Motion Pictures and the Social Attitudes of Children
Ruth C. Peterson & L. L. Thurstone
THE experiments herewith reported 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 an 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 used were chosen by reviewing between six and eight hundred films. By saying that we reviewed that number we do not mean to imply that we saw all of them, but press sheets, which include the advertising copy and synopses of the film, were obtained from the motion-picture distributors and were carefully scrutinized. These synopses are not for publication but are intended to give the exhibitors a fairly
( xvi) good idea of the picture. Consequently they were quite serviceable to us. The pictures which appeared from the synopses 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 already 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 motion pictures, which is given in the last section of this report.
The experimental groups vary in age and grade range, including children of the fourth to the eight grades, high school students, and in one experiment, college students. These groups were available through the cooperation of the principals and superintendents of the schools.
The general plan of the experiments was as follows. A scale of attitude was 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; and these tickets were signed by the students and presented for admittance
( xvii) to the theater. By this means, it was possible to have an accurate record of which students attended the picture. Only the students who attended the showing of the film and who filled in the attitude scale both before and after 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 groups of different ages, and the persistence of the effect of the motion pictures.