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Multiple Intelligences: Historical Introduction I

Multiple Intelligences: Historical Introduction I

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The intelligence It is one of the terms that in psychology still continues to give much to talk about. Throughout history this concept has generated an intense debate about its meaning, its measurement and its nature. Without a doubt, trying to specify a definition of intelligence is not a simple task. What meaning could we give a property so difficult to conceptualize? To get into the exciting Theory of multiple intelligences, first we have to delve into the history of intelligence.

In 1921, under the presidency of E. Thorndike, the Symposium on "Intelligence and its measurement" took place. In this event, 14 experts had to answer two questions: what is intelligence and through what means a better measurement can be made. Each of the 14 experts gave a different description. However, two ideas stood out, on the one hand, intelligence as the ability to learn from experience and on the other the ability to adapt to the environment.


  • 1 Sixty-five years later
  • 2 When does the scientific study of Intelligence begin?
  • 3 Francis Galton and the psychophysical measure of individual differences
  • 4 Alfred Binet and the psychological measure of individual differences, the first approach to Multiple Intelligences?
  • 5 Differences between Galton and Binet
  • 6 James M. Catell and America
  • 7 Goddard and the expansion of Binet in the US
  • 8 Lewis M. Terman, "the Reformer"

Sixty-five years later

In 1986, Sternberg and Detterman organized another symposium on the definition and measurement of intelligence. This time with 24 participants. The conclusions were practically the same, except for the inclusion of the role of metacognition. Even so, at the base of the definition of intelligence is an adaptive end.

Sternberg and Salter (1987) emphasize that the adaptive concept is equivalent to the ability of the human being to solve the problems that may arise in different environments: "While it should be noted that the term adaptive does not refer to its strictly biological sense. The basic idea is that a social context (whether it be a classroom, a tribe, a family, a profession or any other context) raises a number of problems, and intelligence consists largely of the ability to solve those problems".

When does the scientific study of Intelligence begin?

Seen in a very short way the difficulty to define this term, we are going to review how Intelligence began to be studied from science. The first tests that sought to measure intelligence objectively appeared at the end of the 19th century. On the one hand we have Francis Galton and on the other to Alfred Binet, both Europeans.

Galton posited in favor of a hereditary scientific-technological program based on the biological determinism of intelligence. On the other hand, Binet, opted for an environmental scientific-technological program that started from biological indeterminism. Both authors propitiated the appearance of intelligence measures test although with different purposes.

Francis Galton and the psychophysical measure of individual differences

The theory of Francis Galton (United Kingdom, 1922-1911) focused on the hereditary nature of individual differences. These differences would be the conditioning factors to adapt to the demands that new societies required. Thus, both intellectual and moral aspects, according to this theory, would depend on physical factors (Galton, 1883).

Thus, with Galton they are born:

  • The hereditary modern theory of intelligence.
  • The first measuring instruments.
  • Eugenics

In the same way that three types of research programs were born:

  • Scientific investigation.
  • Technical-instrumental research
  • Technological-social research

Galton (1883) focused, above all, his career in the study of eugenics, which defined it as "the science of the improvement of the raw material that in no way is limited to questions of judicious pairings, but - and especially in the case of man - becomes aware of all the influences that tend, even in the most remote degree, to give the most suitable races or blood lineages a greater chance of prevailing, more quickly than what they normally could, over the least suitable".

"The conditions that direct the order of the world of the living, are characterized by their persistence in improving the heritage of successive generations."

-Francis Galton-

Eugenics revolved around inheritance mechanisms and human faculties and their measure. Galton defended the existence of a hereditary "natural fitness"but his main problem was that he had no instrument to measure it. In this way, for Galton intelligence could be measured from a quantitative evaluation of sensory and motor functions.

He argued that if the data on which intelligence acts are filtered by senses, it would be obvious to state that those with better receivers would have greater intelligence. He chose the reaction time experiment as the experiment to more accurately measure natural fitness.

Alfred Binet and the psychological measure of individual differences, the first approach to Multiple Intelligences?

Alfred Binet (France, 1857-1911) started from the individual psychology: "General psychology studies the general properties of psychological processes, and which are therefore common to all individuals; individual psychology, on the other hand, studies those properties of psychological processes that vary from one individual to another"(Binet and Henri, 1896).

Binet opted for the study of higher psychic faculties as "If you want to study the differences between individuals it is necessary to start with the most complex and intellectual processes" (1896, Binet and Henri), so they began to develop tests to measure memory, imagination, understanding, attention, artistic and moral sensibility, willpower, motor skills and suggestibility.

"Intelligence is the ability to take and maintain a certain direction, adapt to new situations and have the ability to criticize one's actions."

-Alfred Binet-

Binet and Simon published in 1905 several articles in the French magazine "L'Année Psychologique" in which they presented three possible methods for measuring intelligence:

  1. Medical method. It was based on atropometry. "The medical method, which tries to appreciate the anatomical, physiological and pathological signs of inferior intelligence". This method seemed indirect to them since it measured the mental from the physical.
  2. Pedagogical method It was based on knowledge. "Try to judge intelligence according to the sum of knowledge acquired". They considered this method more direct but did not focus on intelligence but on instruction.
  3. Psychological method. Focused on capabilities. "Make observations and direct measures of the degree of intelligence". They leaned by this method.

The key idea of ​​this method lay in establish an intelligence measurement scale composed of a series of tests whose difficulty would increase. It would start at the lowest intellectual level and end in average normal intelligence (Binet and Simon, 1905). Binet's work revolves around his conception of intelligence as an exercise of multiple and varied psychological processes in our day to day life under the practical reasoning.

