Interpretation Of Fables (score 4)

The following fables are used:--

(a) _Hercules and the Wagoner_

_A man was driving along a country road, when the wheels

suddenly sank in a deep rut. The man did nothing but look at the

wagon and call loudly to Hercules to come and help him. Hercules

came up, looked at the man, and said: "Put your shoulder to the

wheel, my man, and whip up your oxen." Then he went away an

left the driver._

(b) _The Milkmaid and her Plans_

_A milkmaid was carrying her pail of milk on her head, and was

thinking to herself thus: "The money for this milk will buy

4 hens; the hens will lay at least 100 eggs; the eggs will

produce at least 75 chicks; and with the money which the chicks

will bring I can buy a new dress to wear instead of the ragged

one I have on." At this moment she looked down at herself,

trying to think how she would look in her new dress; but as she

did so the pail of milk slipped from her head and dashed upon

the ground. Thus all her imaginary schemes perished in a moment._

(c) _The Fox and the Crow_

_A crow, having stolen a bit of meat, perched in a tree and held

it in her beak. A fox, seeing her, wished to secure the meat,

and spoke to the crow thus: "How handsome you are! and I have

heard that the beauty of your voice is equal to that of your

form and feathers. Will you not sing for me, so that I may judge

whether this is true?" The crow was so pleased that she opened

her mouth to sing and dropped the meat, which the fox

immediately ate._

(d) _The Farmer and the Stork_

_A farmer set some traps to catch cranes which had been eating

his seed. With them he caught a stork. The stork, which had not

really been stealing, begged the farmer to spare his life,

saying that he was a bird of excellent character, that he was

not at all like the cranes, and that the farmer should have pity

on him. But the farmer said: "I have caught you with these

robbers, and you will have to die with them."_

(e) _The Miller, His Son, and the Donkey_

_A miller and his son were driving their donkey to a neighboring

town to sell him. They had not gone far when a child saw them

and cried out: "What fools those fellows are to be trudging

along on foot when one of them might be riding." The old man,

hearing this, made his son get on the donkey, while he himself

walked. Soon, they came upon some men. "Look," said one of them,

"see that lazy boy riding while his old father has to walk." On

hearing this, the miller made his son get off, and he climbed on

the donkey himself. Farther on they met a company of women, who

shouted out: "Why, you lazy old fellow, to ride along so

comfortably while your poor boy there can hardly keep pace by

the side of you!" And so the good-natured miller took his boy up

behind him and both of them rode. As they came to the town a

citizen said to them, "Why, you cruel fellows! You two are

better able to carry the poor little donkey than he is to carry

you." "Very well," said the miller, "we will try." So both of

them jumped to the ground, got some ropes, tied the donkey's

legs to a pole and tried to carry him. But as they crossed the

bridge the donkey became frightened, kicked loose and fell into

the stream._

PROCEDURE. Present the fables in the order in which they are given

above. The method is to say to the subject:

"_You know what a fable is? You have heard fables?_" Whatever the

answer, proceed to explain a fable as follows: "_A fable, you know, is a

little story, and is meant to teach us a lesson. Now, I am going to read

a fable to you. Listen carefully, and when I am through I will ask you

to tell me what lesson the fable teaches us. Ready; listen._" After

reading the fable, say: "_What lesson does that teach us?_" Record the

response _verbatim_ and proceed with the next as follows: "_Here is

another. Listen again and tell me what lesson this fable teaches us_,"


As far as possible, avoid comment or commendation until all the fables

have been given. If the first answer is of an inferior type and we

express too much satisfaction with it, we thereby encourage the

subject to continue in his error. On the other hand, never express

dissatisfaction with a response, however absurd or _malapropos_ it may

be. Many subjects are anxious to know how well they are doing and

continually ask, "Did I get that one right?" It is sufficient to say,

"You are getting along nicely," or something to that effect. Offer no

comments, suggestions, or questions which might put the subject on the

right track. This much self-control is necessary if we would make the

conditions of the test uniform for all subjects.

The only occasion when a supplementary question is permissible is in

case of a response whose meaning is not clear. Even then we must be

cautious and restrict ourselves to some such question as, "_What do you

mean?_" or, "_Explain; I don't quite understand what you mean_." The

scoring of fables is somewhat difficult at best, and this additional

question is often sufficient to place the response very definitely in

the right or wrong column.

SCORING. Give score 2, i.e., 2 points, for a correct answer, and 1 for

an answer which deserves half credit. The test is passed in year XII

_if 4 points are earned_; that is, if two responses are correct or if

one is correct and two deserve half credit.

Score 2 means that the fable has been correctly interpreted and that the

lesson it teaches has been stated in general terms.

There are two types of response which may be given half credit. They

include (1) the interpretations which are stated in general terms and

are fairly plausible, but are not exactly correct; and (2) those which

are perfectly correct as to substance, but are not generalized.

