Home - V. HENRI‎ > ‎


Victor HENRI (1872-1940) Psychologist



Université Paris Descartes

contact : serge.nicolas@parisdescartes.fr

Victor and Catherine HENRI
Archives Alfred Binet
(courtesy B. Andrieu & A. Klein)

Victor Henri is born in Marseille in 1872 (for a biography, see Nicolas, 1994) [1]. For the French administration, Victor Henri is considered as an orphan, but the situation is a bit more complicated. Victor Henri is the son of Nikolai Alexandrovitch Krylov and Alexandra Victorovna Liapunov (who is the sister of Nikolai's wife Sofia Victorovna Lyapunov). Nikolai moved to Marseille with his wife in 1872, his son Aleksei Nikolaevich Krylov (1863-1945), and his wife's sister ; so that his illegitimate child (given the name Victor Henri) could be born in France and be a French citizen. At the time, in Russia an illigitimate child would not have the rights of a citizen. Nikolai A. Krylov apparently lived happily with his wife, his wife's sister (with whom he is said to have fallen in love), and his two sons (who were both half-brothers and first cousins). At the age of seven, he was educated in a German institution in St. Petersburg. In 1889, he returned in France to pursue his university studies at the Sorbonne, where he studied mathematics and physical sciences. Discovering psychology with Ribot’s course at the Collège de France (Nicolas & Charvillat, 2001) [2], he heard about the recent founding of a psychological laboratory at the Sorbonne.

Private collection S. NICOLAS
(Original edition : Henri, 1897)    


First work on memory with Alfred Binet

In 1892, he was enrolled as a research assistant by Alfred Binet. Binet and Henri first conducted experimental investigations on various forms of memory, with the idea that this research could be of some pedagogical use. Their first studies focused on the development of visual and verbal memory in children (Binet & Henri, 1894a, 1894b, 1895a, 1895b) [3] and they anticipated important developments far in the future. First example: By studying the suggestibility of normal subjects, Binet and Henri (1894b) [4] helped to establish a scientific foundation for a psychology of testimony (Cunningham, 1988) [5]. Binet and Henri’s research on suggestibility was very similar to the work done by Solomon Asch (1907–1996) on conformity in social psychology (Asch, 1951, 1952, 1956) [6]. Asch used not only Binet and Henri’s techniques but their actual experimental tasks from the 1894 paper (however, Asch never cited Binet and Henri’s work in his major publications on this topic). Second example : Binet and Henri’s (1895b) [7] study was probably the first systematic experimental investigation of memory for prose (see also Bartlett, 1932) [8] and was quite similar to more recent studies of memory for sentences, in terms of both empirical results and their theoretical interpretation (cf. Thieman & Brewer, 1978) [9].

Private collection S. NICOLAS 
(Original edition : Binet, 1894)

Victor Henri had long been interested in the spatial perception of touch (Henri, 1893a). In the summer of 1892, he visited Oswald Külpe (1862-1915), Wundt’s first assistant in Leipzig, who instructed him on this subject. Victor Henri left the Sorbonne laboratory in October 1894 and went to Leipzig to Wundt’s psychological laboratory, where he pursued research on tactile sensation. During this period, he published several papers on this subject, alone or in collaboration with an American student in Leipzig: Guy Allen Tawney (1870–1947). At the time, he conducted a series of experiments on the accuracy of localization on the skin and on the accuracy of two-point discrimination (see Henri, 1896a, 1896b; Henri & Tawney, 1895) [10]. But during this period, while he was in Leipzig, Binet also enrolled him to develop a new orientation for psychological research: the study of intelligence.


The program of individual psychology

It was in 1896 that Binet and Henri published an original paper [11] entitled “Individual psychology.” The authors noted that it was a plea for the more widespread development of anthropological tests, which had hitherto been confined almost exclusively to sensation. Citing the results of several investigators (Lombroso, Galton and others), they concluded that the differences existing among normal individuals in the sphere of senses “are very feeble and insignificant compared with the differences in the higher faculties” (p. 416). All such tests of normal individuals have two principal objects: first, to compare individuals and discover what elements vary and how much; and second, to map out the relations that exist between each individual’s different faculties. Both aims can be attained by a single series of representative tests, if the same series is applied everywhere. The authors examined the series proposed by various writers (Cattell, Jastrow, Kraepelin, Münsterberg), and found them all incomplete and more or less impracticable; moreover, they were not fairly representative, since all neglected the higher intellectual processes. Since the real object of these inquiries was to determine not all, but merely the most important individual differences, Binet and Henri proposed a new series of simple tests to supersede those then in use. The tests were intended to cover ten processes: memory, the nature of mental images, imagination, attention, understanding, suggestibility, aesthetic sensibility, moral sense, muscular power and will power, and motor adaptability. Many ingenious tests were given under these heads, which were selected from those areas in which individual variations are greatest. The entire series could be applied in an hour and a half, and required no elaborate apparatus. Individual psychology was the first step towards the invention of the first intelligence scale (Binet & Simon, 1905) [12].


