Sunday, November 20, 2005


As another procedure of investigation, children are allowed to play with a marionette stage. They make up their own plays, usually with one child doing the outline and filling it in with suggestions from one or two other children. The plot outline is usually very simple, with the play consisting largely in improvisations. The marionettes represent such figures as permitted to the child to symbolize a father-figure, a mother-figure, siblings and other dramatis personae in his life.

Marionette shows sometimes reveal very well the psychological factors in the family constellation.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Doll abuse.

Play observation and therapy are sometimes misunderstood by those inexperienced in the method and by the public. Violently destructive play is interpreted as a natural phase of child development and the erroneous idea is propagated that it will be advantageous to the child to let him indulge in violence as much as he likes. For example, a recent popularized medical column is headed "Play Therapy Lets Child Vent His Anger On Toys." And then it goes on to describe, as if it were a common occurrence, how a little boy who hated his mother and sister strangled two dolls and tried to dismember them. The same boy stuck pins into another doll supposed to represent the doctor. The physician who writes the column takes for granted that the emotion which children express in the playroom should be hostility.

The physician says, "The therapist accepts fighting and interrupts only when it is obvious that someone is going to be hurt." He takes it for granted that chairs will be broken! But this is all wrong. Most children do not engage in such violence, and certainly not from ingrained tendencies, and if they do, a good therapist would certainly analyze the causes for such violence early and help the child to understand and overcome it.

Friday, November 18, 2005

To advise a child not to read a comic book works only if you can explain to them your reasons.

For example, a ten-year-old girl from a cultivated and literate home asked me why I thought it was harmful to read Wonder Woman (a crime comic which we have found to be one of the most harmful). She saw in her home many good books and I took that as a starting point, explaining to her what good stories and novels are. I told her:
Supposing you get used to eating sandwiches made with very strong seasonings, with onions and peppers and highly spiced mustard. You will lose your taste for simple bread and butter and for finer food. The same is true of reading strong comic books. If later on you want to read a good novel it may describe how a young boy and girl sit together and watch the rain falling. They talk about themselves and the pages of the book describe what their innermost little thoughts are. This is what is called literature. But you will never be able to appreciate that if in comic-book fashion you expect that at any minute someone will appear and pitch both of them out of the window.

....In this case the girl understood, and the advice worked.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Playroom observations continue into puberty

A number of children whom I had observed at an early age in the playroom I followed up later as adolescents. That provided a good background for evaluating the later impact of comic books and other factors. After I had convinced myself that comic books like this are a bad influence, I had to face the question, Why not advise parents to forbid children to read crime comics in the very beginning, to forestall adverse influences? But that is not so simple. Crime comic books are not an individual problem, they are a social problem. While it is not true that every child is a crime comics reader, crime comic books are available nearly everywhere children go. To forbid what is constantly and temptingly available is bad pedagogic practice. Moreover, children come constantly in contact with other children and get the effects from them, either with or without comic books. As far as abstaining from reading them is concerned, that is not easy for any child in this comic- book- selling and -promoting world. It is unfair to put that task on their shoulders. They need the help of adults, not only in one family at a time but on a much larger scale.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A boy of seven suffered from asthma and was "inattentive" in school.

He improved with play therapy. It was noted that instead of playing he liked to pore over comic books a lot of the time. We weaned him away from them by giving him material to draw and paint with. But the comic-book spirit was very evident in his art productions. He drew Donald Duck with a gun and his drawings always showed "the robber shooting the cop." (That the opposite could also occur never seemed apparent from any of his numerous drawings.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Notes I took about comic books in the playroom, and "wild" behavior

In the early forties one of the activities children sometimes wanted to keep up instead of engaging in spontaneous activity was reading comic books. Protocols of the play group would contain entries like this: "Entered playroom with his own comic book and kept looking at it," or "Greeted the others, friendly, then took a comic book and sat down to read it." This was in the early period of the rise of the crime comic book. In this atmosphere of the playroom it is easy to ask a child why and what he reads.