We overlook ordinary faults of expression and regard merely the

essential meaning of the response.

The only way to explain the method is by giving copious illustrations.

If the following sample responses are carefully studied, a reasonable

degree of expertness in scoring fables may be acquired with only a

limited amount of actual practice. The sampling may appear to the reader

needlessly prolix, but experience has taught us that in giving

directions for the scoring of tests error always lies on the side of

taking too much for granted.

(a) _Hercules and the Wagoner_

_Full credit; score 2._ "God helps those who help themselves."

"Do not depend on others." "Help yourself before calling for

help." "It teaches that we should rely upon ourselves."

The following are not quite so good, but are nevertheless

considered satisfactory. "We should always try, even if it looks

hard and we think we can't do it." "When in trouble try to get

out of it yourself." "We've got to do things without help." "Not

to be lazy."

_Half credit; score 1._ This is most often given for the

response which contains the correct idea, but states it in terms

of the concrete situation, e.g.: "The man ought to have tried

himself first." "Hercules wanted to teach the man to help

himself." "The driver was too much inclined to depend on

others." "The man was too lazy. He should not have called for

help until he had tried to get out by himself." "To get out and

try instead of watching."

_Unsatisfactory; score 0._ Failures are mainly of five

varieties: (1) generalized interpretations which entirely miss

the point; (2) crude interpretations which not only miss the

point, but are also stated in terms of the concrete situation;

(3) irrelevant or incoherent remarks; (4) efforts to repeat the

story; and (5) inability to respond.

Sample failures of type (1), entirely incorrect generalizations:

"Teaches us to look where we are going." "Not to ask for

anything when there is no one to help." "To help those who are

in trouble." "Teaches us to be polite." "How to help others."

"Not to be cruel to horses." "Always to do what people tell you"

(or "obey orders," etc.). "Not to be foolish" (or stupid, etc.).

"If you would have a thing well done, do it yourself."

Failures of type (2), crude interpretations stated in concrete

terms: "How to get out of the mud." "Not to get stuck in the

mud." "To carry a stick along to pry yourself out if you get

into a mud-hole." "To help any one who is stuck in the mud."

"Taught Hercules to help the horses along and not whip them too

hard." "Not to be mean like Hercules."

Failures of type (3), irrelevant responses: "It was foolish not

to thank him." "He should have helped the driver." "Hercules was

mean." "If any one helps himself the horses will try." "The

driver should have done what Hercules told him." "He wanted the

man to help the oxen."

Type (4): Efforts to repeat the story.

Type (5): Inability to respond.

(b) _The Maid and the Eggs_

_Full credit; score 2._ "Teaches us not to build air-castles."

"Don't count your chickens before they are hatched." "Not to

plan too far ahead." Slightly inferior, but still acceptable:

"Never make too many plans." "Don't count on the second thing

till you have done the first."

_Half credit; score 1._ "It teaches us not to have our minds on

the future when we carry milk on the head." "She was building

air-castles and so lost her milk." "She was planning too far


The responses just given are examples of fairly correct

interpretations in non-generalized terms. The following are

examples of generalized interpretations which fall below the

accuracy required for full credit: "Never make plans." "Not to

be too proud." "To keep our mind on what we are doing." "Don't

cross a bridge till you come to it." "Don't count your _eggs_

before they are hatched." "Not to be wanting things; learn to

wait." "Not to imagine; go ahead and do it."

_Unsatisfactory; score 0._ Type (1), entirely incorrect

generalization: "That money does not buy everything." "Not to be

greedy." "Not to be selfish." "Not to waste things." "Not to

take risks like that." "Not to think about clothes." "Count your

chickens before they are hatched."

Type (2), very crude interpretations stated in concrete terms:

"Not to carry milk on the head." "Teaches her to watch and not

throw down her head." "To carry her head straight." "Not to

spill milk." "To keep your chickens and you will make more


Type (3), irrelevant responses: "She wanted the money." "Teaches

us to read and write" (18-year-old of 8-year intelligence).

"About a girl who was selling some milk."

Type (4), effort to repeat the story.

Type (5), inability to respond.

(c) _The Fox and the Crow_

_Full credit; score 2._ "Teaches us not to listen to flattery."

"Don't let yourself be flattered." "It is not safe to believe

people who flatter us." "We had better look out for people who

brag on us."

_Half credit; score 1._ Correct idea in concrete terms: "The

crow was so proud of herself that she lost all she had." "The

crow listened to flattery and got left." "Not to be proud and

let people think you can sing when you can't." "If anybody

brags on you don't sing or do what he tells you."

Pertinent but somewhat inferior generalizations: "Not to be too

proud." "Pride goes before a fall." "To be on our guard against

people who are our enemies." "Not to do everything people tell

you." "Don't trust every slick fellow you meet."