Differences between Galton and Binet

Without a doubt, the big difference between Binet and Galton, was Binet's proposal called "mental orthopedics". What is this concept about? Binet designed a series of exercises to increase the real intelligence of children and children with school delay. While Galton treated intelligence as a hereditary issue, Binet treated it as an aspect that could be worked on and improved through an educational intervention.

Fancher (1985): "Binet succeeded where the pioneers of the eugenist movement failed: to develop a mental test directly related to the manifestations of real-life intelligent behavior". However, Galton's ideas had more acceptance at that time.

James M. Catell and America

James Mckeen Cattell (1860-1944) also defended Galton's eugenic theory. Cattell was looking for data and quantification to the extent of intelligence supported by its empiricism and radical positivism.

At the University of Pennsylvania developed an anthropometric program of intraspecies measurement on individual differences. For ten years this program served as a reference for the tests in the United States. These tests were based on Galton's theory of mental fitness and measured: memory, sensory capacity, precision in discrimination, reaction times, movement speed, etc. (Catell, 1890).

In 1893, at the Universal Exposition of Chicago, together with the newly created American Association of Psychologists (APA), an Anthropometric Laboratory was created in which thousands of individuals were evaluated through physical and psychophysical tests. Cattell developed a research program with which he evaluated students entering Columbia College for four years (Cattell and Farrand, 1896).

Nevertheless, something was starting to fail. It seemed that the tests did not really measure the differences in mental functions. Stella Emily Sharp claimed that "In the present state of the science of individual psychology, there is no doubt that the procedure used by Binet is one of those that produce the most fruitful results" (Sharp, 1898). French and American individual psychology began to be compared.

Wissler, PhD student of Cattell, in 1901 has just demolished the predictive validity of these tests. He analyzed mental test scores and academic grades of a large number of students and found that there was no correlation worthy of standing out between academic scores and those obtained in Cattell's mental tests. This meant a change of direction in both the professional direction of Wissler and Cattell.

Goddard and the expansion of Binet in the US

H H. Goddard (1866-1957) He was also a eugenist, but he looked at the Binet test. He translated the original 1905 scale and the 1908 revision into English. He administered it to 400 children in his institution and another 2000 children from different public schools. The results highlighted differences between the "mentally weak" in their care and the other children in public schools.

The success was such that the "American Association for the Study of the Mentally Weak" adopted the intelligence tests as its main criterion for the diagnosis of mental weakness. The doctors attributed high reliability in the diagnosis and classification of delayed children and this was an important point for psychology as a discipline.

In spite of the importance that Goddard supposed in the introduction and establishment of mental tests He did not substantially reform the Binet Scale or contribute anything relevant to psychometrics..

Lewis M. Terman, "the Reformer"

Lewis Madison Terman (1877-1956) He did what Gorddard had left pending and in 1912 he carried out a first revision of the Binet test (Terman and Childs, 1912). Since 1916 he presented a version known as "Stanfortd-Binet" (Terman, 1916).

"This diversity of items is necessary because its purpose is to measure the general intelligence of the subject, not its special aptitude in a particular line."


His intervention was important. Made changes to the part of the Binet items:

  • He used the more modern statistical techniques for its standardization.
  • Selected the new items so that the chronological age and mental averages coincided in a group of unselected individuals.
  • The scale was unified so that the Intellectual Quotient (CI) of the subject out of 100 in each chronological age.
  • Too leveled the variation between individuals introducing a standard deviation of 15 points in each chronological age (statistical normalization).

Terman was influenced by biological determinism. He identified intelligence as a unitary capacity for abstract reasoning and learning while positing that it was a measurable and inheritable trait. According to Terman, the tests allowed to evaluate the inherited general aptitude and in this way they could make predictions and improve the educational process. In addition to that, it also allowed diagnosing the different levels of mental subdotation and being able to detect gifted children.

"The test movement dramatically expanded the role of schools until they became authentic 'selection agencies'."


The emergence and popularization of the tests was thanks, to a large extent, that it was considered that Biological differences, especially intelligence, were responsible for inequalities in education, and these affected the differences in labor activity and these had repercussions at the socioeconomic level.

The tests allowed to measure intelligence and thus classify individuals according to the degree to which they possessed certain mental aptitude. Luján, 1996: "The tests thus became the basic instrumentality of any scientific-technological program on intelligence."

Germany and its experimental sensory psychology. Great Britain with the measure of individual differences and France with the creation of the first intelligence scale, no doubt, proved to be the three basic pillars of the European and North American movement of mental tests (Sokal, 1987). Gradually the foundations are laid for the future emergence of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Do not miss: Multiple Intelligences, historical introduction II


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  • Binet, A. and Henri, V. (1896). The Psychologie Individuelle. L'Année Psychologique, 2, 411-465.
  • Cattell, J. Mck. (1980). Mental tests and measurements. Mind 15, 373-381.
  • Cattell, J. Mck. and Farrand, L. (1986). Physical and mental measurements of the students of Columba University. Psychological Review, 3, 618-648.
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  • Luján, J, L. (1996). Theories of intelligence and social technologies. In M. González-García, J.A. López-Cerezo, and J.L. Luján-López, Science Technology and Society. An introduction to the social study of science and technology. Madrid. Technos
  • Sharp, F. (1898). An Objective Study of Some Moral Judgment. American Journal of Psychology, 9, 198-234.
  • Sokal, M. (ed) (1987). Introduction In M. Sokal (ed). Psychological Testing and American Society, 1890-1930, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Terman, L. and Childs, H. (1912). A Tentative Review and Extension of the Binet-simon Masuring Scale od Intelligence, I, II, III. The Journal or Educational Psychology, 3, 61-74; 133-143, 1998-208, 277-189.
  • Terman, L. M. (1916). The Measurement of Intelligence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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