Alberta Engvall Siegel -- Graduate Study Years
Excerpts from an interview with Alberta E. Siegel (AES) by Lloyd Borstelmann (LB), at Stanford University on September 15th, 1992.

LB: Well then let's talk a little bit about your graduate years and what was most important about that time to you. And how did you get into, what was your dissertation research. And how did you get into that, and so forth?

AES: OK. Stanford in 1951, when I entered graduate school, was a good psychology department. The whole university had kind of run down during the war, and I suppose during the depression as well. And it was starting to build up again. And we had very fine graduate students and we had a very fine faculty. Dr. Stolz was teaching child psychology, Dr. Farnsworth was teaching the history of psychology, Quinn McNamar was teaching statistics and research methods, Edith Dowley was running the nursery school, which was out at Stanford Village [now SRI International].

Dr. Hilgard was teaching systems and also learning. And I had taken psych I from him in 1948. He was graduate dean for a while and may have been out of the department a little during my years. Don Taylor was still at Stanford, he subsequently went to Yale. Doug Lawrence was teaching learning perception. And then we had some marvelous visitors Alex ---- visited here for a while. Frances Orr was teaching child psychology, Maude James was still active at that time, and she taught mental testing and ran the clinic, Lee Winder, was active in clinical, Ken Little was at Stanford on the faculty in clinical. I'm sure I'm forgetting some people. But anyway it was a very fine group of people. Dr. Terman was still around and still coming to his office, but he was retired. And so one would see him. and one would see Malita Oden, but they weren't dealing with students as far as I know. And all of this was taking place in Cubberly Hall, which the psychology department shared with the school of education. And of course the school of education had it's own group of psychologists, including Art Colodarchi, who later became the Dean. As well as some very good other people.

LB: Stanford was apparently unusual in that respect, in that the people in education tended to be specialists from various areas like psychology. Am I right'

AES: Yes. And I think that's been even truer in subsequent years. I thought you were going to say unusual in the close relations between psychology and education which I think was also true. Cubberly who was the great figure in education was a good friend of Terman. And I believe Terman had his appointment initially in education. Terman took his Ph.D. with G. Stanley Hall and then went down to Southern California. for his health and was at the L.A. Normal School.

LB: L.A. Normal School.

AES: That's right. And then he got the call.

LB: A precursor of UCLA.

AES: Oh was it?

LB: Yes indeed.

AES: Oh, I didn't know that. Well then he got quote "The Call" to come to Stanford. And when he was, after he published his mental test in 1916, I'm now quoting from what I've read about him in recent years, he was asked to go into the psychology department. And he was asked to get active nationally in psychology. And he said, "Well I'm not a psychologist." And gradually moved into psychology in subsequent years. But he really thought of himself more as an educator.

LB: What about your peers, your fellow graduate students in those days? They were people who became of some imminence subsequently, that's Stanford's track record.

AES: Well we had some very good classmates. Of course the most important to me was. Sidney Siegel, who had entered graduate school at the same time I did, but was fifteen nears older than I was.

LB: So that's where you met"

AES: That's where we met. And he had been a high school teacher and he had been an engineer, .and so statistics was easy for him. And statistics was difficult for the rest of us, most of us. And so everyday....

LB: Particularly from Quinn McNamar.

AES: Particularly from Quinn McNamar. So every day McNamar would teach the graduate students from 8 to 9 in the morning at Cubberly Hall. And then from 9 to 10:30 we would all have coffee with Sid Siegel and he would teach us what McNamar had just taught us. And then some of us would have review sessions after that.

Bob Sears came to Stanford while I was a graduate student. So then I started working with him as well as with Lois. And I was thinking about that today on the way over. And I was -thinking how effortless that transition had seemed, between Lois Stolz running the child development program and then Bob coming. And how they seemed to have very good relations with each other. And the reason I keep saying seemed, as far as I know they did. And if they didn't I certainly never heard about it. But Bob came in psychology and his wife Pat came in the School of Education. And she had a lot of very tine students.

LB: Well all right. Now about your research as a grad student, your dissertation, what was it and how did you get into that?

AES:You know Bob was very interested in aggression.

LB: Yes he was.

AES: And got me interested in aggression. And Lois was very interested in child development and social policy. She had been one of the founders of the SRCD, and like so many of the founders then, they saw child development as linking the sciences to social policy for children.

LB: So this is the roots of your own involvement in child development and social policy.

AES: So when I said I wanted to do a dissertation on the affects of television on children, well that sounded good to Lois, because it was an important social issue, and it sounded good to Bob because it was a study on aggression.

LB: These are early TV days, as far as general, general exposure to TV.

AES: That's right. And basically there was no literature. The literature was the old 1930's literature, on the affects of movies on children. And there was some literature on the affects of radio on children. But there was no literature on the affects of television. In fact...

LB: Well television was so young at that point.

AES: Exactly. That's exactly right. And our field was so small, that we didn't have people just running around looking for every possible topic that anybody could think of But I was talking to Al Bandura last night at a party, and he was saying that when he did his studies of television which were published in 1961, let's say he did them in '59 or '58, he did not have a television monitor. The child was brought into a room and shown a screen and then behind the screen there was a movie projector and the movie projector was projecting onto the screen. And the child was told. this is television. But that was better than mine, I didn't even have that. I just showed children movies. And the title of my paper was, TheEffect of Violence .... I forget.... Violence on Television. I think. It wasn't, I'd have to look it up what the title was, but it wasn't television, it was movies that I was showing. And I mean, we didn't have it sorted out in our heads as to...

LB: Most intellectuals didn't even have sets at that time. You know.

