Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/September 1897/When Character Is Formed

By M. V. O'SHEA,



THE results of late researches in physiological and experimental psychology contribute much toward a rational explanation of the causes of abnormal and deficient mental characteristics in childhood. To begin with, it is now satisfactorily shown that mental action is accompanied by the expenditure of energy derived from the breaking down of highly unstable chemical compounds in cerebral nerve cells. The brain has come to be regarded as a storehouse of nerve power; and when too severe or prolonged demands have been made upon it the cells become much depleted of their contents, and there results a condition of brain tire or fatigue. The process of depletion has been studied with great care in the case of the frog by Dr. Hodge,[1] of Clark

PSM V51 D664 Changes in frog nerve cell due to electrical stimulation.png

Diagram A, showing changes observed in the nucleus of the living sympathetic nerve cell of the frog, as the result of direct electrical stimulation (Hodge, after Donaldson[2]). After six hours and forty-nine minutes of stimulation, the nucleus (n) is seen to be reduced to less than one half its size when the stimulation began.

University, and some of his results are shown in the accompanying Diagram A.

While no similar observations have been made upon human beings, for obvious reasons, yet it seems reasonable that the same law holds here in regard to the expenditure of nerve energy by physical or mental work.

It is evident that the law of the conservation of energy is implied in this phenomenon, and the accompanying diagrams may serve to make clear the method of its application. In Diagram B there is shown leading to the very heart of the nerve cell a filament, N, whose office is to carry messages in the form of stimuli from the world without; and leading from each cell are a number of avenues or passageways, D, through which may run off to other cells or muscles the energy set free by the advent of some sense stimulus or by the processes of thought and feeling. A very slight stimulus may in certain instances unloose a relatively great amount of energy which may be expended in thought and emotion, or which may issue directly in movement. Every one knows PSM V51 D665 Nerve cell nucleus depletion due to activity.pngDiagram B, from Starr, Atlas of Nerve Cells, page 39, modified especially to show nucleus which is depleted of energy when the cell is in action. that a mere whisper of the death of a dear friend or of an approaching calamity or any similar circumstance will create great mental disturbance and drain the nerve cells to the point of exhaustion. So the prick of a pin or a tickling of the sole of the foot will produce vigorous movements of the entire body in most persons. It is probably true that in almost all instances the physical or mental resultant of a given stimulus is far greater, from the point of view of energy expended, than the stimulus itself. Every stimulus entering the cerebral cells is re-enforced from the energy stored therein; and it is plain, of course, that the less the supply or the greater the demands made the more rapidly will exhaustion follow. In a study, then, of brain fatigue in childhood we have to consider first the conditions which determine the amount of energy which shall be stored in the cells, which, as we shall attempt to show, differs in individual cases on account of a variety of varying circumstances; and, secondly, we have to regard the character of the work done, so as to notice how heavily it draws upon the credit of the brain.

It is the purpose here to consider especially the intellectual and emotional concomitants of brain fatigue in childhood. In PSM V51 D665 Nerve nucleus stimuli from external source.pngDiagram C.—S = stimuli pouring into the brain (E) through all the senses, and issuing in mental action or movement (M). It shows that the energies of the brain are being drawn upon continually to re-enforce the stimuli from the outer world. order to ascertain these we may employ any or all of several methods of inquiry. In the first place, we may make direct mental tests to determine if a child can think as rapidly and logically in a state of fatigue, occasioned by overwork or by lack of food, as when refreshed after rest or proper nutrition. In the second place, we may by introspection observe the effects of fatigue upon our own processes of thinking and the character and quality of our feelings. Third, we may study children in their everyday work and play, and observe the influence upon their thinking and feeling of prolonged periods of activity, of great excitement or overstimulation of any sort, of a lack of proper and sufficient food, and other like conditions. Again, we may by observation, and by experiment with apparatus, determine the effect of brain fatigue upon physical power and control and make inferences therefrom respecting thought and emotion, since there is little doubt that good physical control indicates a well-balanced and hence a well-nourished brain, which in turn is the essential requisite for well-balanced thinking and feeling. On the other hand, a lack of control in the body as a whole or special members thereof is indicative of an impaired state of the brain, and this impairment must interfere with vigorous, connected thought, and give rise to more or less abnormal feelings. It follows from these propositions that the character of an individual's movements is an index to his brain condition, and indirectly to his mental constitution, aptitudes, and possibilities.