Comparison of our continuing observations led to definite conclusions. Of course young children are apt to be "wild," and I saw plenty of them in the thirties. But it was a natural wildness. Many children in the period some ten years later showed a kind of artificial wildness, with a dash of adult brutality and violence far from childlike. From comic books they derive ideas of activity and excitement not in the form of concentrated imaginative play, but in the form of crude and combative action. Of course this kind of thing is not found by those who work with questionnaire methods or with preconceived conclusions.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I once had a great playroom

With a grant from the Child Neurology Research Foundation to work out methods for the observation and treatment of children, I organized a playroom in the middle thirties, while I was director of the Mental Hygiene Clinic at Bellevue Hospital. The case material and our methods in general were the same as those on which these studies are based. One of the main differences in the outer circumstances of the children is that until the end of the thirties there were no crime comic books to speak of, whereas in the forties they had, with respect to the time they take up, become one of the most important influences on children's lives.

In my play observations and therapy, children engaged in spontaneous play activity of a type that permitted them to express themselves as fully as possible. Any games with set rules or reading of books were considered an obstacle. The children constructed buildings with mechanical building sets of wood and metal, draw, paint, made mosaics with colored stones, and worked with clay.

Watching children in this setting, one learns how false is the idea that if left to themselves, with opportunity for constructive play, they will pay no attention to that and will instead seek outlets for "aggression."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Why the playroom?

Playroom techniques have been criticized because they are at once a diagnostic and a therapeutic tool. But in my experience this is actually a great advantage. Play technique is frequently successful in both areas. And it is theoretically a sound principle to do psychological exploring studies on a child in the process of treatment, education and re-education. Pedagogy, psychotherapy of children and child psychology should become recognized more and more as closely related and inseparable disciplines.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Watching them on the swingsets and the teeter totters.

Children are apt to express themselves more easily and naturally when other children are around. Playroom observation is an indispensable adjunct of scientific psychiatric studies of children. It is almost the opposite of the questionnaire method. There are no questions, but only answers. There are no inquisitive adults, but only fellow children. One or two adults observe inconspicuously - but not pretending that they are not there. They participate only as catalysts. A group of children for the playroom does not have to be of the same age, and the sexes should be mixed. We have found that the most suitable age is from about five to ten, but children up to twelve can also be included.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The second Duess Test example

This other case is a girl of nine, referred to the Lafargue Clinic because she had a severe reading problem and was described as "very nervous." She also was a great comic-book reader. These are her responses to three fables:


A father bird and a mother bird and their little baby bird are asleep in their nest on the branch of a tree. But there comes a big storm. It breaks the branch of the tree and the nest falls to the ground. The father bird flies quickly to one tree, the mother bird to another tree. What will the baby bird do? He knows how to fly a little.

HER ANSWER: He will die because he can't fly so well.


A mother sheep and her little lamb are in a field. Every evening the mother sheep gives the little lamb good warm milk, which the little lamb likes very much. But it can already eat grass. One day the mother sheep has a new little lamb which is hungry for the mother to give him milk. But the mother sheep has not enough milk for both little lambs, so she says to the first lamb: "I haven't got enough milk for both of you, go and eat some fresh grass."

What will the lamb do?

HER ANSWER: Eat the grass. Get mad because he doesn't want the other little lamb to drink the milk.


Somebody in the family has taken the train and has gone very far away and will never return home.

Who is it? Who can go away in the family?

HER ANSWER: She can go out in the country. Maybe she doesn't come back because she is mad at the father. Maybe she liked it there better. Or they could get hurt by a car. They could be dead. The mother could be dead.

The test results show indications of intrinsic psychological factors. The extrinsic situational influence of comic-book reading played only a minor role. Further analysis of this child showed that she had ticlike movements at times and suffered from compulsions. For example, she had to touch the ground with her hand. She had death wishes and profound feelings of hostility. Comic books did not intrude in her emotional life because she was too preoccupied with herself and had already built up such abnormal defenses as compulsions. All this started five years previously at the birth of her baby sister, of whom she was intensely jealous.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Two contrasting examples will illustrate the Dues Test method.

A boy of ten was treated at the Lafargue Clinic for a behavior disorder. He gave inconspicuous answers to the first nine fables. The tenth fable goes like this: A child wakes up tired in the morning, and says:

"Oh, what a bad dream I had!"

What did he dream?

