The Child in America

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Working in the Vienna hospitals, Hetzer and Tudor-Hart divided 126 children into 9 groups of 14 each, the first group containing children 3 days old and under, . . . and experimenting with sound stimuli, they observed the rate at which the child learns to separate out and give attention to the human voice among other sounds. All the children noticed all the sounds (striking a porcelain plate with a spoon, rattling a piece of paper, and the human voice) sometimes, but the reaction of the newborn to noises in the first weeks was far more positive than the reaction to the voice, even to loud conversation: 92 per cent of frequency to "ear-splitting" noises and 25 per cent to the excited voice. But in the third week the proportion was about the same, and in the fourth week the reaction was more frequent to the voice. Here we begin to see the behavior of the child humanized by the prominence and function of the mother or nurse in the situation. A process of conditioning has been going on—the human voice and feeding simultaneously. The voice has gained a significance over others sounds in the feeding complex, but at first the person speaking or the loudness or softness of the tone makes no difference. The voice has been associated with feeding, and angry tones have not yet been associated with punishment. The first specific reaction to the voice is a puckering of the lips, which appears in the third week. This is a presocial reaction, because it is not associated with any definite person, merely with a voice—a voice among other noises. The speaking person does not exist for the child. The voice stimulates the saliva reflex and if feeding does not follow the child will cry.

At this point the mother and child are associated in an intimacy. It is the first social relationship in the developmental history of the child, and it grows out of the hunger contractions and the mother’s response.1

A single association may in some cases be sufficient to produce a reflex reaction and condition the personality. In a certain experiment with odors all the subjects reacted pleasurably to the odor of roses with the exception of one youth, who showed fear. On investigation it was shown that he had been thrown from an automobile into a rose garden. In the same experiment cedar-wood oil caused one subject to visualize a pair of shoes seen in childhood, the association being by the way of shoe-polish, which, like cedar-wood oil, has a resinous smell. In another subject the smell of clove oil recalled a certain town where he had toothache, although he had not used clove oil on that occasion. The smell of vanillin reminded one subject of chocolate, another of his grandmother, and another of a few bars of Chopin’s music. Some of the women in this experiment showed anger at the smell of musk because it was identified with women whom they disliked.2

In everyday life a whiff of lavender may recall mother because she used this perfume, and the odor of tuberoses reminds us of death because they are used at funerals. The perfume called "frangipani" is prepared from a West Indies tree and was perhaps brought to America by negroes. At any rate it is their favorite perfume in the southern states. Consequently, the white woman of these localities shuns this perfume like the pest because its use would identify her with the negro. And the same is true of the other senses. If, for example, a youth has been robbed of his girl by a soldier the sight of a uniform will provoke anger and all men in uniform will be hateful.

1Thomas, W.I.n/an/an/an/a and DorothyS.n/an/an/an/an/a, , 560 (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. By permission).

2 Kenneth, J. H., "Mental Reactions to Smell Stimuh," Psychol. Rev., 30: 78 ff.

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Chicago: The Child in America in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . The Child in America, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , The Child in America. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from