_Unsatisfactory; score 0._ Type (1), incorrect generalization:

"Not to go with people you don't know." "Not to be selfish." "To

share your food." "Look before you leap." "Not to listen to

evil." "Not to steal." "Teaches honesty." "Not to covet." "Think

for yourself." "Teaches wisdom." "Never listen to advice."

"Never let any one get ahead of you." "To figure out what they

are going to do." "Never try to do two things at once." "How to

get what you want."

Type (2), very crude interpretation stated in terms of the

concrete situation: "Not to sing before you eat." "Not to hold a

thing in your mouth; eat it." "To eat a thing before you think

of your beauty." "To swallow it before you sing." "To be on your

watch when you have food in your mouth."

Type (3), irrelevant responses: "The fox was greedy." "The fox

was slicker than what the crow was." "The crow ought not to have

opened her mouth." "The crow should just have shaken her head."

"It served the crow right for stealing the meat." "The fox

wanted the meat and just told the crow that to get it."

"Foolishness." "Guess that's where the old fox got his

name--'Old Foxy'--Don't teach us anything."

Type (4), efforts to repeat the story.

Type (5), inability to respond.

(d) _The Farmer and the Stork_

_Full credit; score 2._ "You are judged by the company you

keep." "Teaches us to keep out of bad company." "Birds of a

feather flock together." "If you go with bad people you are

counted like them." "We should choose our friends carefully."

"Don't go with bad people." "Teaches us to avoid the appearance

of evil."

_Half credit; score 1._ "The stork should not have been with the

cranes." "Teaches him not to go with robbers." "Don't go with

people who are not of your nation." "Not to follow others."

_Unsatisfactory; score 0._ Type (1), incorrect generalization:

"Not to steal." "Not to tell lies." "Not to give excuses." "A

poor excuse is better than none." "Not to trust what people

say." "Not to listen to excuses." "Not to harm animals that do

no harm." "To have pity on others." "Not to be cruel." "To be

kind to birds." "Not to blame people for what they don't do."

"Teaches that those who do good often suffer for those who do

evil." "To tend to your own business." "Not to meddle with other

people's things." "Not to trespass on people's property." "Not

to think you are so nice." "To keep out of mischief."

Type (2), very crude interpretations in concrete terms: "Taught

the stork to look where it stepped and not walk into a trap."

"Taught the stork to keep out of the man's field." "Not to take

the seeds."

Type (3), irrelevant responses: "The farmer was right; storks do

eat grain." "Served the stork right, he was stealing too." "He

should try to help the stork out of the field."

Type (4), efforts to repeat the story.

Type (5), inability to reply.

(e) _The Miller, His Son, and the Donkey_

_Full credit; score 2._ "When you try to please everybody you

please nobody." "Don't listen to everybody; you can't please

them all." "Don't take every one's advice." "Don't try to do

what everybody tells you." "Use your own judgment." "Have a mind

of your own." "Make up your mind and stick to it." "Don't be

wishy-washy." "Have confidence in your own opinions."

_Half credit; score 1._ Interpretations which are generalized

but somewhat inferior: "Never take any one's advice" (too

sweeping a conclusion). "Don't take foolish advice." "Take your

own advice." "It teaches us that people don't always agree."

Correct idea but not generalized: "They were fools to listen to

everybody." "They should have walked or rode just as they

thought best, without listening to other people."

_Unsatisfactory; score 0._ Type (1), incorrect generalization:

"To do right." "To do what people tell you." "To be kind to old

people." "To be polite." "To serve others." "Not to be cruel to

animals." "To have sympathy for beasts of burden." "To be

good-natured." "Not to load things on animals that are small."

"That it is always better to leave things as they are." "That

men were not made for beasts of burden."

Type (2), very crude interpretations stated in concrete terms:

"Not to try to carry the donkey." "That walking is better than

riding." "The people should have been more polite to the old

man." "That the father should be allowed to ride."

Type (3), irrelevant responses: "The men were too heavy for the

donkey." "They ought to have stayed on and they would not have

fallen into the stream." "It teaches about a man and he lost his


Type (4), efforts to repeat the story.

Type (5), inability to respond.

REMARKS. The fable test, or the "test of generalization," as it may

aptly be named, was used by the writer in a study of the intellectual

processes of bright and dull boys in 1905, and was further

standardized by the writer and Mr. Childs in 1911. It has proved its

worth in a number of investigations. It has been necessary, however, to

simplify the rather elaborate method of scoring which was proposed in

1911, not because of any logical fault of the method, but because of the

difficulty in teaching examiners to use the system correctly. The method

explained above is somewhat coarser, but it has the advantage of being

much easier to learn.

The generalization test presents for interpretation situations which are

closely paralleled in the everyday social experience of human beings. It

tests the subject's ability to understand motives underlying acts or

attitudes. It gives a clue to the status of the social consciousness.

