Frederic M. Thrasher

The present issue of THE JOURNAL, which has been prepared under the direction of Dr. Frederic M. Thrasher, director of the motion-picture project of New York University, is devoted to a national four-year study of motion pictures, initiated by the Motion Picture Research Council, financed by the Payne Fund, and carried on under the direction of Dr. W. W. Charters, director of the Bureau of Educational Research of Ohio State University and chairman of a national committee of experts in the fields of psychology, sociology and education.

The first popular publicity given to the results of these significant researches appeared in the September, October, and November 1932 issues of McCall's Magazine. A popular volume synthesizing the findings of the total study is to be written by Henry James Forman. Scientific monographs by members of the research committee are to be published by the Macmillan Company in a series, the first of which is to appear this month.

These studies are significant for education because they are an attempt to determine the effects of a type of informal education that must be reckoned with in any far-reaching educational program, public or private. Schools are already beginning to awaken to the necessity of controlling the motion-picture diet of children through better

( 194) films committees. Local communities are passing ordinances prohibiting certain types of films. A movement is already under way to develop community theaters which shall definitely fit motion-picture diets to the need of different cultural and age groups.

A great contribution of these national studies to social science is the formulation and testing of methods for determining the effects of a type of institution exerting social influence. The organization and methods of these researches in relation to each other are described, therefore, in the present issue of THE JOURNAL without an attempt to include conclusions.

The following statement regarding the scientific nature of these studies has been prepared by Mr. William H. Short, director of the Motion Picture Research Council,[1] to whom a great deal of the credit for the successful conclusion of the research is due.

The Motion Picture Research Council (formerly called the National Committee for Study of Social Values in Motion Pictures) originated and promoted the researches described in the articles which follow. The Council is composed of social workers and socially minded citizens (happily including many social scientists) who are interested in the public welfare. A concern they hold in common that the new motion-picture art shall come into its own as an instrument for creating more intelligent and useful citizens, together with considerable apprehension over the nature and effects of many of the "movies" now being exhibited to children and impressionable adults, constitute the bonds that brought and hold them together in the Council.

When they had organized, they at once found themselves wishing to know all obtainable facts about the movies, movie audiences, and the effects of movies on these audiences. They considered such complete knowledge the only adequate basis on which a constructive program for more socially helpful films could be based. To get it, they were willing to spend patient years of work and waiting.

Although the Council has in its membership many eminent research professors, it is neither organized nor financed to con-duct research. It, therefore, turned to research agencies and asked their help in getting the facts it desired. Among the agencies it approached was the Payne Fund.

( 195)

The special interest of the Payne Fund is in influences that mold the lives of children and youth. The Council asked the Fund to make a series of studies covering the influences of theatrical films upon this youthful population. Does the child go to the movies? What does he see when he goes? Does he take in what he sees? Does he remember it? What do the movies do to his sleep, his health, his emotions, his attitudes, his behavior patterns, his conduct? Is there a connection between motion pictures and delinquency and crime? The Fund agreed to make the studies.

The Council told the Fund that it wished to get all obtain-able facts in this field and that it hoped they would be absolutely objective, unprejudiced, and authoritative.

As a first step, the Fund created an Educational Research Committee which is described in the article by Dr. W. W. Charters, research director of the committee. The members of this research committee examined the proposed studies with reference to their practicability and parceled out among them-selves those they believed, could be carried on to successful conclusions.

Carrying out the wish of the Motion Picture Research Council that the research men be put h a position where they would be wholly free to pursue their studies without even a suspicion of pressure, formal or informal, to get predetermined results, the Payne Fund asked the research committee to draw up adequate expense budgets for the several studies. When this had been done, the Fund deposited the monies asked for with the several universities in which the research men were working, subject to their own requisitions. Thus e factor of financial independence was added to that of scientific integrity which, with such men, would in any case have bee controlling.

For four years, quietly and without disturbing publicity of any nature, the research men labored on their co missions to obtain the facts. Under the chairmanship of Dr. Charters the committee met annually for a two- or three-day conference in which each man reported his techniques and tentative findings, submitting everything to the criticisms and suggestions of his associates. But in these research conferences criticism never passed into dictation, attempted or implied, and each man went away from the conference to pursue his independent quest for motion-picture facts as free as when he came.

It is on the basis of the findings obtained during this four-year period in this carefully organized, adequately financed, scientific research and in the light of the discussion these findings will arouse that the Motion Picture Research Council in a leisurely and constructive spirit will undertake to formulate and publish recommendations for the helpful development and use of the new motion-picture art.


  1. The chairman of the Motion Picture Research Council is Dr. John Grier Hibben, formerly president of Princeton University.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2