Walter V. Bingham

Walter V. Bingham

American Industrial and Applied Psychologist



  • Beloit College, Bachelors Degree (1901)
  • Harvard University, Masters Degree (1907)
  • University of Chicago, Ph.D. in Psychology (1908)


  • Between 1908 and 1924 Bingham taught at several universities, including the University of Chicago, Teachers’ College of Columbia University, Dartmouth College and the Carnegie Institute of Technology
  • Helped to create Army Alpha and Beta tests as an Army psychologist during WWI
  • Helped to design a series of aptitude tests as Chairman of the Army National Research Council on Classification of Military Personnel during WWII
  • Chief Psychologist, Adjutant General’s Office (WWII)
  • Chairman of the Council of Advisers to the Director of Personnel and Administration of the Army’s General Staff (1946-1948)
  • Consultant on personnel policies for the Secretary of Defense (1949-1952)

Definition of Intelligence

“We shall use the term ‘intelligence’ to mean the ability of an organism to solve new problems or, as Warren puts it, ‘to meet novel situations by improvising novel adaptive responses’ (Bingham, 1937, p.36).”

“The most reasonable interpretation would seem to be that a person’s position on the scale of intelligence is not unalterably fixed at birth. His ability to think and act intelligently is a product of at least three factors: native endowment, growth or maturity, and opportunity for educative experience…To be sure, inherited capacities make a greater contribution than environmental influences in the ultimate outcome (Bingham, 1937, p. 39).”

Major Contributions

  • Founded first university department of Applied Psychology (Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1915)
  • Helped to develop the Army Alpha and Beta tests in 1917
  • Helped to popularize intelligence and aptitude testing in industry

Ideas and Interests

Almost immediately after the United States entered the First World War, a team of psychologists headed by Robert M.Yerkes was deployed to design group intelligence tests that could identify recruits with low intelligence and allow the Army to recognize men who were particularly well-suited for special assignments and officers’ training schools (McGuire, 1994). The final forms of the Army Alpha and Beta tests were published in January of 1919, and by the end of the war they had been administered to approximately two million men (Larson, 1994; McGuire, 1994). Walter Bingham was a member of Yerkes’ team.

Bingham believed that intelligence is a complex set of factors that can be measured by looking at individual aptitudes for mathematical, verbal, mechanical and social skills (Bingham, 1937, p 39, 42). He asserted that intelligence manifests itself three dimensions:

  1. the level of difficulty of the problems [a person] can solve
  2. the range or number of problems he can solve at that level
  3. the speed with which he can solve them (Quoted from Bingham, 1937, p. 36)

Although Bingham believed that heredity is the most important factor in intellectual development, and that environmental influences serve only to modify what is already present within the individual, (Bingham, 1937, p. 39) he was not overly concerned with answering the nature vs. nurture question. His interest in intelligence testing was purely practical. As he put it:
A person planning his educational or occupational future is looking forward, not back How intelligent is he now?” That is the first question. Then, what does that fact indicate as to his probable intelligence in the future? In other words, what is his ability to learn the things he will need to learn in order to enter this occupation or that, and what will be his ability to conduct himself intelligently and make progress once he has begun (Bingham, 1937, p. 40)?

Bingham criticized theorists who claimed to be able to judge intelligence by visual appraisals (as in the case of Henry Goddard’s “moron detection” procedures at Ellis Island). He also warned against placing blind faith in intelligence test scores. He noted that low scores could be the result of previously undetected physical problems such as poor eyesight or malnutrition (Bingham, 1937, pp. 40-41). However, Bingham did not limit the validity of intelligence testing to standardized forms. He noted that “rough but useful appraisal(s)” of intelligence could be gleaned from details in a person’s life history:
One can confidently infer that a stupid-looking young woman with an impediment of speech is really pretty keen intellectually if she has graduated with honors from a good high school at age sixteen and published two articles for which editors have paid (Bingham, 1937, p. 41).

Bingham spent the years after the First World War writing books and articles emphasizing the civilian applications of the testing procedures he helped develop for the Army. He believed that aptitude test and intelligence subtest scores could be used to help businesses increase the efficiency of their workforce and to help teachers and counselors direct their students and clients to careers that would make them happy. (Bingham, 1937, p. vii) He also noted that aptitude testing would be useful for identifying the types of jobs at which mentally retarded people could be successful. (Bingham, 1937 p. 55) For example, if it was found that individuals with a mental age of 7 are successful at job X, then test scores could be used to prescreen potential workers (1937, p. 55-56).

During the Second World War Bingham was the Chief Psychologist in the Army Adjutant General’s office. In 1940 he was appointed Chairman of the Army National Research Council on Classification of Military Personnel. His research team created a series of aptitude tests that served several purposes:

  1. [sifting] the new arrivals into a few broad groupings with respect to their ability to learn quickly the duties and responsibilities of a soldier
  2. selecting men for training as officers
  3. simplifications of officer-efficiency reporting
  4. improvement of standardized occupational interviews and tests of proficiency in a trade
  5. supplementary [testing] of aptitudes for work which calls for mechanical ingenuity or other special talents (Quoted from Bingham, 1941, p. 222)

Bingham believed that these aptitude tests would help the war effort and increase American military might. He asserted that the human engineering made possible by the administration of aptitude tests would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of military training programs in the same way that mechanical engineering maximizes the effectiveness of tanks, guns and airplanes. By 1941 standardized test scores had been recorded for more than a million military men (Bingham, 1941).

After World War II, the group intelligence test model was embraced by civilian industry, and the new field of industrial psychology gained popularity. Business leaders were enthusiastic about the possible fiscal benefits of using standardized tests to select the best workers for each type of job. Unfortunately, naïve exuberance often resulted in inappropriate use of these tests (Vitales, 1974).

Selected Publications

Bingham, W.V. (1919). Army personnel work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 3, 1-12.

Bingham, W.V., & Moore, B.V. (1931). How to interview. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Bingham, W. V. (1937). Aptitudes and aptitude testing. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Bingham, W.V. (1941). Psychological services in the United States Army. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 5, 221-224.


Bingham, W. V. (1937). Aptitudes and aptitude testing. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Larson, G. (1994) Armed services vocational aptitude battery. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human intelligence (pp. 121-124.) New York: Macmillan.

McGuire, F. (1994). Army alpha and beta tests of intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human intelligence (pp. 125-129.) New York: Macmillan

Vitales, M. S. (1974). Industrial psychology. In T. S. Krawiec (Ed.), The psychologists (Vol. 2). London, Oxford University Press.

Dr. W.V. Bingham, psychologist, 72: Army aide in 2 world wars, consultant to the Secretary of Defense since ’49 dies. (1952, July 9). New York Times, p.27.

Photo Courtesy of The Archives Of The History of American Psychology, The University Of Akron