A famous questionnaire on earliest recollections

In 1895, the collaboration with Binet in the fields of psychology of memory and of individual psychology enabled Victor Henri to prepare (with his wife Catherine Henri) a questionnaire on earliest recollections. It is essential to note that the survey conducted by the Henris fits into the framework of Alfred Binet’s work on the development of memory in children and into the proposal to develop individual psychology. Victor and Catherine Henri used a questionnaire to ask normal adults what kind of recollections they were able to produce from their early years: this was the first survey ever on the earliest memories of childhood. In their study, 123 participants (aged 16 to 65 years) from several countries answered a series of 11 questions about their earliest recollections. In particular, people were asked to evoke their first childhood memories, the sensory images that were associated with them and the dates of these events. Their questionnaire was published in five psychological journals, two French —L’Année Psychologique and the Revue Philosophique — two American — the Psychological Review and the American Journal of Psychology — and one Russian — the Voprosy Filosofii i Psichologii. The two authors published the results of their questionnaire in 1897 (Henri & Henri, 1897) [13], providing empirical evidence of the paucity of memories for events that occurred early in life. The bulk of participants’ earliest memories fell between the ages of two and four years. Henri and Henri reported the median for 118 memories as three years. In 1899, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) underscored the importance of this paper, which enabled him to introduce the notion of what he called “screen memories” (see Freud, 1899/1962) [14]. Freud (1905/1953) [15] originally coined the terms infantile or childhood amnesia to describe the fact that most adults have little or no recollection of events that occurred during their infancy and early childhood.


Victor Henri’s Later Work in Psychology

When the Henris’ paper was published in 1897 in L’Année Psychologique, Victor Henri had been in Göttingen since April 1896. He completed his doctoral dissertation on tactile sensations under the supervision of Georg Elias Müller. Victor Henri had left Leipzig because he thought that Wundt’s laboratory was not the best psychological laboratory in Europe at the time (see Henri, 1895) [16]. It was in this new research facility that he pursued his new research on the localization of tactile sensations (Henri, 1897a, 1897b) [17]

He obtained his doctorate on June 5, 1897 (Henri, 1897c) [18]. At the time, he was the only Frenchman who went to Germany to prepare a thesis in psychology there. 

Private collection S. NICOLAS 
(Original edition : Inaugural-Dissertation, Henri, 1897)

A book on the localization of tactile sensations, dedicated to Alfred Binet and Georg Elias Müller, was published in German the following year (Henri, 1898) [19]. This book is a monograph on the spatial attributes and relations of touch. It embodies a number of original investigations, carried out by Henri since 1892, and a review of previous work, both experimental and theoretical.

Private collection S. NICOLAS 
(Original edition : Henri, 1898)

He then returned to Paris and assisted Binet with his work on individual psychology (Binet & Henri, 1898) [20]. In July 1897, he started work on the measurement of muscular strength and on the expression on children’s faces during effort. But in 1898 he left the laboratory of psychology directed by Binet to join the laboratory of physiology directed by Albert Dastre (1844–1917) because in France at the time there was no university position for the holder of a doctorate in experimental psychology. Thus, Victor Henri specialized in the field of physico-chemical biology at the Sorbonne and on February 20, 1903, obtained the degree of doctor in sciences. It was in this period that he became an assistant in the Sorbonne laboratory of physiology.

Private collection S. NICOLAS 
(Original edition : Binet & Henri, 1898)

Until 1904 at least, Victor Henri maintained friendly ties with Binet but he cut loose from experimental psychology, concentrating his efforts in the field of the physical chemistry. Nevertheless, at the request of Binet, he published in L’Année Psychologique an interesting review on the education of memory (Henri, 1901) [21]. At Georg Elias Müller’s invitation, he took part in the first German congress on experimental psychology, which was held in Giessen from April 18 to 24, 1904. During this congress, he presented an oral communication on the methods of individual psychology in collaboration with Binet and the Swiss psychologist Jean Larguier des Bancels (1876–1961), another of Binet’s collaborators. Becoming a lecturer in physiology in 1907, he pursued his scientific career and became one of the world’s greatest specialists in the field of physical chemistry (Duchesne, 1967) [22]. In 1920, he was appointed professor of physical chemistry at the University of Zurich. He was a pioneer in several disciplines: psychology, physiology, biological physico-chemistry and pure physical chemistry.

