Tag Archives: Alfred Binet

New JHBS: Mental Testing, Random Sampling, & More!

The Spring 2017 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in the issue explore the promotion of the scientific status of polling, Robert H. Lowie and the concept of culture, the work of Lawrence Krader, and work on mental associations prior to mental testing. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.


The scientific pollsters (Archibald Crossley, George H. Gallup, and Elmo Roper) emerged onto the American news media scene in 1935. Much of what they did in the following years (1935–1948) was to promote both the political and scientific legitimacy of their enterprise. They sought to be recognized as the sole legitimate producers of public opinion. In this essay I examine the, mostly overlooked, rhetorical work deployed by the pollsters to publicize the scientific credentials of their polling activities, and the central role the concept of sampling has had in that pursuit. First, they distanced themselves from the failed straw poll by claiming that their sampling methodology based on quotas was informed by science. Second, although in practice they did not use random sampling, they relied on it rhetorically to derive the symbolic benefits of being associated with the “laws of probability.”

“ANTHROPOLOGY AT WAR: ROBERT H. LOWIE AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE CULTURE CONCEPT, 1904 to 1954,” by STEFAN BARGHEER. The abstract reads, Continue reading New JHBS: Mental Testing, Random Sampling, & More!

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Magic, Wonder, and the History of Psychology

Alfred Binet

Two recent articles explore the intersecting histories of magic and psychology. A piece in The American Journal of Psychology describes Alfred Binet’s scientific studies of magic, while a forthcoming article in the Review of General Psychology explores the psychological experience of wonder in relation to magic tricks. Full details below.

“Scientific Study of Magic: Binet’s Pioneering Approach Based on Observations and Chronophotography,” Cyril Thomas, André Didierjean and Serge Nicolas. The abstract reads

In 1894, French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857–1911) published an article titled “The Psychology of Prestidigitation” that reported the results of a study conducted in collaboration with two of the best magicians of that period. By using a new method and new observation techniques, Binet was able to reveal some of the psychological mechanisms involved in magic tricks. Our article begins by presenting Binet’s method and the principal professional magicians who participated in his studies. Next, we present the main psychological tools of magicians described by Binet and look at some recent studies dealing with those mechanisms. Finally, we take a look at the innovative technique used by Binet for his study on magic: the chronophotograph.

“A Particular Kind of Wonder: The Experience of Magic Past and Present,” Peter Lamont. The abstract reads,

Wonder may be an important emotion, but the term wonder is remarkably ambiguous. For centuries, in psychological discourse, it has been defined as a variety of things. In an attempt to be more focused, and given the growing scientific interest in magic, this article describes a particular kind of wonder: the response to a magic trick. It first provides a historical perspective by considering continuity and change over time in this experience, and argues that, in certain respects, this particular kind of wonder has changed. It then describes in detail the experience of magic, considers the extent to which it might be considered acquired rather than innate, and how it relates to other emotions, such as surprise. In the process, it discusses the role of belief and offers some suggestions for future research. It concludes by noting the importance of context and meaning in shaping the nature of the experience, and argues for the value of both experimental and historical research in the attempt to understand such experiences.

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New JHBS: Palladino, Binet’s Instruments, Textbooks, & More

Palladino séance

The summer 2016 issue of Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore investigations of Palladino’s mediumship, Alfred Binet’s collaboration with instrument makers, the historiography of psychology textbooks, and central figures in psychological and philosophical associations at the turn of the twentieth century. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.


In 1888, the spiritist Ercole Chiaia challenged Cesare Lombroso to go to Naples and study a brilliant though still unknown medium: Eusapia Palladino. At that time Lombroso turned down the challenge. However, in 1891 he became fascinated by the medium’s phenomena. Despite the abundant literature on Palladino, there is still an episode that needs to be explored: in 1888, the Spanish doctor Manuel Otero Acevedo accepted the challenge rejected by Lombroso, spent three months in Naples studying the medium and invited the Italian psychiatrist to join his investigations. This unexplored episode serves to examine the role of scientific authority, testimony, and material evidence in the legitimization of mediumistic phenomena. The use Otero Acevedo made of the evidence he obtained in Naples reveals his desire to proclaim himself an authority on psychical research before other experts, such as Lombroso, Richet, and Aksakof.


