The Effect of Motion Pictures on the Social Attitudes of High School Children

Chapter 5

Ruth C. Peterson and L. L. Thurstone

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In the studies reported in this paper, measurement of the effect of motion pictures on social attitudes has been demonstrated. The general plan of the experiments was to measure the attitudes of a group of children by means of an attitude scale or a paired comparison schedule, to show the children a motion picture which had been judged as having affective value on the issue in question, and to measure the attitudes of the children again after the picture had been shown. The interval between the first application of the scale and the motion picture, varied from one to three weeks, the second application of the scale took place the day after the children saw the film.

There were two restrictions on the number of issues which were studied in the experiments. Obviously, the issues were restricted to those for which we could find suitable films. The second restriction concerned the subjects who participated in our experiments. It is highly probable that motion pictures could be found which might affect attitude toward sex, marriage, divorce, birth control, or illegitimacy, for example, but it was not deemed advisable to use such films with groups of children of the seventh through the twelfth grades.

The issues which were studied include attitude toward nationality and race, crime, the punishment of criminals, capital punishment, and prohibition. The most striking change in attitude found in our experiments was the change in attitude toward the negro as a result of seeing the picture "The Birth of a Nation". The film "Son of the Gods" showed a definite change in attitude favorable to the Chinese ,and Four Sons" made the children more favorable toward the Germans. "The Criminal Code" made a group more lenient in their attitude toward punishment of criminals. The pictures "Big House" and . "Numbered Men" in combination had a similar effect.

A group of high school children sere less favorable toward war after seeing "All Quiet on the Western Front". One group who saw "Journey's End" showed no change in attitude toward war, a second group showed a small change in the direction of pacifism. A group of high school children were more severe in their judgment of gambling after seeing the picture "Street of Chance". The motion pictures used to study change in attitude toward capital punishment and prohibition showed no effect on the children's attitudes.

Some of the experiments suggested that the effect of the motion pictures was greater on the younger children. The evidence on this question is not conclusive. The experiment which included the widest range and which was planned especially to study this point did not give positive results.


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The problem of the cumulative effect of two or more pictures pertaining to the same issue was studied in the experiments at Mooseheart. The results indicate that two pictures, neither of which has a significant effect on attitude, may have such an effect on the attitudes of a group who see both pictures. It was found that three pictures, seen at intervals of a week, had a cumulative effect on attitude.

A question arose concerning the persistence of the effect of a motion picture on attitude . The changes in attitude, as a result of seeing a picture, were measured the day following the presentation of the film. The attitudes of the students who had participated in the experiments were measured again after intervals ranging from ten weeks to nineteen months. These subsequent measures of attitudes . showed that the effect of a motion picture on attitude persists, although there is some return toward the position held before the picture was presented.

In conclusion we may say that the experiments we conducted show that motion pictures have definite, lasting effects on the social attitudes of children and that a number of pictures pertaining to the same issue may have a cumulative effect on attitude.

Notes

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