This boy replied, He dreamed about something he didn't like. It might have been something like a murder. He's gonna get murdered and he woke up.

Study of this boy did not reveal any special hostilities or resentments. During one talk with him he told me that he liked Classics comics. "What are they?" I asked. "The Classics," he explained to me, "are the kind that tell a story, like under the water. -I can't remember them." When I told him I was very much interested in all kinds of comic books he confided in me that what he really liked and read a lot was crime comics. "I got a whole pile of Crime Does Not Pay!" Would it not be surprising if such a child did not have murder on his mind?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Duess Test

Another useful method for closer examination of young children is the Duess Test, which has been worked out in Switzerland and used in France. It is indispensable for the correct understanding of some children. With its help one can some times unearth subtle psychological factors not brought out by other methods.

The test consists in ten very brief fablelike stories. They are incomplete and after they are told to the child he is asked what the end of the story would be. In this way the child can complete the story in any way he likes. This test should be used in an elastic way. It should not be applied rigidly and should not be scored like a test. One can modify the original stories and can even add new ones to adapt them to the original case. I give the test in a way that is a mixture between telling a story, playing a game and asking a question. The Duess Test is often an interesting starting- point for further talks with a child.

The Duess Test can be given only to young children, the upper age limit being, in my experience, about eleven. In suitable cases the child projects himself into the story and identifies his own situation with that in the fable. In this way typical emotional complexes may be elicited, but, as in other tests, one should be careful not to view the child as if he were an adult neurotic or read too much abnormality into him.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A lengthy but valuable anecdote

A boy of ten was referred to the [Lafargue] Clinic after he had been accused of pushing a younger boy into the water so that the small boy drowned. Another boy had seen him do it, but since he himself denied it the authorities felt it was one boy's word against another and the case was dismissed as "accidental death." The Clinic was asked to give the suspected boy emotional guidance. He had previously thrown stones at windows and on one occasion had hit and almost injured a woman in this way.

He was a voracious comic-book reader. His mother stated that he read whatever comic books he could get hold of. He said, "I like all the crime comic books. I like all kinds, science, everything that is ever in the house. I buy quite a few. I get them from my friends. Some of them give them to me and some of them loan them to me. I like crime comics such as Clue. It is all about when this man, he and three other men, they robbed jewelry and broke windows and they took the rings and ran away and a cop's car comes and shoots them. Sometimes they get killed, the gangsters, the cops kill them. Sometimes they hit each other when one of them does something wrong. Sometimes they use knives."

He was known to be a bully. He had bullied the boy who was drowned to such an extent that the boy's mother had gone to the authorities to ask for protection for her boy. Steeped in crime- comics lore, his attitude was a mixture of bravado and evasiveness. Nothing indicated that he had any feelings of guilt. The Association Test showed a definite blocking to key words such as drowning, water, little boy and pushing. After careful study of the whole case we came to the conclusion that the little boy would not have drowned if our boy had not pushed him in, and that our patient would not have been pushed to the murder if his mind had not been imbued with readiness for violence and murder by his continuous comic-book reading.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Two more tests

Intelligence tests and aptitude tests are of course given routinely in all cases where there was any question of the adequacy of intellectual endowment and resources. For the study of the effects of comic books, complete tests for reading ability were found to be of crucial importance. Many statements about children's reading have been made off and on which are not based on a really full and specific study of reading by the various tests devised for this purpose. The harmful effect of comic-book reading on children's ability to read is a special chapter and a sorry one.

A test which is no longer used as much as it should be, the Association Test, we found particularly useful. The associations to words which are complex indicators may reveal preoccupations and fantasies which cannot be obtained on a conscious level, certainly not by questioning. In cases where children are accused of serious delinquencies, the Association Test functions like a "lie detector" test and has helped us to reconstruct what really happened.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

I routinely give The Mosaic Test to the children.