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New JHBS: Race Relationships, Lazarfeld’s Voter Studies & More!

Mary Ainsworth

The summer issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences is now online. Articles in this issue explore the relationships of scientists who disagreed over the nature of race, the origins of Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Procedure, Alfred Binet’s role as editorial director of a French publishing house, and more. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Race relationships: Collegiality and demarcation in physical anthropology,” by Peter Sachs Collopy. The abstract reads,

In 1962, anthropologist Carleton Coon argued in The Origin of Races that some human races had evolved further than others. Among his most vocal critics were geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky and anthropologist Ashley Montagu, each of whom had known Coon for decades. I use this episode, and the long relationships between scientists that preceded it, to argue that scientific research on race was intertwined not only with political projects to conserve or reform race relations, but also with the relationships scientists shared as colleagues. Demarcation between science and pseudoscience, between legitimate research and scientific racism, involved emotional as well as intellectual labor.

“Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Procedure: The origin of an instrument,” by Lenny Van Rosmalen, René Van der Veer and Frank Van der Horst. The abstract reads, Continue reading New JHBS: Race Relationships, Lazarfeld’s Voter Studies & More!

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New issue of HoP featuring digital history, Brazilian psychology at the Belo Horizonte Teachers College, and much more!

Vol 18
February  2015

The first issue of the 18th volume of History of Psychology is now available (here). Contents include a digital networking of early articles in the journal Psychological Review, an account of Alfred Binet’s subject Jacques Inaudi, the relation between experimental psychology and educational training in early 20th century Brazil, and more. Article titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.


“The ‘textbook Gibson’: The assimilation of dissidence,” by Alan Costall and Paul Morris. The abstract reads:

We examine how the textbooks have dealt with one of psychology’s most eminent dissidents, James Gibson (1904–1979). Our review of more than a hundred textbooks, dating from the 1950s to the present, reveals fundamental and systematic misrepresentations of Gibson. Although Gibson continues to figure in most of the textbooks, his work is routinely assimilated to theoretical positions he emphatically rejected: cue theory, stimulus-response psychology, and nativism. As Gibson’s one-time colleague, Ulric Neisser, pointed out, psychologists are especially prone to trying to understand new proposals “by mapping it on to some existing scheme,” and warned that when “an idea is really new, that strategy fails” (Neisser, 1990, p. 749). The “Textbook Gibson” is an example of such a failure, and perhaps also of the more general importance of assimilation—“shadow history”—within the actual history of psychology.

Continue reading New issue of HoP featuring digital history, Brazilian psychology at the Belo Horizonte Teachers College, and much more!

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Alfred Binet: Naissance de la Psychologie Scientifique


Historian of Medicine Alexandre Klein, a postdoctoral fellow at the Université d’Ottawa has recently released a web documentary on Alfred Binet. The French language documentary, a collaboration with film maker Philippe Thomine, can be viewed in full here.

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Sick? Or Slow? A History of Early Intelligence Testing in Intelligence

In a recently released, open access article in Intelligence Serge Nicolas, Bernard Andrieu, Jean-Claude Croizet, Rasyid B. Sanitioso, and Jeremy Trevelyan Burman discuss the early history of intelligence testing as it developed in France. In “Sick? Or slow? On the Origins of Intelligence as a Psychological Object” Nicolas and colleagues describe how psychologist Alfred Binet (left) fought to establish authority in the realm of children’s educational assessment. Binet challenged psychiatrists, including rival Désiré-Magloire Bourneville (top), for primacy in this field, arguing that children who fell behind in school should be kept within the school rather than removed to “asylums.” For Binet, such children were slow, but not sick. To identify these children, Binet and his collaborators developed the Binet-Simon test, the direct precursor of the extremely successful American Stanford-Binet test. The article’s abstract reads,

