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


Ruth C. Peterson and L. L. Thurstone

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This series of experimental studies on the effect of motion pictures on social attitudes, made possible by a grant from the Payne Fund, has been carried out under the general direction of Professor W. W. Charters of Ohio State University. We are especially indebted to him for his continued interest and support. We wish to acknowledge the assistance of Mr. W. H. Short, Chairman and Director of the National Committee for the Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures.

The success of these studies was dependent upon the interest and co-operation of a large number of people. We wish to thank Professor W. C. Reavis of the University of Chicago for suggesting the superintendents and principals who co-operated with us in this study. The suggestions and help of Thelma Gwinn Thurston have been most valuable. We wish to acknowledge the assistance of Helen Liebermann, Leone Chesire, Catherine Hawkins Opler, and Dorothy Blumenstock in the tabulation and calculation of the data. All of the motion picture distributing agencies in Chicago assisted us greatly by giving us press sheets of their films and by making special arrangements for bookings and previews. Mr. Nelson L. Greene, Editor of The Educational Screen, suggested a number of films for our studies. We wish to thank Mr. F. M. Clarke of Clarke-McElroy Printing Company and the University of Chicago Press for facilitating the experiments by prompt printing of the necessary forms.

We wish to express our appreciation to the following superintendents and principals for their generous interest and co-operation in thin study.

Mr. H. B. Loomis, Principal of Hyde Park High School, Chicago, Illinois.

Sister De Lellis, Principal of Thomas Aquinas High School, Chicago, Illinois.

Mr. Cloy S. Hobson, Principal of Genoa Township High School, Genoa, Illinois.

Mr. M. E. Steele, Principal of Mendota Township High School, Mendota, Illinois.

Mr. O. V. Shaffer, Principal of Princeton Township High School, Princeton, Illinois.

Mr. H. M. Coultrap, Superintendent of Geneva Public Schools, Geneve, Illinois.

Mr. C. C. Byerly, Principal of West Chicago Communíty High School, West Chicago, Illinois.

Mr. James D. Darnall, Principal of Genesee Township High School, Genesee, Illinois.

Mr. H. C. Storm, Superintendent of Batavia Public Schools, Batavia, Illinois.

Mr. Albert Britt, President of Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.

Mr. Rutledge T. Wiltbank, Professor of Psychology, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.

(2)    Mr. E. W. Powers, Principal of Watseka Community High School, Watseka, Illinois.

Mr. John J. Swinney, Principal of Paxton Community High School, Paxton, Illinois.

Mr. L. C. McCarty, Superintendent of Aledo Public Schools, Aledo, Illinois.

Mr. R. E. Dahl, Principal of Aledo Junior High School, Aledo, Illinois.

Mr. H. A. Dean, Superintendent of Crystal Lake Public Schools, Crystal Lake, Illinois.

The experiments conducted at Mooseheart were made possible through the interest and assistance given by Mr. Ernest Ν. Roselle, Superintendent, Mr. Martin L. Reymert, Director of Mooseheart Laboratory for Child Research, Mr. V. A. Bird, Director of Education, and Mr. L. A. Meyer, Research Assistant. Mr. Burton Holmes and the manager of the Burton Holmes Lectures assisted us in arranging for the experiment carried on with the co-operation of Thomas Aquinas High School.

The following theatre owners and managers have assisted us greatly by making special arrangements for motion picture films and by changing their bookings for our convenience.

Mr. Ezra Levin, Tower Theatre, Chicago, Illinois.

Mr. Albert Awe of Genoa Theatre, Genoa, Illinois.

Mr. A. M. Robertson of The Strand Theatre, Mendota, Illinois.

Mr. Jerome Rieth of The Apollo Theatre, Princeton, Illinois.

Mr. Paul Polka of Polka Brothers Theatres, Maywood, Illinois.

Mr. Jack Greene of Geneseo Theatre, Geneseo, Illinois.

Mr. Joe Burke of Vanity Theatre, Batavia, Illinois.

Mr. T. J. McSpadden of West Colonial Theatre, Galesburg, Illinois.

Mr. F. E. Fanning of Crystal Theatre, Watseka, Illinois.

Mr. C. o. Greenwood of Paxtonian Theatre, Paxton, Illinois.