As a result of considerable investigation[3] of late, according to these various methods of study, it has been shown that, as might be expected, fatigue interferes in the first place with the keenness and integrity of one's intellectual processes. The power of continuous attention is lessened, the rapidity and accuracy of perception through every sense are dulled, memory becomes halting and uncertain, and reason grows illogical and erratic. The writer has studied during the past year the influence of brain fatigue upon school children in Buffalo by observations made during the regular work of the day, and by simple experiments with apparatus designed to test first, the rapidity of thought and action as determined by the length of reaction time upon stimuli presented to the different senses; second, the keenness and accuracy of sense perception; and, third, the power of control of the body as a whole, and of the different parts, as the hand, the tongue, etc.[4] He has also tested the elementary intellectual processes according to methods devised by Dr. Joseph Jastrow, wherein the ability to perceive and judge of form readily and accurately, to retain and reproduce visual impressions, and to identify new impressions similar to others recently experienced, is detected,[5] These experiments test in a way at least the processes of attention, perception, retention, and comparison or reason; and because of their simplicity, not being complicated with other factors, it is comparatively easy to detect varying power on the part of the pupil.

Space will not permit a detailed statement of the results of these studies, but it may be said in summary that after two and a half hours' work in the schoolroom almost all pupils show a decrease in intellectual power. Reaction time is considerably lessened—the pupil can not perceive and react so quickly or with such surety. He can not discriminate colors with such keenness. If in the morning he can detect a gramme pressure upon the back of the hand, he now requires two grammes or more in order to receive an impression. If when he is refreshed he can detect two points upon the back of the hand thirty millimetres apart, they must be separated considerably in order to be detected as two when he is in a state of fatigue. In a test of physical control the hand will be found much less steady after a few hours of mental labor, as may be seen by examining one's handwriting with a magnifying glass. If the pupil endeavor to perform some difficult task requiring great co-ordination of the different parts of the body, as in directing a light rod upon a small point a few feet away but yet within easy reach, or in threading a fine needle, the influence of fatigue is easily observed. In the laboratory a device is used whereby an electric bell is rung when a given point is not touched. In testing a pupil in this way it has often been found that he can not only not touch the point so often in a state of fatigue as when rested, but the strain seems much greater upon the whole body, causing twitching and other choreic movements if continued very long. This evidence all points to the fact that mental activity expends nervous energy which is revealed in lessened muscular control. So in the direct mental tests, a pupil can not after a half day's work in school do such an apparently simple thing as to divide a line into a given number of equal parts with the accuracy that he can earlier in the day. The same effects of fatigue are evident in the lessened power of retention of visual images, and of identification of similar impressions. In short, fatigue lessens mental ability; produces, relatively speaking, dullness, stupidity, and inaccuracy in thinking.

Substantially these same results have been reached in experiments made by Professors Burgerstein,[6] of Vienna, and Kraeplin,[7] of Leipsic, and at Leland Stanford Junior University[8] in our own country. Mr. Galton[9] has secured statements from adults to the effect that a hard day's work lessened the keenness and trustworthiness of their intellectual operations. They could not perceive so accurately, remember so readily, or reason so efficiently. Mr. Sinclair,[10] in his studies of schoolroom fatigue, has obtained similar data.

