The History of Child Intelligence Testing



In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychological laboratories in Germany which beckoned many individuals toward the field of psychology as a science. Lightner Witmer was one of these individuals and his main focus was on the study of children and their psychological development. (McReynolds, 1997)  Upon his return Witmer then worked together with James Cattell who was a forrunner of intelligence testing. Witmer later developed psychological clinics for children which focused on treating children in regard to their individual differences, due to mental disabilities. As a result, during this time many other clinics for children with mental disabilities were also being established. In 1909 the debate in psychology was about environment vs. heredity in regard to intelligence (McReynolds, 1997) In that time heredity was the popular side of the debate which led to the greater development of eugenics and beliefs that individuals with disabilities should not be allowed to reproduce. However, Witmer placed emphasis on the environment and did not believe that children were destined to suffer from disabilities just because their parents did. Whitmer states,

“One does not expect figs to grow from thistles, and the slum child seems naturally destined by the force of heredity to grow into an inefficient adult. There are many reasons, however, for repudiating this belief in the potency of heredity. . . . The inefficient product of the slum isthe result of the treatment received during infancy and childhood.– The moral reconstruction of a child like Mary is in the nature of a work of art.The loving hands of many nurses, teachers, trainers, and social workers are acquiring today the skilful [sic] touch which is needed to mold the plastic human material into forms of beauty.” – The Restoration of Children of the Slums, 1910

 Many psychologists traveled to Europe in order to gather more theories apply to the field of clinical child psychology. Lewis Terman was one of these individuals and traveled to various European institutions where he discovered the Binet-Simon scale. He then translated and published this scale in order to apply it in the United States. Due to the further growth of interest in the field of child intelligence testing, in 1916, Terman developed the Stanford-Binet scale which is currently in its fifth edition.

When looking at the development of child intelligence testing over time it is important to recognize that Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon were the first psychologists who developed a test that was seen as practical by those in the field of intelligence. The Binet-Simon scale was a foundation which was then built upon by Lewis Terman. The Stanford-Binet led to a more developed and practical measurement of intelligence which sparked the interests of other psychologists such as David Wechsler who then developed the Wechsler-Bellevue using the Stanford-Binet as a subtest, and further developed the Wechsler Intelligence scale for children (WISC). (Sattler, 1986) The WISC is now in its fourth edition and is widely used in the field of psychology today as well as in schools as a way to classify children in order to meet their individual needs.

More influential psychologists and history of child intelligence testing:

Intelligence testing            Binet-Simon Scale          Stanford-Binet Scale           WISC



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