AES: And this is always cited as you know, the first study or one of the first studies of the effects of television. And I did it at Penn State in 1954 '55. By then I had married Sid, and he had gone on the faculty at Penn State and I went back there as a Pre Doc. Ray Carpenter, who was the head of the psychology department gave me a fellowship. He had a, oh what was it called, he had a media research center, I can't remember, instructional something, anyway he gave me a fellowship. And I used that year to do my dissertation. And I would take two children from the nursery school at Penn State and walk them over to the psychology clinic, which had given me a one-way vision room. The nursery school at Penn State, at that time, was not very research oriented. And they did not have one-way reviewing research facilities. So I would walk the children to the psychology clinic. And I had a friend there working with me named Ellen Tessman who was a graduate student. And the children would come in and sit down, and watch these films. Which were either aggressive content or neutral content. And then Ellen and I would observe their play from behind the one-way screen. And she was the key observer; because she didn't know which film they had seen.And I kind of backed her up because I did know. And then afterwards I would retrieve the children and take them back. And then the same children would come the following week and see the other film, in a counter-balance design.

Bob Bernreuter was the head of the psychology clinic, and one day I came schlepping in with these two little children. And first I take off my coat, and my scarf and my fur hat and my fur boots, and then I took off the children's mufflers, and their boots and their jackets and all that. And Bob Bernreuter was standing there with a visitor and he said, "Now, if you want to see an example of real dedication, you just have to watch Mrs. Siegel Every day she comes in here and she has these two little children and they are all bundled up," and so forth and so on. And he went through this whole account of what I was doing. I didn't even know that he knew who I was. But it was true, it was very inconvenient. And the other thing was, the film, the so called aggressive film, had to be approved by the chairman of the child development department, who ran the nursery school. And she wasn't going to approve any film that was very aggressive. Because she already knew that aggressive films weren't good for children, you see. And so it was what you might call, kind of a weak treatment, it was a Woody Woodpecker. And at the time I remember, --- and I went to New York, and we were trying to find really aggressive materials. And we were invited to the office of the censor, the New York State censor. And he showed us this stuff that he had clipped out of movies before they could be shown in New York. Just stuff that was just on the floor in the editing room. There was no way you would have ever shown that stuff to children. He was really taking some bad stuff out of films at that time. And of course he has since, his function has since vanished at the state level. And I wouldn't have ever proposed to show some of that stuff to children, but I might have shown something a little more .... you know what children see in prime time television now is so much worse than what I was allowed to show them.

In any event, that was way I got my dissertation done. And it was done, so called, in abstentia. And the people at Stanford were very good about reading my manuscript and getting it back to me. And you have this idea that if a student leaves, they'll never finish their degree. And of course, I was determined to finish, and I did. I actually, I think I was 23 years old, when I finished my Ph.D. I'm not sure, no 24. I was born in 1931 and this was 1955. So anyway they were determined to get me done, and I was determined to get done. So I did this study which was basically inconclusive. And then I got a fellowship from the American Association of University Women, the following year. And did another study in which I did get some findings, about quote "the effects of television on children", only this time it was real.

LB: It was real?

AES: So my two studies on the effects of television on children are, one a study of films and two a study of real TV.

LB: But you got some results to the affect that?

AES: Well the particular study that I did that time had to do with the portrayal of occupations in the media. And I had the notion that if an occupation were something that were familiar to a child, his expectations of people in that occupation would be based on his own familiarity. But if an occupation was something that the child had never had any exposure to, and then you asked him, you know, what are people like that do that kind of work'? What he would answer, would be what he had learned from the media. And so I wrote a script about a taxi driver. Because we didn't have taxi drivers in our little town [State College, PA]. And then these radio dramas were played in school for first or second graders. gosh I haven't looked at this study for so long I'm not sure I can tell you, but I think I had an aggressive version and a neutral version. And then the children were asked about what are people like in different occupations. And one of the occupations in there was taxi drivers. And it turned out that the children who had heard the aggressive versions, on these radio shows, thought that taxi drivers were aggressive. And the people who had heard the other version didn't. That's my memory of that study, but anyway I published that one. And that's the total work that I ever did on television and social behavior.

LB: Well it was, well it relates to your roots here with Lois, of child development and social policy, and it's implications for that.

AES: That's right. And then, of course, Al Bandura did the work that really opened up the field a couple of years later. His papers were published in 1961. And mine came out in, I don't know, '56 and '57 or something like that. So he did the real work.

Well you know we were talking about children doing darling things, when I was at Stanford I did my masters degree with Lois and she had a big study going, The fathers relations with new born children, in which she compared children whose fathers had not gone away to the war, and they were mostly men who were in defense research at Stanford, she compared those children with children whose father had been in the service. And she'd gotten interested in that topic because when she taught child psychology at Stanford in 1946, where these GI's were flooding into her class, and talking about, would then come to her office and talk about their problems with their children. But anyway I remember one child who had not been separated, but her father was in road work. And I remember watching her through the one-way vision screen out at the old Stanford Village Nursery School, which was probably where your child was enrolled. And it was a doll play situation and this child arranged the child play so that there was the Daddy and the Mom and there were the two little girls, and then she started the play by saying Daddy has to go to Washington, and then she would go FrummmmmFrummmmFrummmmm. And Daddy would fly off to Washington. And then Mommy and the two girls would cook and sew and do the laundry and do all this home stuff and the girls would go off to nursery school. And then at the very end of the play. when the person who was collecting the data said. you know, it's time to stop, then Daddy would come back from Washington, you know, FrummmmFrummmmFrummmm. And I often wanted to tell, I know that family, and I've often wanted to tell them that story, because it's so darling.