The statement was made in a previous paragraph that people differ greatly in the readiness with which fatigue ensues upon mental effort. The nerve cells seem to be so constituted in some people that they give off an undue amount of energy upon slight stimulus.[11] This fact may be easily observed in a group of children as well as among adults. A slight noise, a touch upon the shoulder, or a sharp question will cause some to react with an amount of vigor quite out of proportion to the degree of the stimulus. The body will twitch, the face flush, and the thought will be confused. Other children will show none of this excessive display of energy. Their reaction is proportionate to the stimulus, and in this way they save their energies. Consequently, other things being equal, they endure much longer and can undertake more difficult and trying ordeals without fatigue. Again, it is easy to see when any number of children are gathered together that some have much more energy always at their disposal than others. In other words, they are better nourished, which means in this connection that they have more nerve energy that may be employed in either mental or physical work. The important point to be noted here is that some children, from whatever cause, may be in a more or less constant state of fatigue all or most of the time; and since fatigue produces what is called dullness, these unfortunates will be distinguished as dullards and stupids, unless the greatest care be taken in home and school to conserve their nervous energy. If such care is not taken, a chronic condition is established in the nervous system which permits the energy to escape in useless ways; and if this continues long enough, perhaps through the college period, it is doubtful if the individual will ever fully recover, since the nerve cells probably acquire their permanent modes of action by this time.

Thus far nothing has been said of the effects of fatigue upon emotional states. It is manifestly much more difficult, if at all possible, to obtain data respecting this question by scientific experiment; we must rely rather almost wholly upon observation. Doubtless every one has had sufficient experience to be assured that irritability is in many persons an almost certain consequence of unusually severe mental strain or worry.[12] It has already been pointed out that in a state of fatigue the nerve cells are unstable, giving off energy—exploding as it were—without sufficient cause. A person who when refreshed and vigorous would be able to inhibit impulses to anger, or quick words, or passion of any sort, would probably in a state of fatigue lose this power, at least in a measure. That is, fatigue in most instances lessens the inhibitory action of cerebral cells, and the individual reacts upon every stimulus without, as we say, deliberation or consideration. It is shown, too, by some investigators[13] that fatigue produces a melancholy, depressed feeling; causes one to turn his thoughts in upon himself, and to become morbid and gloomy if this self-consciousness is long continued. Further, it is the opinion of those who have had large experience that those qualities of character which are described by the terms vicious or criminal are due to perverted feelings dependent upon impaired physical conditions,[14] especially of the nervous system. It has become a maxim that a man in a state of hunger is much harder to govern than when he is well nourished. Untruthfulness, which Kant has called the negation of self, is generally a characteristic of an individual who has not vigor enough to face boldly the consequences of his acts. It would doubtless be within bounds to say that in general one who is physically weak, who is nervously depleted, is usually, although perhaps not always, morally weak. Dr. Stanley Hall has said somewhere that the time may not he far away when we can say that what is physiologically right is morally right—that is, whatever begets the best physiological conditions will produce the best moral character.


If brain fatigue interferes with the readiness and accuracy of one's intellectual operations and estranges the emotional nature, it is important to know what are the agencies most commonly found in home and school which produce this condition; for when the various qualities of which dullness and irritability are types are characteristic of one's childhood they tend to become permanent, thus determining one's character. It is shown by neurology that any mental act oft repeated leads to the establishment of correlated neural processes which make the reproduction of that act continuously easier until it becomes automatic, when all the causes which originally produced it even if with conscious effort on the part of the individual will in time awaken it without any such difficulty. If now it be remembered that brain fatigue is due to some degree of exhaustion of cerebral cells, it will be apparent that one of the most important sources of fatigue is inadequate nutrition of the brain. Nerve cells, like all other cells in the body, repair themselves by absorbing from the blood those materials suited to their particular needs. If the blood does not carry to them a sufficient quantity of the right elements of food to meet the demands made upon them, then while thus neglected they will be in a partially exhausted state from sheer inability to obtain nutriment. Just so a field of wheat in poor soil will bring forth imperfect grain, or a fruit tree unable to find the proper elements of nutrition will bear defective apples or pears or peaches.

