On Trapping Children in Refrigerators for Science, 1958

Success in escaping was dependent on the device, a child’s age and size and his behavior. It was also influenced by the educational level of the parents, a higher rate of success being associated with fewer years of education attained by mother and father combined. Three major types of behavior were observed: (1) inaction, with no effort or only slight effort to get out (24%); (2) purposeful effort to escape (39%); (3) violent action both directed toward escape and undirected (37%).

Some of the children made no outcry (6% of the 2-year-olds and 50% of the 5-year-olds). Not all children pushed. When tested with devices where pushing was appropriate, 61% used this technique. Some children had curious twisting and twining movements of the fingers or clenching of the hands. When presented with a gadget that could be grasped, some (18%) pulled, a few (9%) pushed, but 40% tried to turn it like a doorknob.

A follow-up study of 96 test subjects, 8 months after the tests, by interviews with the mothers showed very little obvious residual effect. Reversion to infantile behavior was not found. A number of children still talked about the tests, some with pleasure, a few with resentment. Mothers were not aware of more than ephemeral emotional upset in any of the children.

Reasons for the low level of anxiety engendered by the tests may lie in the precautions taken and in factors inherent in the situation; the parents were not involved in the incident, which enabled them to be calm and casual with the children.

Lots to learn here. [Thanks, Carrie!]