Made by the Movies
Managing Editor of Survey Graphic
While one group of the Committee were thus turning
the subjects of the films inside out, another was measuring how
well children remember them. This study was carried out chiefly
by Prof. P. W. Holaday of Iowa State University, a psychologist,
under the direction of Dr. George D. Stoddard, head of the Iowa
State Child Welfare Station. A careful selection was made of representative
films and an intricate set of questions based on them were put to
some three thousand young people in Iowa and Ohio, grouped by ages:
five-and-sixyear-olds, eight-and-nine-year-olds, highschool pupils,
and young adults, either graduate students or junior members of
the faculty and their wives. The questions were of a sort to be
understood easily. It was made clear that the purpose of the inquiry
was not to see who could remember most. The auditors were asked
to sit in, in just their usual way and not to be especially intent
on memorizing the things they saw.
The result was a sweepstakes for the kids.
They remembered things in every category, good and bad, accurate
and misinforming, with the indiscriminate fidelity of little cameras.
Thus from Ben Hur they greatly increased their accurate information
on Palestine, on Roman togas and chariots; but from a Western
film, Fighting Caravans, they got an equal amount of misinformation;
for example, a tankcar of kerosene drawn across the prairies in
1861 before either kerosene or tank-cars were in use.
Mary Pickford in Coquette
Emotion runs through
the child audience. "Pictures play a considerably larger
part in the child's imagination than books."
Of highschool students questioned, 64 percent reported "irresistible
weeping" at pictures like Coquette
Each of the twenty-six memory tests included
from thirty to sixty-four items such as, what was the first present
Tom Sawyer received for letting a boy whitewash the fence„a watch,
whistle, dead cat, compass, a tooth? Or (after seeing Rango),
do the native huts in Sumatra have roofs of slate, grass, bark,
boards, shingles? Tested the next day the eightnine-year-olds
remembered 60 percent as much as the adults. Tested without warning
six weeks later, the secondand-third grade children remembered
91 percent of what they had learned from the picture, the fifth-sixth
graders 90 percent, the highschool children 88 percent and the
young adults 82 percent. Tested again after three months the results
were practically unchanged except that, if anything, the youngest
group remembered, or at any rate were able to state, more of what
they had observed at the end of three months than at the end of
twenty-four hours. There was no difference between school children
and children in a detention home. They all remembered pretty nearly
everything they had seen and they kept right on remembering it.
"My private guess," savs Dr. Holaday. "is that pictures play a
considerably larger part in the child's imagination than do books.
What movies do to a child's sleep was measured
accurately by a device known as a hypnograph. Prof. Samuel Renshaw
and Dr. Vernon L. Miller at the Ohio State Bureau of Juvenile
Research employed it with 170 boys and girls ranging in age from
six to eighteen years. All of the children were normal and well
and without unusual I.Q.'s. The Bureau children were used for
the experiment because of the regular, controlled and healthy
lives they live.
attached to the bedsprings, records on a ribbon every movement
made by a sleeper. In making the tests, each child's normal motility
(restlessness) was first recorded and charted over a number of
nights. Then, on the theory that any excitement in the evening
might show up on the hypnograph, the whole group was taken on
an expedition of window-shopping through the brightly lighted
streets for a length of time about equal to a movie program. Then
they were put to bed„and the result was negative.
The next night
they were marched off to the early show, stayed for the usual
program of two hours (the pictures were not selected, but were
the current neighborhood offering) and sent to bed at the usual
time. And then the hypnograph told the story. There was an enormous
individual difference, but all the children showed some effect
and in some records the needle fairly jittered. A boy of eight,
after seeing Movietone Follies of 1930, had double his usual restlessness;
a boy of ten the same change after seeing Strictly Unconventional.
Remote Control increased an eight-year-old boy's motility 13 percent,
a twelve-yearold boy's 62 percent; that of a girl of twelve, 85
percent, but of three girls of eight, sixteen and eighteen only
20 percent. A girl of sixteen, after seeing Just Imagine, shot
up by 90 percent, virtually doubling her usual restlessness. Billy
the Kid, the story of a swashbuckling killer with plenty of gunplay,
caused only one boy in fifteen to register an increase of 50 percent
above usual motility, while two thirds of the girls recorded more
than half again their normal wiggles and one of the girls went
up by 75 percent.
average increase for the boys was 26 percent and for the girls
14 percent. A degree of disturbance tended to linger on for four
or five nights. The most extreme effects seemed to come at about
the age of puberty. Says Dr. Renshaw: "For certain highly sensitive
or weak and unstable children the best hygienic policy would be
to recommend very infrequent attendance and then only at carefully
on during the performance was studied by another group of the
Committee. Here the gauge was not motility, but motivity„the intensity
of emotion. Christian S. Ruckmick, professor of psychology at
the University of Iowa, and his assistant, Prof. Wendell S. Dysinger,
employed the psychogalvanometer. Their subjects were chiefly children
from the public schools of Iowa City from six to eighteen years
of age with I.Q.'s from 90 to 110. Some adults were included for
purposes of comparison. Using, Hop to It Bellhop, a humorous picture
without tenseness, the experimenters found that their adolescent
subjects registered twice the excitement of the adults and the
youngest group, children of six to eleven, three times as much.
Here, as in other experiments, there were marked individual variations.
Some children of thirteen to fifteen gave a zero reading while
one member of the same group registered five times the reaction
of the adults. The movies used in this experiment were not thrillers
but of the everyday sort.
At the same
time and with the same subjects, a record was made of pulse-rates
against the previously established norm of the subjects. Children
with a normal beat of 75 to 80 ran up to 125 and 140 at the more
exciting points in these films. At a prison scene in The Yellow
Ticket, one boy of sixteen jumped from 80 to 154. His pulse beat
practically at double speed. Dr. T. B. Homan of Kansas City, making
a special experiment on a carefully chosen normal subject, a young
woman of twenty-two, found that in ordinary films her pulse changed
from 80 to 140, while a thriller like The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu
gave readings of 150, 168, 180 and, in one particularly harrowing
scene, it registered 192.
of this individual case but of the general experiments on emotional
reaction and pulse-beat, Professor Dysinger says:
are sitting quiet; there is no chance to express the emotion in
motivity; yet they are intensely stimulated. Such a situation
is bad for health, represents a deplorable mental hygiene and
might easily contribute to the habits which are popularly called
"nervousness" in children. Where the boy or girl has a chance
to work off emotions in the open, in exercise or play, it is splendid.
Such excitement in a darkened theater is by no means splendid.