Review of Frustration and Regression by R. Barker, T. Dembo and K. Levin
This is a paper-bound monograph reporting an experiment made some six years ago on 30 children, aged 28 to 61 months. The first 42 pages is a theoretical discussion in which the expected results are defended in advance. There is a theoretical appendix having only marginal connection with the problem involved.
Each child played freely in a room with attractive toys, no one except the experimenter being present. Later he was introduced into a much more attractive room with a doll house, a pool with real water, and many toys. Here he played for half an hour or so, and his "constructiveness" was rated on a scale of 8 points. Examples of these points are worth recording here. To take a fishing pole and swing it, or to examine several toys in succession was very low: "constructiveness 2." Putting the teddy bear in the teapot or putting the phone to the ear without conversation rated "constructiveness 4," while to pull the truck with a fishline rated "constructiveness 6." The most "constructive" acts of all, "constructiveness 8," twice the 4 and four times the 2 score, is illustrated by "catching the duck and letting the blood run out." Every activity was scored and timed, and the total "constructiveness score" was obtained by multiplying the duration in seconds by the constructiveness score of the "play unit" and dividing by the total duration of play.
After some half hour in the room the child was led from it into another less desirable room and a barrier let down which would keep him out of the room he liked but still leave it in plain sight, thus producing the frustration. The "constructiveness" was rated during another like period and the "regression" found by subtracting from the score in the most desired room that made in the "frustration period." This difference was not very impressive. For seven of the 30 the difference was on the other side, they were more "constructive" than when they were not "frustrated." A whole chapter is devoted to explaining this away.
One table presents the "maximal constructiveness ratings" for each child for free play and for frustration, and in these scores there were only 17 of the 30 who scored lower during the frustration period.
When both "primary play" and "secondary play" were included (secondary play is defined as playing with what laymen would call divided at-
( 141) -tention, e.g., swinging a fish line and talking at the same time), the difference which "frustration" made was calculated to the third decimal to be 1.053 "construction points." For "primary play" alone it fell to an average of only 0.758, leaving out two children who did not "primary play" at all. The figures are not impressive in their magnitude, and the argument is expanded by the familiar oval diagrams with dark and light shadings and heavy lines representing "barriers" with which the readers of the topological literature are familiar. There is also a numerous list of diagrams resembling the markings on the shell of a tortoise, a sort of testudineous art which the topologists are attempting to popularize. Numerous formulae and pseudo-equations are presented and impressively numbered, serving, in every in-stance, to repeat in symbols what has been said in plain English. In this way a mathematical appearance can be given to any statement. One could write, for example:
Cl (Sym. Top) < Cl. (GIM)
in which Cl is clarity; Sym. indicates symbols; Top is topological; and GIM stands for good idiomatic English. On page 30, formula 9a appears thus:
realmax(Ch) < realmax(Ad)
with the explanation that real means realism, max is maximum, Ch is Child, and Ad means Adult. It is then written out in words that the maximum degree of realism which a child is able to show is less than that of the adult. In this way the discussion reaches 314 pages.
Experiment in social psychology is difficult and the results so far are not impressive. But the General Education Board and the Rockefeller Foundation which financed the project are to be commended. We shall make progress only if some one goes at it. The results may be of little worth but the effort is praiseworthy, and some day we should really know how to do it well.
Lake Forest, Ill.