The Payne Fund Studies

The Payne Fund studies were developed by the Motion Picture Research Council, which was working on the development of a national policy concerning motion pictures, especially concerning children. Motion Pictures and Youth is the first in a series of thirteen writings that share the findings of the research done concerning the influence of movies on children. This particular study was set up to discover the effect in five areas: information, attitudes, emotions, health, and conduct.

This part of the study tested how much children will retain of what they see in movies. They found that 8 year olds will catch three out of every five things that the parents see. (Charters, 8) This means, for example, that if there are 20 murder scenes, then the child will remember 12 of them. The next thing that they learned was that the 8 year old will remember 90% of what they saw in the movie six weeks after they saw it, and three months later, they still remember the same amount. The last thing that was observed was that children of all ages tend to accept as true the things that they see in movies. In addition, the scenes that children remember the most from a movie are action scenes, especially when it deals with sports, general conversation, crime, and fighting. The evidence that was found in this part of the study makes it clear that children do pick up a lot of information from the movies that they see and will remember the scenes for a long time. Because of this, being exposed to the kind of information that is shown in a rated R film will be unhealthy for the child.

Developing attitudes
This part of the study attempted to relate movie watching to attitude formation. The following was found to be true about the movie watchers: had lower conduct grades, did poorer school work, rated lower in reputation by their teachers, rated lower by their classmates, were less cooperative, were more deceptive, were less skillful in judging right from wrong, and were slightly less emotionally stable. (Charters, 12) Charters did not think that it was fair to accuse movies as being solely responsible for anti-social conduct and delinquency of children because although movies do have an influence, it is one of many in a child's life. Charter's also said, "That movies exert an influence there can be no doubt. But it is our opinion that this influence is specific for a given child and a given movie." (Charters, 16) It is possible that one child could go to a rated R movie and there be no effects, but it seems that there is more of a chance that there would be some kind of effect and parents should not take the chance. Charters felt that the most important thing learned in this study is the establishment of the fact that the attitude of children toward a social value can be measurably changed by one exposure to a picture.

Stimulating emotions
The results of this study were obtained through observation and testing of emotional responses to the movie being watched. The study pointed out that a parent who is sitting next to his quiet child cannot always infer that inside the child is not being affected by what is being seen on the screen. Just because a child is not vocally responding negatively to what is being seen, it does not mean that the child is not bothered by it. The study shows that scenes of danger, conflict, or tragedy produce the greatest effect on children from ages 6 to 12 years. The adults had the lowest score of effect because of their "consciousness of the unreality of the scenes, the quality of the acting, or their ability to forecast what is going to happen". (Charters, 26)
It was also found that while erotic scenes did not have that much of an effect on children from ages 6 to 12, the effect grew steadily stronger and peaked at age 16. Of the 237 children in the fourth grade that were asked if they had ever been frightened by a movie, 93 per cent answered yes. It was reported that, "The manifestations of a child seeing a scene with fright, horror, or agony ranged from shielding the eyes, to nightmares, to even shock." (Charters, 29) It was also observed that for some individuals fear or fright becomes fixed and lasts for a long time. Again, this study showed that children are emotionally affected by what they see on the screen, which should be a sign to parents to be more careful about what they allow their kids to see.
This point was also supported by another Payne Fund Study which clearly showed that physiological effects did occur when children viewed movies that may not have been good for them. The evidence for this was the attitudes that formed and existed after they grew older. (Dysinger, 119)

Affecting Sleep
The study also included a section about how children's sleep is affected when they see a movie that day. The study showed that when a child goes to a movie, it is as disturbing to sleep patterns as sitting up until midnight, or having two cups of coffee. Based on the research, "Thus it appears that movies selected unwisely and indulged in intemperately will have a detrimental effect upon the health of children." (Charters, 35)

Influencing Conduct
The last section of the study was on overall conduct of the children. They found that in studying two thousand children, one of the major influencers of the patterns of play, are films. The pretend worlds that children create often include people or places that they have experienced in a movie. Charters shared that parents who know what is being shown in the theaters must be careful and see that their children are viewing good pictures and are being defended from bad ones. They also felt that "an obligation rests upon those producers who love children to find a way of making the motion picture a beautiful, fascinating, and kindly servant of childhood." (Charters, 43)

Created by Wendy Simons
Last updated December 3, 1998
Email:Wendy Simons