When Did IQ Testing Begin?

The query “when did IQ testing begin?” and the corresponding answer is often bound to leave you a little confused. The simple fact is that the modern variants of the IQ tests used today are based on the earlier versions, including the test designed by Alfred Binet and his colleague. IQ tests have a long history, most of them dark and convoluted.

When it comes to IQ tests, most people have one pressing query: whether they are an accurate barometer of a person’s intelligence. Given that IQ tests, the modern variants, are more a measure of a person’s intelligence under specific circumstances, it’s hard to tell. 

For example, students who do not have access to the same educational facilities as students in developed countries may find it hard to register an impressive score on these IQ tests. And that’s all the more reason you need to look at these tests closely.

It’s time you looked closely at the same, starting with “When did IQ testing begin?” 

While the earlier variations of the IQ tests later developed by Alfred Binet and his colleague for the French government were based on earlier models – the earliest variation of the test can be traced back to 1894. But that test was designed more to test your spatial perception other than intelligence. Anyway, here are the details,

  • The Beginnings:

In a sense, man has always been curious about intelligence and why not? After all, the evolution of Modern man, the various scientific theories, and inventions can all be attributed to “intelligence”.

Archimedes is a classic example of the same, and the same applies to Newton, Charles Darwin, and Alfred Einstein. As a species, it is natural to try to develop a method to quantify intelligence.

Although that’s easier said than done, the earliest variation of the IQ tests took place around 1884, when Francis Galton designed a test to evaluate a large group of people to test intelligence. The test was flawed because it did not test a person’s intelligence but examined an individual’s reaction to various stimuli – from sight to hearing. 

But the test itself laid the groundwork for others to develop intelligence-based tests to evaluate a person’s mental age – such as the one carried out by Binet and his colleague, Jerome.

  • The First IQ Test:

Alfred Binet, a psychologist, was contracted by the French Government in 1904 over the disparities among school students in France and their overall academic performance. As a result, he was asked by the then government to develop a test to weed out those students who needed additional help with their school lessons. 

Ironically, the first IQ-based test was developed not to test a person’s intelligence but to highlight those who lacked adequate intelligence to process their school lessons. 

The test, developed by Binet and his colleague, tested students across France, focusing on determining the mental age of the participants. In the process, they managed to single out those who overperformed in these tests, and thus the first “IQ” tests were developed.

  • Eugenics and the dark history:

IQ tests are not without their fair share of controversies, starting with the fact that the US military and the US army utilized these tests to screen participants for their “intelligence”. 

A dismal performance on these tests often resulted in the Military and the Army sending such applicants to the front lines. While the army and military’s motives are debatable to this day, it highlighted that these tests could be effectively used for Eugenics.

Eugenics is a way to marginalize minor communities while highlighting that their hereditary roots are the reason for their underperformance on IQ tests. While in reality, it was more due to the environment and their upbringing rather than their genes. 

The Germans used the same process to target Jewish children and effectively segregate them before exterminating them under the guise of Hitler’s “Final solution”. The mischling test is but just one example of how the old IQ test was utilized to target those with Jewish heritage.

Thankfully, the world has since awoken that IQ tests can be misused. This resulted in several scientists and psychologists reworking the older versions. The modern version of the IQ tests was developed without bias against any particular race or culture.

  • Today:

Today, there are several versions of modern IQ tests doing the rounds. What makes these tests unique is the fact that they can be adapted and modified to suit any industrial sector. For example, governments use modified IQ tests to determine applicants with extremely high IQs. 

These applicants are usually taken in as research scholars before being made to work on “sensitive” projects for the government. This is one example; similarly, several IT companies (of late) have decided to adapt their recruitment process to include their version of IQ tests to determine a job applicant’s Intelligence quotient.

As you can see, IQ tests have had a long and checkered history. The fact is that while the modern version of these IQ tests provides a fair appraisal of a person’s intelligence, recent studies have indicated that environmental factors play a significant role in intelligence. 

And that’s something future generations must take into account when trying to calculate a person’s IQ.