The child has a choice of a large number of mosaic pieces of different colors and shapes. He is asked to put them on a tray and make any design he pleases. The test is very useful in a diagnosis or for ruling out of psychotic conditions, even inconspicuous and incipient ones. These tests revealed in a large series of cases that there is nothing intrinsically abnormal about those children who either became very addicted to reading crime comics or are influenced by such reading to delinquent acts. As a matter of fact, the Mosaic Test - in conjunction, of course, with clinical findings - indicated or confirmed our finding that those children who suffer from any really serious intrinsic psycho-pathological condition, including those with psychoses, are influenced by comic-book reading.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Thematic Apperception Test

In the Thematic Apperception Test the child is shown a series of pictures depicting various scenes and is asked to tell stories about them. We found in some children preoccupation with stories of murder, blood-letting and violence in one form or another. But if one does not appreciate that this kind of production occurs much more in avid crime-comics readers than in other children, one is apt completely to misinterpret the test. This test also showed us that comic-book reading leaves definite traces in the child's mind which crop up as spontaneous manifestations in a projective test.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Blaming debate

A popular syndicated column for parents on child behavior (emanating from the Gesell Institute) processes these findings for the popular consumption of parents. It concludes that "the environment - the radio, movies and funny books" have nothing to do with the child's lust for gore, his love of the horrible. "We believe these preferences to be the normal expressions of the child's likes at his age." Parents who read such a misleading column are of course disarmed by the supposed evidence of such a scientific method as the Rorschach Test. They tend to blame their child or themselves and in so doing they give the industries that peddle stories and programs of violence for children a free hand.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Rorschach Test is a valid scientific method.

I was one of the first psychiatrists to use it in this country and published research on it over twenty years ago. In my experience with children and adults I have found it a revealing auxiliary method. But in recent years it has been too often used uncritically, interpreted with the bias of a purely biological determinism, leaving out all social influence, and given by psychologists with either faulty clinical orientation, or with no clinical orientation at all. Under these circumstances, the Rorschach Test like any other wrongly applied scientific method has given wrong results. It has been used, for example, to bolster the conception of more or less fixed psychological-biological phases of childhood development. And this is a conception which has caused parents whose children do not conform to textbooks a great deal of anxiety. It has led psychologists to socially unrealistic generalizations. A recent text on children's Rorschach responses describes as the "essence" of the average normal seven-year-old child a most abnormal preoccupation with morbidity, mutilation, pain, decay, blood and violence. But that is not the normal essence of the average American child, nor of any other child! You cannot draw true conclusions from any test if you ignore the broad educational, social and cultural influences on the child, his family and his street. These influences, of which comic books are just one (although a very potent one), favor, condone, purvey and glorify violence. The violent meaning of the Rorschach responses is not the norm for the age of seven; unfortunately it seems to be becoming the norm for a civilization of adults.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

In the frequently hackneyed routine of the examination of children, ingrained tendencies or the narrower family situation are usually held responsible

But careful examination of factors shows usually a combination of the first and third groups. An eleven- year- old boy of superior intelligence showed in the Rorschach Test (and in his drawings) strife, hostility and threatening images. He lived with parents who for years had gone from battle to battle, and from court to court. In addition, he was steeped in crime-comics lore:

"My mother doesn't like me to read crime comic books, but I see them anyhow. I like Superman, Penalty. I like the Jumbo books. They have a lot of girls in them. There is a lot of fighting in them. There are men and women fighting. Sometimes they kill the girls, they strangle them, shoot them. Sometimes they poison them. In that magazine Jumbo they often stab them. The girl doesn't do the stabbing very often, she gets stabbed more often. Sometimes the girls stab the men, sometimes shoot them. I read one comic book where they tie people to the trees, tie them in front of stampeding herds. They tie them to the trees, then cut the trees and the sap runs over that person and the bugs are drawn to that sap, then they eat the people. Sometimes they torture girls the same way, by stabbing and beating them. They throw them in rivers and make them swim where alligators come. Sometimes they hit them with weapons on the back. They don't have much on when they hit them with weapons. It excites me a little bit."

Is it not natural that the Rorschach of the boy shows hostility and aggression?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The rule of Threes

When pronounced hostile and threatening images are found in the Rorschach Test, they usually come from one of three causes. First, a special atmosphere of hostility in the early environment, parents' fights and family discords, or gang- dominated schools or neighborhoods. Secondly, such images occur in a relatively very small number of really psychotic and psychopathic children. Thirdly, they are derived from outside influences such as comic books.