Language development, anxiety and early socialization processes
Wait, Mary Eleanor
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PURPOSE OF THE STUDY.-- To test the hypothesis that poor language achievement in children of average to better intelligence and middle class background is attributable to basic anxiety. PROCESS EMPLOYED.-- To a group of fourth-grade children of such background and intelligence there were administered a language test (composed of the subtests Information and Vocabulary of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) and three projective tests (the Gilmore Sentence Completion Test, the Bellak Children's Apperception Test, and the Machover Draw-A-Person Test) for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of the relationship, if any, between their language achievement and the degree of basic anxiety manifested in their responses to the projective tests. The number of Freudian defense mechanisms expressed in their responses to the projective tests was designated as the index of anxiety. The defense mechanisms used were selected, defined, and a glossary for their interpretations set up only after consultations with a group of child psychiatrists and child psychologists in practice in the Boston area. Their consensus of opinion was that these defense mechanisms were the ones most likely to be employed by children in this age group. They consist of the following: denial, introjection-incorporation, projection, regression, reaction-formation, displacement, and isolation. The scores resulting from the language test were divided into a High and a Low Language Group. They were then correlated with the defense mechanisms scores obtained from each of the three projective tests and with the total defense mechanisms scores resulting from all three projective tests. FINDINGS.-- The correlation of the High and Low Language Groups, taken as one, revealed no significant relationship between poor language achievement and high anxiety but did indicate a trend in the opposite direction from the one that had been hypothesized. Analysis of the verbal responses revealed that Verbal Output was the deciding factor with regard to the number of defense mechanisms expressed. However, this phenomenon was not considered as negating the original hypothesis but rather as pointing to the possibility that anxiety not only inhibited language achievement but inhibited the expression of verbal defense mechanisms as well. The separate correlation of High and Low Language Group scores with defense mechanisms scores did indicate a trend towards the hypothesized direction but not to a significant degree. The correlation of the defense mechanisms expressed in the drawings for the Draw-A-Person Test likewise failed to establish the predicted inverse relationship between anxiety and language achievement. Here again, production automatically controlled the expression of defense mechanisms, thus bringing about a situation in which those subjects who did not complete their drawings earned the lowest defense mechanisms scores. INDICATIONS OF THE STUDY.-- (1) That a more sensitive language test is needed for the purpose of establishing sharper differentiations between language achievers as a preliminary basis for similar studies. (2) That the study of the types of language employed by the subjects might be more revealing of anxiety than the utilizing of defense mechanisms as indicators of anxiety. (3) That the limiting agent in the non-verbal projective test employed (the Machover Draw-A-Person Test) may have been the anxious individual's self image. This would suggest the need for devising ways of uncovering the self image and using it as one index of anxiety. (4) That there may be a significant relationship among the self image, the type of verbal output, the quantity of verbal output, and basic anxiety.
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