All life of whatsoever kind requires a proper sort and adequate amount of nutrition in order that it may develop in a vigorous, healthy manner. Experiments have been conducted in rearing tadpoles and pond snails in various sized vessels of water, where the opportunities for nutrition corresponded with the quantities of water inclosed, and it has been found that the less the amount of water the smaller the animal. Animals reared in this way may be arranged in a series increasing in size according to the quantity of water in which they have been placed.[15] Many mammals and birds are found to have their centers of distribution in the northern regions, and they diminish in size from the northern to the southern latitudes, thus indicating that the ability to obtain food determines the degree of development of the bird[16] or animal. Bowditch[17] has shown in his studies upon the growth of children that native-born Americans are larger and better developed than those of foreign parentage, and ascribes the reason to the better conditions which surround the American children. So children from the non-laboring classes are larger than those from laboring homes.[18]

While these data show only the dependence of physical development upon nutrition, still we are not without similar evidence showing that mental development depends also upon the character and amount of a people's food. The causes for the intellectual and temperamental differences between the races of different countries may be ascribed, at least in part, to the character of their dietaries. Contrast the Chinese and English, for instance: the former are mentally and emotionally very different from and inferior to the latter, as might be expected from the quality of their food. The difference between these two races is typical of the difference between types of children to be seen frequently in home and school. The one is slow and obtuse intellectually, and possessed of an indifferent or negative emotional and moral nature; while the other is keen and vigorous in thought, and positive in emotions and morals; and one who strives by concrete observation to account for these differences can not fail to see plainly ofttimes that they are due to the quality and quantity of food which the children eat.

It is important to note that cerebral nerve cells demand particular materials for their proper nutrition. Food which will make bone will not be best suited to the nourishment of an active brain, and vice versa. So fat-producing foods, while of course of value in one's diet, yet do not furnish in large measure nutrients for the repletion of nerve cells. Prof. Ladd says that the chemistry of the nerve cells is in the main protoplasmic, and therefore rich in albuminous bodies.[19] And again, "Of the solids composing the nervous substance, more than one half in the gray and one fourth in the white consist of proteid or albuminous bodies."[20] The foods that are best calculated to nourish the brain, then, are those containing a large amount of protein or albumin, rather than fats, carbohydrates, or minerals, the three other important constituents of foods. But in many homes, as well in those of the rich as of the poor, the children's dietaries contain comparatively little albuminous food, as may be seen from the following analysis of the nutritive values of the various common articles of a child's diet: Beef contains 29·7 per cent of protein; chicken, 19·3 per cent; fresh fish, about 16 per cent; salt cod, 27·6 per cent; rolled oats, 16 per cent; wheat flour, 12 per cent; Graham flour, 14 per cent; beans, 22·2 per cent; while such vegetables as beets, cabbage, corn, celery, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, etc., contain on an average not more than 1·5 per cent of foods that nourish the brain. Pie, pudding, cake, cookies, and crackers contain at the outside not over six to seven per cent, even when these are so cooked that the little substance they contain may be extracted in digestion.[21] The writer has ascertained the bills of fare of many school children by direct observation and by having them write out the customary articles of diet with mode of cooking, and he has found, what is doubtless already well known, that in many homes the children live quite largely upon vegetables, white bread, and pastry and cakes of various kinds. Parents are ofttimes satisfied if their children eat a large amount of such things, thinking it is primarily the quantity, not the quality, which is to be considered in securing nutrition. As a consequence, those children that live largely upon a starchy diet are in a more or less constant state of brain exhaustion, and they will be liable to manifest all the evidences of fatigue which have been described in preceding paragraphs.

