Group Differences in the Interests of Children

Gertrude Kuper

That interest plays a very important dynamic role in the educational field is only too evident from such treatises as Dr. Dewey's article, "Interest as Related to Will" and Dr. Montessori's "Pedagogia Scientifica." But interest is a general term and can not have an absolutely universal value for every individual or every subject of thought or desire. Individual interests are as important in the social world as are individual capacities. They should, therefore, be a fruitful field for scientific investigation. The experimental work done with advertisements has brought to light group differences in the preferences of men and women for various appeals. The investigation to be reported was of a like nature, except that it dealt with children.

The formal experiment consisted in asking an individual child to arrange nine pictures in the order in which he liked them best. The nine pictures were chosen to represent nine specific appeals : landscape,


( 377) children, animals, religion, pathos, sentiment, patriotism, heroism, and action. (They were Cosmos prints and therefore of uniform size and finish.) In all, there were three series of these pictures, each parallel so far as possible with the other two in their appeals. The children numbered over 200, 10 girls and 10 boys for each year's age from 6.5 to 16.5. They were almost entirely attendants of the public schools of New York City and came from quite varied sections of the city.

The results were tabulated according to age differences, broad social distinctions, and nationality. In the last-named case the number of subjects was so limited (10 girls and 10 boys to each of the following nationalities : Irish, French, German, and Italian, and only 9 girls and 8 boys to the Spanish) that the results are not held as significant.

The positive data showed a sex difference in the order of preference for these several appeals. The girls' order was: (1) Religion, (2) patriotism, (3) children, (4) pathos, (5) animals, (6) sentiment, (7) landscape, (8) the heroic, (9) action. The last two were decidedly lowest in the scale and the first three were quite clearly highest for all ages; but the picture representing these nine curves was one of bewildering intersections as the values changed from year to year. The boys' order was: (1) Religion, (2)patriotism, (3)action, (4) the heroic, (5) pathos, (6) animals, (7)sentiment, (8) landscape, (9) children. The boys' chart representing the curves for these appeals showed greater agreement from year to year. Religion and patriotism, the heroic and action, and landscape and children kept rather parallel courses all along the age scale, and no very decided tendencies appeared with progressive age differences. Girls seemed to lose interest somewhat in pictures of children and animals and to take greater interest in the heroic and action pictures. The latter change is explained by the fact that, as the girls increased in school knowledge, they read an historical background into these more or less warlike scenes.

A great sex difference was found in the variability measures, as calculated for the various ages, appeals, social classes, and nationalities. In every case but two, the girls exceeded the boys in their P.E.; and in these two exceptions the boys' P.E. was once greater than the girls' by only 5 per cent., and another time exactly equal to the girls' P.E. The amount of sex difference was, as a rule, anywhere between 12 per cent, and 57 per cent. This held true in every scale, whether according to age, appeals, social class, or nationality. The girls' aver-age P.E. was 1.66 ; that for the boys was 1.36.

Both girls and boys were least variable about the subjects they


( 378) liked best, i. e., religion and patriotism; but apart from these appeals there was no correlation of variability with relative likes or dislikes.

It is a noteworthy fact that in range of variability the boys far exceeded the girls. The limits for the boys' P.E. were .82 (patriot-ism) and 1.60 (landscape), giving a range of difference of 78 per cent.; the limits for the girls 'were 1.47 (religion) and 1.95 (animals), showing a range of only 48 per cent. In this particular experiment this indicates that boys are very much more agreed about some likes than are girls, and yet quite as varied about others. In other experiments such a range of variability may point to greater individuality of the male sex among themselves while as a group they are relatively homogeneous.

Another sex difference noted was the number of positive dislikes expressed by each sex. The girls gave 161, or 6 per cent., dislikes as against the boys' 65, or 2.4 per cent. Boys seemed to entertain relative indifference toward the appeals at the bottom of the list. The things the girls disliked most were, (1)scenes of action suggesting death and (2) pictures showing angry attitudes. The reasons given by the boys for their dislikes were, (1) gloomy, indistinct scenes, (2) sentimental pictures, (3) costumes worn by men which were feminine in style or left the figure partly nude, and (4) pictures suggesting illness.

A certain age difference revealed itself in the remarks made by the children about the pictures. The seven and eight year olds showed limited powers of observation. Some detail, and, in landscape scenes, always the human detail, no matter how small, was made the focus of attention to the complete overlooking of the larger subject. Unfamiliar details when pointed out to them received as many different interpretations as there were children. As the children grew older their remarks were fuller; they made fewer mistakes in their interpretation of the pictures and they drew upon all their known sources for filling in their perceptions. At the ages between 11 and 13 the critical spirit made its first appearance among the girls. Only at fourteen did it occur in the boys' comments. At these ages the emotions prompted the remarks of both girls and boys. Emotional attitudes, actions, and even words were ascribed to the pictorial persons. At 15, the remarks became more laconic, but what was said was significant and definite as to the persons, place, and action of the picture. This age marked the first signs of hesitation in speaking of the pictures of sentiment. Up to the age of nine the remarks had been very nave; after that the pictures were dismissed with the phrase, "they're lovers" or "a love picture"; often the characters were named Romeo and Juliet, Paul and Virginia, etc,

In all their comments the girls were far more personal than the


( 379) boys. The personal pronoun and references to their individual experiences were the usual preface to their statements. With the boys
it was quite otherwise; they discussed the picture as an objective
thing, independent of their conscious existence. Boys tended to locate scenes in definite historical time and specific geographical places.
The effect of uncertainty about a picture, crudely averaged, was a displacement of about five places toward the lower end of the scale.

Notes

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