[1] Nicolas, S. (1994). Qui était Victor Henri (1872–1940) ? [Who was Victor Henri ? (1872-1940)] L’Année Psychologique, 94, 385–402.

[2] Nicolas, S., & Charvillat, A. (2001). Introducing psychology as an academic discipline in France: Théodule Ribot and the “Collège de France” (1888–1901). Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 37, 143–164.

[3] Binet, A., & Henri, V. (1894a). Le développement de la mémoire visuelle chez les enfants. Revue Générale des Sciences, 5, 162–169. ― Binet, A., & Henri, V. (1894b). De la suggestibilité naturelle chez les enfants. Revue Philosophique, 38, 337–347 (English translation in Consciousness and Cognition, 2011, 20, pp. 394-398). ― Binet, A., & Henri, V. (1895a). La mémoire des mots. L’Année Psychologique, 1, 1–23. ― Binet, A., & Henri, V. (1895b). La mémoire des phrases. L’Année Psychologique, 1, 24–59.

[4] Binet, A., & Henri, V. (1894b). De la suggestibilité naturelle chez les enfants. Revue Philosophique, 38, 337–347 English translation : Nicolas, S., Collins, Th., Gounden, Y., & Roediger, H. (2011). Natural suggestibility in children: A translation of Binet & Henri (1894) pioneer paper. Consciousness and Cognition, 20, 394-398.

[5] Cunningham, J. L. (1988). The pioneer work of Alfred Binet on children as eyewitnesses. Psychological Reports, 62, 271–277.

[6] Asch, S. E. (1951) Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments. In H. Guetzkow (Ed.), Groups, leadership and men; Research in human relations (pp. 177–190). Oxford, UK: Carnegie Press. ― Asch, S. (1952). Social psychology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ― Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: I. A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs, 70.

[7] Binet, A., & Henri, V. (1895b). La mémoire des phrases. L’Année Psychologique, 1, 24–59.

[8] Bartlett, F. C. (1932). Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

[9] Thieman, T. J., & Brewer, W. F. (1978). Alfred Binet on memory for ideas. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 97, 243–264.

[10] Henri, V. (1896a). Recherches sur la localisation des sensations tactiles. L’Année Psychologique, 2, 168–192. ― Henri, V. (1896b). Revue générale sur le sens du lieu de la peau. L’Année Psychologique, 2, 295–362. Henri, V., & Tawney, G.A. (1895). Ueber die Trugwahrnehmung zweier Punkte bei der Berührung eines Punktes der Haut. Philosophische Studien, 11, 395–405.

[11] Binet, A., & Henri, V. (1896). La psychologie individuelle [Individual psychology]. L’Année Psychologique, 2, 411–465.

[12] Binet, A., & Simon, T. (1905). Méthodes nouvelles pour le diagnostic des états inférieures de l’intelligence. L’Année Psychologique, 11, 161–190.

[13] Henri, V., & Henri, C. (1897). Enquête sur les premiers souvenirs de l’enfance. L’Année Psychologique, 3, 184–198.

[14] Freud, S. (1962). Screen memories. In J. Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 3, pp. 303–322). London: Hogarth Press. (Original work: Freud, S. (1899). Über Deckerinnerungen. Monatsschrift für Psychiatrie und Neurologie, 6, 215–230.)

[15] Freud, S. (1953). Three essays on the theory of sexuality (1905). In J. Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 7, pp. 123–245). London: Hogarth Press. (Original work: Freud, S. (1905). Drei Abhandlungen zur sexual Theorie. Leipzig & Vienna: Deuticke.)

[16] Henri, V. (1895). La psychologie expérimentale contemporaine, ses méthodes et ses problèmes [in Russian]. Voprosy Filosofii i Psichologuii, 28, 259–293.

[17] Henri, V. (1897a). Nouvelles recherches sur la localisation des sensations tactiles: L’expérience d’Aristote. L’Année Psychologique, 3, 225–231. ― Henri, V. (1897b). Recherches sur la localisation des sensations tactiles. Revue Philosophique, 43, 333–336.

[18] Henri, V. (1897c). Über die Lokalisation der Tastempfindungen. Berlin: Reuther & Reichard.

[19] Henri, V. (1898). Über die Raumwahrnehmungen des Tastsinnes: Ein Beitrag zur experimentellen Psychologie. Berlin: Reuther & Reichard.

[20] Binet, A., & Henri, V. (1898). La fatigue intellectuelle. Paris: Schleicher.

[21] Henri, V. (1901). Education de la mémoire. L’Année Psychologique, 7, 1–48.

[22] Duchesne, J. (1967). Victor Henri (1872–1940). In R. Desmoulin (Ed.), Liber memorialis: L’Université de Liège de 1936 à 1966: Notices historiques et biographiques (vol. II) (pp. 471–478). Liège: Rectorat de l’Université.