It happens frequently in the homes of the well-to-do, where the expense can have nothing to do with the matter, that the children are permitted to live almost wholly upon those foods which seem to delight the palate, as cookies and cakes in a variety of forms, but which contain relatively little nutrition, the principal ingredient being starch in the form of wheat flour. It is the practice often to begin in the early months of a child's life to feed it highly seasoned and sweet foods, thus establishing an appetite which later is not satisfied with the simple nourishing meats, grains, and milk. In the poorer homes, in our cities particularly, many are unwise in the expenditure of what money they can spare for food, purchasing mainly starchy foods, which, although of relatively little value anyway, are yet more suited for the adult engaged in out-of-door labor than for a child at mental work in school.[22] Usually in such homes children eat the same food that is prepared for the father of the family, whose labor involves only the use of his muscles, and greater thought is taken in providing for his needs than for those of the children. And then so slight attention has been given by most people to the subject of foods for human beings, although many intelligent men pride themselves in knowing what is best for their horses and cattle, that they do not discriminate between the relative values of different articles. For the most part our tables are thought to be abundantly provided for when they are supplied with a large quantity of food, even though this be of a non-nutritive character, considering the special needs of those who are to partake of it. The art of cookery, too, is so little developed among us that even when food has potentially nutritive value it is not infrequently destroyed in the process of preparation, or is rendered so invulnerable that the stomachs of the children are too feeble to have any effect upon it. Either or all of these conditions are sufficient to keep the brains of many children poorly nourished, and as a consequence such will show evidences of dullness and of the various temperamental disturbances which accompany a lack of proper nerve nutrition.[23]

That imperfect nutrition is the cause of much of that emotional estrangement in childhood which is called irritability, ugliness, viciousness, or something of that sort, has been satisfactorily evidenced to the writer as the result of a number of observations which he has been able to make upon young children. The following case is typical of many others: H——was a well-formed child at birth, and continued to develop normally during her first five months. Throughout this time she slept very well, and for the most part seemed happy and contented. The constant expression on her face showed healthy feeling, and she rarely made a disturbance. At about the fifth month a change seemed to gradually come over her. She did not sleep so well; the expression on her face showed less happiness and contentment, and by the sixth month she could be called an irritable and peevish child. She who had been previously an especially happy child did not now smile often; and the things which ordinarily attract children of that age seemed to be of little moment to her. Some member of the family was now kept busy much of the time endeavoring to soothe her troubled spirit. This state of affairs continued until about the eighth month, when it was decided to make a change in

the diet. She was given a food rich in materials to nourish the nervous system, and within a week it was observed by all who knew her that there was a marked improvement in her temperament. After two weeks of proper nourishment she had regained her former restfulness, sleeping peacefully a good portion of the time; and gradually the expressions of irritability and moodiness disappeared. Her face would now light up as formerly with pleasant smiles whenever any one she knew was about, and once more she appeared to every one as a very good-feeling, happy child. From that time on care was taken with her food, keeping it rich in albuminous elements, and her intellectual and emotional development was most satisfactory in every way. Some time after her diet was enriched it was learned definitely that the food she had been getting just previously was quite deficient in nutritive elements.

Brain fatigue in childhood, as physicians well know, is sometimes due to pathological conditions wherein the peculiar elements needed to nourish the brain are not assimilated from the food. X—— and Y—— are two children of the same family, who at the ages of five and seven respectively came under the writer's notice. They were then giving their parents a great deal of trouble. They were highly organized, irritable children, with whom no one seemed to get along pleasantly. While at home nothing was permanent in its interest for them, and discipline was a serious problem. When they began going to school matters grew worse. While apparently bright children, they did not make rapid progress, and always seemed utterly fatigued at the close of the day's work. When they reached home at night any little thing which crossed their paths would so greatly annoy them that they were much of the time in tears and passions. After every effort had been made by the parents to discover what was the matter, an analysis of the blood was finally decided upon, and it was found that it lacked the right proportion of elements to properly nourish the nervous system. A special diet was then begun, and other treatment resorted to to supply this deficiency. After seven months of this special care sleep had been largely restored, the tendency toward irritability had decreased, and the children could now remain in school all day without becoming unbalanced thereby. They were in reality quite different children keener—intellectually, and expressing more estimable traits of character.

