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Alfred Binet was born in Nice, in France in 1857. He became interested in the ideas of John Stuart Mill, who suggested that intelligence could be explained by the personal associations, experiences and context of the individual. In 1883 Binet met Charcot (a world-famous neurologist of the time) who introduced him to hypnosis. After working in this area Binet began to develop tests of intelligence, using his daughters as guinea pigs. He became interested in the impact that both attention span and suggestibility had on the performance of children on such tests.

Theodore Simon (1873 –1961) , a French psychiatrist and physician, applied to do his doctoral research with Binet at the same time that a new law was passed in France entitling all children to a basic education. The interest in 'mental retardation' that was emerging at official levels prompted Binet and Simon to develop a test, standardised on 'normal' ability children and less able children. This was the first test of general intelligence produced. In 1916 Lewis Terman, a professor at Stanford University, developed a further version of the test and adopted the concept of the intelligence quotient (IQ). He named the test the Stanford-Binet Test.

Binet maintained that intelligence was not 'fixed', and that with training it was possible to raise a person's general intellectual level with appropriate training. Binet developed exercises known as 'mental orthopaedics' which were intended to improve the intelligence of children who were showing low levels of attainment.

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