This paper examines the first moments of the emergence of “psychometrics” as a discipline, using a history of the Binet–Simon test (precursor to the Stanford–Binet) to engage the question of how intelligence became a “psychological object.” To begin to answer this, we used a previously-unexamined set of French texts to highlight the negotiations and collaborations that led Alfred Binet (1857–1911) to identify “mental testing” as a research area worth pursuing. This included a long-standing rivalry with Désiré-Magloire Bourneville (1840–1909), who argued for decades that psychiatrists ought to be the professional arbiters of which children would be removed from the standard curriculum and referred to special education classes in asylums. In contrast, Binet sought to keep children in schools and conceived of a way for psychologists to do this. Supported by the Société libre de l’étude psychologique de l’enfant [Free society for the psychological study of the child], and by a number of collaborators and friends, he thus undertook to create a “metric” scale of intelligence—and the associated testing apparatus—to legitimize the role of psychologists in a to-that-point psychiatric domain: identifying and treating “the abnormal”. The result was a change in the earlier law requiring all healthy French children to attend school, between the ages of 6 and 13, to recognize instead that otherwise normal children sometimes need special help: they are “slow” (arriéré), but not “sick.” This conceptualization of intelligence was then carried forward, through the test’s influence on Lewis Terman (1877–1956) and Lightner Witmer (1867–1956), to shape virtually all subsequent thinking about intelligence testing and its role in society.

The full article is currently open access and can be downloaded free of charge here.

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Websites on Binet, Henri, Janet, & Bourdon!

Those interested in the history of psychology in France will find the websites created by Serge Nicholas (left), dedicated to prominent early French psychologists, invaluable resources. Together with Bernard Andrieu, Nicholas has put together a website dedicated to the life and work of Alfred Binet. Although best known for his development of the intelligence test, Binet conducted research in a number of other areas. The diversity of this research is well represented on the Alfred Binet (1857-1911) website, which in addition to featuring a biography of Binet and wonderful photographs of Binet and his family, features a complete bibliography of Binet’s works with links to full text versions of most of these publications.

Nicholas has also created similar sites for French psychologists Benjamin Bourdon (together with Christophe Quaireau), Pierre Janet (together with Isabelle Saillot), and Victor Henri, one of Binet’s best known collaborators. A further site on Théodule Ribot appears to be under development. Visit these sites now to learn more about late-nineteenth and early twentieth century French psychology!

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New HoP: Columbian Psych, Little Albert, & Binet

The November 2012 issue of History of Psychology is now online. Included in this issue are articles on the history of psychology in Columbia, the neurological status of Little Albert, and the work of Alfred Binet in his Sorbonne laboratory (above). Also included in this issue is a piece on how the history of the DSM can be used to teach students about the complexities of conceptions of mental health and illness, as well as a description of an archive for the history of psychology in Spain and an author’s reflection on the process of writing a recent book on William Stern. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Colombian approaches to psychology in the 19th century,” by Gilberto Leonardo Oviedo. The abstract reads,

Colombian intellectuals of the 19th century widely consulted scientific psychology in regard to their political, religious, and educational interests. Colombian independence from Spain (1810) introduced the necessity of transforming the former subjects into illustrious citizens and members of a modern state. After independence, political liberals embraced Bentham’s thesis of utilitarianism and the theories of sensibility, with a teaching style based in induction. Conservatives defended the Catholic tradition about the divine origin of the soul and used scholasticism as a model of teaching. A bipartisan coalition, the Regeneration, incorporated the ideas of modern psychology based on the principles of Thomistic thought (Neo-Thomism). The Neo-Thomists considered psychology as a science of the soul and debated physiological explanations of the mind. The conceptual advances of the period have been trivialized in historical accounts of psychology in Colombia, due to the emphasis on the institutionalization processes of the discipline in 1947.

“Little Albert: A neurologically impaired child,” by Alan J. Fridlund, Hall P. Beck, William D. Goldie and Gary Irons. The abstract reads, Continue reading New HoP: Columbian Psych, Little Albert, & Binet

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