Lately a group of similar cases has come to the notice of the writer. The members of a family for several generations have been afflicted with anæmia of the brain, and the children show easily all the evidences of cerebral fatigue. One girl of twelve is characterized by willfulness and carelessness, as her teachers say. She is an irresponsible child, acting upon every impulse without much regard to the outcome of her actions. This lack of inhibition or forethought or considerateness is characteristic of her intellectually as well as temperamentally. One day she may do fair work in school, and the next day fail utterly, being apparently attracted by everything but the work before her. She would pass in most schoolrooms as a stupid, willful pupil. A cousin, a boy of seven, has somewhat the same qualities. He fatigues more readily than other children of his age, and when in this condition he is impulsive, quarrelsome, and even vicious toward his companions. His attention wanders in school, and while bright in some ways, he has little power of continuous application to hard work. He is spoken of by his teachers as a "peculiar" child, a term so extensively used as a cloak for ignorance respecting the causes which make one child different from another.


Imperfect nutrition is not the only source of brain fatigue in childhood. When the energy of the cerebral cells is consumed too rapidly by overwork, worry, or intense excitement of any kind, the same unhappy effect is produced. One would not expect to find any of these brain-fatiguing conditions in the golden age of childhood, since one would think the struggle for existence with its terrific strain in our day might be left until later life, where doubtless it must be encountered by every individual. But while our children may not be troubled by the social and financial problems of daily life, yet in many homes and schools, especially in our cities, they are from the cradle up subjected to continual over-stimulation, which is as inimical to the right development and hygiene of the nervous system as the whirl of society or the crush of business. According to the American fashion in most households, infants of a few months as well as children of maturer years are permitted to be in the presence of the older members of the family much of the time. Guests always expect to see the baby, to hold it, and to stimulate it in all sorts of ways to see how prettily and intelligently it reacts. This practice would not be so objectionable if it were not that when the average adult has a little child in his arms he is always intense and restless in voice and actions. Few people seem to appreciate how such treatment taxes the nervous strength of an infant. But let an older person imagine what a strain it would be to have excited people about him constantly, tossing and patting him, and making all manner of facial and vocal demonstrations for his entertainment. How much more it must wear upon a child to whom these things are new and strange, all arousing the strongest emotions of fear, curiosity, or excitement, and thus draining the plastic, immature brain of its vitalities! In some homes it is quite the custom to allow a little babe to be freely handled by strangers of whom it is afraid; and then we wonder why in later life our children are the victims of a vast brood of fears which sap the energies and curtail the pleasures and usefulness of life in every direction.

It is not alone the trials of meeting strangers that are extremely fatiguing to young children, but the experiences with parents and other members of the family are often as exhausting. The young child, with its fresh, innocent ways, is not infrequently regarded as a plaything for the entertainment of its elders, and so is teased and tormented in all sorts of ways because its response is so novel and interesting. Of course, parents would not call such treatment teasing, but that is precisely what it amounts to from the child's standpoint. Just recently the writer was witness to a scene which is typical of much that may be observed in one's environment if he has an occasion to look for it. A little child disliked very greatly to have anything touch its nose, and would make the liveliest efforts to dispel whatever came in contact therewith. The sweet baby movements were naturally enough very amusing to an adult who did not see anything in them but fun for himself. Frequently some mature person who knew the child's characteristic in this regard would place a finger or other object near the delicate member to see the little one strive with arms, head, and body to drive it away. On one occasion a grown woman, whose years should have taught her better, was seen to tantalize the child for two or three minutes, finally throwing it into a state of fatigue. When it grew restless and began crying it was grabbed up, tossed and thrown about, and talked to in a loud voice. This violent stimulation overcame the child's impulse to cry for the moment, but had the effect to further fatigue it, which was shown later in continual crying until it fell asleep. If one will think of such things going on day after day throughout the early life of a child, the irritable, unbalanced, disagreeable children of one's acquaintance may be accounted for at least in part.

