Giving Definitions Superior To Use

PROCEDURE. The words for this year are _balloon_, _tiger_, _football_,

and _soldier_. Ask simply: "_What is a balloon?_" etc.

If it appears that any of the words are not familiar to the child,

substitution may be made from the following: _automobile_,

_battle-ship_, _potato_, _store_.

Make no comments on the responses until all the words have been given.

In case of silence or hesitation in a
swering, the question may be

repeated with a little encouragement; but supplementary questions are

never in order. Ordinarily there is no difficulty in securing a response

to the definition test of this year. The trouble comes in scoring the


SCORING. The test is passed if two of the four words are defined in

terms superior to use. "Superior to use" includes chiefly: (a)

Definitions which describe the object or tell something of its nature

(form, size, color, appearance, etc.); (b) definitions which give the

substance or the materials or parts composing it; and (c) those which

tell what class the object belongs to or what relation it bears to

other classes of objects.

It is possible to distinguish different grades of definitions in each of

the above classes. A definition by description (type _a_) may be brief

and partial, mentioning only one or two qualities or characteristics, or

it may be relatively rich and complete. Likewise with definitions of

type _b_. Classificatory definitions (type _c_) are of particularly

uneven value, the lowest order being those which subsume the object to

be defined under a remote class and give few if any characteristics to

distinguish it from other members of the same class; as, for example, "A

football is a thing you can have fun with," or, "A soldier is a person."

The best classificatory definitions are those which subsume the object

under the next higher class and give the more essential traits (perhaps

a number of them) which distinguish the object from others of the class

named; as, for example, "A tiger is a large animal like a cat; it lives

in the jungle and eats men and other animals," or, "A soldier is a man

who goes to war." These shades of distinction give interesting and

valuable clues to the maturity and richness of the apperceptive

processes, but for purposes of scoring it is necessary merely to decide

whether the definition is given in terms superior to use.

The following are samples of satisfactory definitions, those for each

word being arranged roughly in the order of their value from excellent

to barely passing:--

(a) _Balloon_

_Satisfactory._ "A balloon is a means of traveling through the

air." "It is a kind of airship, made of cloth and filled with

air so it can go up." "It is big and made of cloth. It has gas

in it and carries people up in a basket that's fastened on to

the bottom." "It is a thing you hold by a string and it goes

up." "It is like a big bag with air in it." "It is a big thing

that goes up."

_Unsatisfactory._ "To go up in the air." "What you go up in."

"When you go up." "They go up in it." "It's full of gas." "To

carry you up." "A balloon is a balloon," etc. "It is big." "They

go up," etc.

(b) _Tiger_

_Satisfactory._ "It is a wild animal of the cat family." "It is

an animal that's a cousin to the lion." "It is an animal that

lives in the jungle." "It is a wild animal." "It looks like a

big cat." "It lives in the woods and eats flesh." "Something

that eats people."

_Unsatisfactory._ "To eat you up." "To kill people." "To travel

in the circus." "What eats people." "It is a tiger," etc. "You

run from it," etc.

(c) _Football_

_Satisfactory._ "It is a leather bag filled with air and made

for kicking." "It is a ball you kick." "It is a thing you play

with." "It is made of leather and is stuffed with air." "It is a

thing you kick." "It is brown and filled with air." "It is a

thing shaped like a watermelon."

_Unsatisfactory._ "To kick." "To play with." "What they play

with." "Boys play with it." "It's filled with air." "It is a

football." "It is a basket ball." "It is round." "You kick it."

(d) _Soldier_

_Satisfactory._ "A man who goes to war." "A brave man." "A man

that walks up and down and carries a gun." "It is a man who

minds his captain and stands still and walks straight." "It is a

man who goes to war and shoots." "It is a man who stands

straight and marches."

_Unsatisfactory._ "To shoot." "To go to war." "It is a soldier."

"A soldier that marches." "He fights." "He shoots." "What

fights," etc. "When you march and shoot."

Silence accounts for only a small proportion of the failures with

children of 8, 9, and 10 years.

REMARKS. The "use definitions" sometimes given at this age are usually

of slightly better quality than those given in year V. Younger children

more often use the infinitive form, "to play with" (doll), "to drive"

(horse), "to eat on" (table), etc. Use definitions of this year more

often begin with "they," or "what"; as, "they go up in it" (balloon),

"they kick it" (football), etc.

Why, it may be asked, is the use definition regarded as inferior to the

descriptive or the classificatory definition? Is not the use to which an

object may be put the most essential thing about it, for the child at

least? Is it not more important to know that a fork is to eat with than

to be able to name the material it is made of? Is not the use primary

and does it not determine most of the physical characteristics of the


The above questions may sound reasonable, but they are based on poor

psychology. We must rest our case upon the facts. The first lesson which

the student of child psychology must learn is that it is unsafe to set

up criteria of intelligence, of maturity, or of any other mental trait

on the basis of theoretical considerations. Experiment teaches that

normal children of 5 or 6 years, also older feeble-minded persons of the

5-year intelligence level, define objects in terms of use; also that

normal children of 8 or 9 years and older feeble-minded persons of this

mental level have for the most part developed beyond the stage of use

definitions into the descriptive or classificatory stage. An ounce of

fact is worth a ton of theory.

The test has usually been located in year IX, with the requirement of

three successes out of five trials and with somewhat more rigid scoring

of the individual definitions. When only two successes are required in

four trials, and when scored leniently, the test belongs at the 8-year