Mr. J. W. Edwards of Aledo Opera House, Aledo, Illinois.

Mrs. Butler of El Tovar Theatre, Crystal Lake, Illinois.

The following attitude scales were used in this study by permission of the authors:

1. The scale, Attitude toward War, which was used in the experiment at Genoa, Illinois, was constructed by Mr. D. D. Droba.

2. The scale, Attitude toward War, which was used in the experiments at Batavia, Paxton, and Moose-heart, Illinois, was constructed by Ruth C. Peterson.

3. The scale, Attitude toward the German People, which was used in the experiment at Genoa, Illinois, was constructed by Ruth C. Peterson.

4. The scale, Attitude toward Prohibition, which was used in the experiment at Princeton, Illinois, was constructed by Hattie Nesbitt Smith.

5. The scale, Attitude toward Chinese, which was used in the experiments at Geneva and West Chicago, Illinois, was constructed by Ruth C. Peterson.

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6. The scale, Attitude toward Punishment of Criminals, which was used in the experiments at Geneses, Galesburg, Watseka, and Mooseheart, Illinois, was constructed by Charles K. A. Wang and L. L. Thurston.

7. The scale, Attitude toward Capital Punishment, which was used in the experiment at Aledo, Illinois, was constructed by Ruth C. Peterson..

8. The scale, Attitude toward the Negrο, which was used in the experiment at Crystal Lake, Illinois, . was constructed by Mr. E. D. Hinckley.

The experiments reported in this paper were carried on to study the effect of motion pictures on the social attitudes of high school children. The effect of a motion picture on attitude toward nationality, race, crime, war, capital punishment, prohibition, and the punishment of criminals has been studied.

Briefly, the procedure has been to measure the attitude of a group of students by means of en attitude scale or a paired comparison schedule, to show the group a motion picture which has been judged as having affective value on the issue in question, and to measure the attitude of the group again the day after the picture has been shown.

It is quite obvious that a suitable motion picture is the first essential of such an experiment. A suitable picture is one which pertains definitely to some issue such as those enumerated above; secondly, it is one which we can ask high school superintendents to send their students to see; and thirdly, the picture must be fairly recent and well-made so that children will not be distracted by the fashions and photography of the picture. Suggestions of possible films were obtained from a number of sources. The pictures we have used have been chosen by reviewing between six and eight hundred films, By reviewing that number we do not mean to imply that we have seen all of them, but press sheets, which include the advertising copy and synopses of the film have been obtained from the motion picture distributors. These synopses are not for publication but are intended to give the exhibitors a fairly good idea of the picture. Consequently they were quite serviceable to us. The pictures which appeared from the synopsis to have possibilities for use in the experiments, were seen by a committee of three or four. By this process, films were chosen which seemed to satisfy the criteria given.

The second essential Is an instrument for measuring attitude. The paired comparison schedule or attitude scale used in each experiment is given in the report of that experiment. The paired comparison schedules used to measure attitude toward nationality and crime, and four of the attitude scales used were constructed especially for these experiments. The scales which were available and which were suitable for use with the motion pictures chosen, were used by permission of the authors.

The construction of an attitude scale is described in connection with the scale of attitude toward the motion pictures, which is given in the last section of this report.

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The experimental groups very in age and grade range, including children of the fourth if the eighth grades, high school students, and in one experiment, college students. These groups were available through the co-operation of the principals and superintendents of the schools.

The general plan of the experiments was as follows. A scale of attitude wee given in the school. After the scale was given the students were told that the scale would be given again after an interval of about two weeks. No direct connection was made between the application of the attitude scale and the presentation of the film. The interval between the first application of the scale and the motion picture varied slightly, but was in general about two weeks. Tickets which were printed especially were distributed in the school the day the film was shown; these tickets were signed by the students and presented for admittance to the theatre. By this means, it was possible to have en accurate record of those attending the picture. Only the students who took the attitude scale before and after and attended the showing of the film were included in the experimental group. The scale of attitude was given in the school the morning following the presentation of the motion picture.

The experiments reported in this paper include studies of the effect of a single motion picture on attitudes, the cumulative effect of two or more pictures pertaining to the same issue, the difference in the effect of a motion picture on different age groups, and the persistence of the effect of a motion picture.


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