The writer has had opportunity to study with some care the effect which a lady with high-pitched, nervous voice and intense nervous face and manner, but otherwise of most estimable characteristics, had upon a little child, H——. Whenever she was near H—— she insisted upon taking her, and she thought the proper mode of entertainment was to shake and toss and pat her, and to make a great amount of noise and fuss over her. As a consequence, a half hour of such treatment was enough to fatigue H—— for a whole day, and her disposition at such times would be quite changed from a happy, good-natured child to one easily irritated and satisfied with none of her ordinary pleasures. A nervous, irritable parent will breed these qualities in bis children, because his personal contact will overstimulate them and they will be in a state of chronic fatigue. Such a parent will be apt to nag his children, to be constantly forbidding or commanding, and this arouses emotions which draw off the energies from the brain very rapidly. Antagonism is a breeder of nerve fatigue, and some children seem hardly ever to be free from it during waking hours.

Again, in many homes older children make the life of the smaller ones wretched much of the time. The writer knows a family where there are three children, the youngest about two years of age. The older ones seem to find no greater pleasure than to tease the babe on every opportunity, for she occasions them much merriment by her violent vocal and bodily expressions whenever she is tormented beyond endurance. One does not need to remain about this home long before seeing plainly that this child is being worried into an ugly disposition. Even at two years she has reached the point where she is intolerable much of the time, showing her unbalanced condition by flying into a passion over every little thing that occasions her displeasure. The attitude of the older children serves to keep her in a more or less constant state of fatigue, and the actions performed in this condition are rapidly forming habits, thus determining her character.

The evil effects of overstimulation are evident also in the attempts of parents and teachers to hasten as rapidly as possible the intellectual development of the children under their care. It has come to be regarded as desirable that a little child should begin hard work in school at five, and keep it up continuously until the college course is completed. Many think it creditable to a child to be precocious in his learning, and so he is encouraged to sit still and study instead of being spontaneously active in play milch of the time. He is subjected in school to the great strain of appearing before his elders in "speaking pieces," etc., all of which tends to overstimulate, and hence to fatigue easily and unnecessarily. There is in our midst a feeling that maturity ought to be reached as early as possible and by the shortest cuts, but science shows that excessive rapidity in development is secured at the expense of mental health and attainment of the highest ultimate ends.[24] It assures us that too early and rapid organization of the nervous system through undue stimulation or educative influence of any kind finally results in arrested growth. Precocity is usually succeeded by mediocrity, if by nothing worse.[25] It is significant that those races that are most precocious are ultimately the least intelligent and progressive,[26] more nearly resembling the lower orders of animal life, where the young possess at birth nearly all the powers they ever attain, and so are not educable to any great degree. It is to be feared that overstimulation in numerous ways of children in American homes and schools leads to early cessation of, and hence to an ultimately inferior, physical and mental development.

