intelligence:
Fancher, R. E. (1985). The intelligence men: Makers of the IQ controversy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Kamin, L. J. (1995). The pioneers of IQ testing. In Ressell Jacoby & Naomi Glauberman (Eds.), The Bell Curve Debate: History, Documents, Opinions. New York: Times Books.
McGuire, F. (1994). Army alpha and beta tests of intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Encyclopedia of intelligence. New York: Macmillan.
Siegler, R. S. (1992). The other Alfred Binet. Developmental Psychology, 28, 179-190.