Consistently throughout human history, people have been fascinated by the workings of the mind, and the notion of intelligence. We can read endless treatises and essays on the subject in the works of Aristotle, in various religious texts from across the globe, and in the myriad philosophies of the Renaissance and the age of Enlightenment.
Fascinatingly, however, the notion of actually measuring intelligence in a consistent and reliable manner didn’t arise in any significant form until the early 19th century – a time in which the world was changing rapidly, and the disciplines of medicine and psychology (among countless other sciences) were beginning to emerge. It was, during this frantic period of discovery, that the IQ test was first envisioned.
The Founders of the IQ Test
Sir Francis Galton (the cousin of a certain Charles Darwin) and Paul Broca, both gentlemen of learning of the mid-19th century, were among the first researchers to seriously endeavour to measure human intelligence. They’d gone through a number of different approaches, primarily centered around measuring the circumference of the skull (believing, not completely unreasonably, that the size of the skull would indicate the size of the brain… and thus the level of intelligence), but to no consistent avail.
At the same time, another eminent scientist named Wilhelm Wundt was studying the human ability to not just think, but to reflect upon their own thoughts. This was known, scientifically, as introspection, and was considered a different approach to measuring intelligence. From our 21st century perspective, both of their approaches seem completely outmoded, but nonetheless, they formed a foundation upon which certified IQ tests, international IQ tests, and other intelligence quotients would be built.
The First IQ Tests
It wasn’t until 1904 that the research carried out by Galton, Broca, Wundt, and others was brought together with more contemporary ideas to develop the first ‘real’ IQ test. Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon were commissioned by the Ministry of Education in France to develop a test that would allow educators to distinguish between lazy, demotivated, and struggling students from those with (what we now call) learning difficulties.
The resulting test – the Simon-Binet IQ Test – looked not wholly dissimilar to the online IQ tests we know and use today. It consisted of logical reasoning components, tasks to find rhyming words, spatial awareness tests, and many other questions which would identify the child’s intelligence levels.
Furthermore, just like an online IQ test, the score for the Simon-Binet IQ test was relative. In combination with the child’s age, the score was calculated based upon a quotient of 100, and identified whether or not the child was ahead of, or lagging behind, his or her peers. The test was developed further, honed for more widespread use, and became enormously successful around the world. The IQ test, as we know it, was born.