  1. For a detailed description of the method of making the study, with results, see Hodge, Some Effects of Electrically Stimulating Ganglion Cells. American Journal of Psychology, vol. ii, p. 3 et seq.
  2. The Growth of the Brain, p. 320.
  3. For detailed results of some of the most important of these researches, together with careful and complete descriptions in many cases of the methods of study employed, see the following: Cowles, Neurasthenia and its Mental Symptoms; Mercier, The Nervous System and the Mind; Donaldson, Growth of the Brain, pp. 277-323; Francis Galton, Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 1888, p. 153; Warner, Mental Faculty, p. 76; Dressier, Fatigue, Pedagogical Seminary, June, 1896; Kraeplin, A Measure of Mental Capacity, Popular Science Monthly, vol. xlix, p. 756; Sinclair, Schoolroom Fatigue, Educational Foundations, May and June, 1896; Bryan, The Development of Voluntary Motor Ability; Gilbert, Studies upon School Children in New Haven, in Studies from the Yale Psychological Laboratory, vol. ii.
  4. It will not be possible here to give a description of the apparatus employed, with illustrations and details respecting methods of use, but the reader, if interested, can obtain complete information relating to most of the apparatus by referring to Scripture, op. cit., as follows: For the apparatus used in testing rapidity of thought and action, see pp. 27-37; also pp. 43, 46, and 58. For the apparatus employed in testing the keenness of the senses, see pp. 101-112; also pp. 124, 135, 139, 141, and 170-173. For that employed in determining physical control, see pp. 67-74, 79, 80, 86, 87.
  5. The ability to perceive and judge of form is tested first by dividing a line of a given length, say three inches, into any desired number of equal parts; second, by marking off PSM V51 D667 Visual impression test 1.jpg on lines B C D a distance equal to that on A; third, by singling out and marking a certain form, as PSM V51 D667 Visual impression test 2.jpg mingled in with many more similar forms, as PSM V51 D667 Visual impression test 3.jpg This work requires considerable power of attention and discrimination.

    Retention and Reproduction of visual impressions is tested by having the pupil examine for about two minutes a card containing fifty pictures or words, each being accompanied by a number; then on a card containing ten pictures or words selected from the fifty the pupil is to set down the appropriate number opposite each, being allowed only a brief period for this—say one minute. To test the ability of identification the pupil examines for one minute a card with ten words or pictures, and then either immediately or some time after identifies and marks these in a group of fifty words or pictures.

  6. See Kraeplin, op. cit.
  7. Op. cit.
  8. Pedagogical Seminary, vol. iii, p. 213 et seq.
  9. Op. cit.
  10. Op. cit.
  11. Cf. Bryan. The Development of Voluntary Motor Ability. Proceedings of the Department of Superintendence of the N.E.A., 1897
  12. Cf. Warner, op.cit., p. 76.
  13. E.g., Beard, Cowles, Dresslar, op.cit.
  14. See Collin, Papers in Penology, 1891, pp. 27, 28; also Wey, in same, pp. 57-69; Wright, American Journal of Neurology and Psychiatry, vols, ii and iii, pp. 135 et seq.
  15. Donaldson, op. cit., p. 139
  16. Ibid., p. 59
  17. Eight Annual Report of the Massachusetts State Board of Health, p. 295.
  18. Cf. Herbert Spencer, Education, New York, 1884, pp. 226, 227.
  19. Outlines of Psychology, p. 15.
  20. Ibid., p.12
  21. Dietary Studies at the Maine State College in 1895, published by the United States Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No 37, pp. 11-1 7. See also Prof. Atwater's Analyses, published by the Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 23; and Meats: Composition and Cooking, Bulletin No. 34.
  22. Atwater (op. cit.) gives quite a number of dietaries showing how money may be spent to greatest advantage in poor homes. Atkinson, in his Science of Nutrition, pp. 11-65, Springfield, Mass., 1892, also discusses the subject quite fully. An attempt is made by both these authorities to state just what proportions of the different nutritive elements a child's dietary should contain at different ages, but the results are nothing more than suggestive, for children differ greatly in their needs. A highly organized, nervous child, working hard in school, requires much more nerve nutrition than one of a phlegmatic temperament who may be leading an easy life at home. Temperament is an important factor in this matter of nutrition. Spencer (op. cit.) has some excellent things to say along this line, pp. 214-235.
  23. Cf. Warner, op. cit., p. 81; Krohn, Child-Study Monthly, vol. i, No. 10, p. 565 Holmes, Transactions of the Illinois Society for Child-Study, vol. i, No. 1, p. 205.
  24. Cf. Spencer, op.cit., p. 262
  25. Cf. Porter. The Physical Basis of Precocity and Dullness. St. Louis, 1893.
  26. Cf. Christopher. Handbook of the Illinois Society for Child-Study, vol. ii, No, 2, pp. 109-114.