This is highly important in the diagnosis of the upper range of mental

defectiveness. The criterion of the subnormal's fitness for life outside

an institution is his ability to understand social relations and to

adjust himself to them. Failure of a subnormal to meet this criterion

may lead him to break common conventions, and to appear disrespectful,

sulky, stubborn, or in some other way queer and exceptional. He is

likely to be misunderstood, because he so easily misunderstands others.

The skein of human motives is too complex for his limited intelligence

to untangle.

Ethnological studies have shown in an interesting way the social origin

of the moral judgment. The rectitude of the moral life, therefore,

depends on the accuracy of the social judgment. It would be interesting

to know what proportion of offenders have transgressed moral codes

because of continued failure to grasp the essential lessons presented

by human situations.

For the intelligent child even the common incidents of life carry an

endless succession of lessons in right conduct. On the average school

playground not an hour passes without some happening which is fraught

with a moral hint to those who have intelligence enough to generalize

the situation. A boy plays unfairly and is barred from the game. One

bullies his weaker companion and arouses the anger and scorn of all his

fellows. Another vents his braggadocio and feels at once the withering

scorn of those who listen. Laziness, selfishness, meanness, dishonesty,

ingratitude, inconstancy, inordinate pride, and the countless other

faults all have their social penalties. The child of normal intelligence

sees the point, draws the appropriate lesson and (provided emotions and

will are also normal) applies it more or less effectively as a guide to

his own conduct. To the feeble-minded child, all but lacking in the

power of abstraction and generalization, the situation conveys no such

lesson. It is but a muddle of concrete events without general

significance; or even if its meaning is vaguely apprehended, the powers

of inhibition are insufficient to guarantee that right action will


It is for this reason that the generalization test is so valuable in the

mental examinations of delinquents. It presents a moral situation,

imagined, to be sure, but none the less real to the individual of normal

comprehension. It tells us quickly whether the subject tested is able to

see beyond the incidents of the given situation and to grasp their wider

relations--whether he is able to generalize the concrete.

The following responses made by feeble-minded delinquents from

16 to 21 years of age demonstrate sufficiently their inability to

comprehend the moral situation:--

_Hercules and the Wagoner._ "Teaches you to look where you are

going." "Not to help any one who is stuck in the mud." "Not to

whip oxen." "Teaches that Hercules was mean." "Teaches us to

carry a stick along to pry the wheels out."

_The Fox and the Crow._ "Not to sing when eating." "To keep away

from strangers." "To swallow it before you sing." "Not to be

stingy." "Not to listen to evil." "The fox was wiser than the

crow." "Not to be selfish with food." "Not to do two things at

once." "To hang on to what you've got."

_The Farmer and the Stork._ "Teaches the stork to look where he

steps." "Not to be cruel like the farmer." "Not to tell lies."

"Not to butt into other people's things." "To be kind to birds."

"Teaches us how to get rid of troublesome people." "Never go

with anything else."

The following are the responses of an 18-year-old delinquent

(intelligence level 10 years) to the five fables:--

_Maid and Eggs._ "She was thinking about getting the dress and

spilled the milk. Teaches selfishness."

_Hercules and the Wagoner._ "He wanted to help the oxen out."

_Fox and Crow._ "Guess that's where the fox got his name--'Old

Foxy.' Don't teach us anything."

_Farmer and Stork._ "Try and help the stork out of the field."

_Miller, Son, and Donkey._ "They was all big fools and mean to

the donkey."

One does not require very profound psychological insight to see that a

person of this degree of comprehension is not promising material for

moral education. His weakness in the ability to generalize a moral

situation is not due to lack of instruction, but is inherent in the

nature of his mental processes, all of which have the infantile quality

of average 9- or 10-year intelligence. Well-instructed normal children

of 10 years ordinarily succeed no better. The ability to draw the

correct lesson from a social situation is little developed below the

mental level of 12 or 13 years.

The test is also valuable because it throws light on the subject's

ability to appreciate the finer shades of meaning. The mentally retarded

often show marked inferiority in this respect. They sense, perhaps, in a

general way the trend of the story, but they fail to comprehend much

that to us seems clearly expressed. They do not get what is left for the

reader to infer, because they are insensible to the thought fringes. It

is these which give meaning to the fable. The dull subject may be able

to image the objects and activities described, but taken in the rough

such imagery gets him nowhere.

Finally, the test is almost free from the danger of coaching. The

subject who has been given a number of fables along with twenty-five or

thirty other tests can as a rule give only hazy and inaccurate testimony

as to what he has been put through. Moreover, we have found that, even

if a subject has previously heard a fable, that fact does not materially

increase his chances of giving a correct interpretation. If the

situation depicted in the fable is beyond the subject's power of

comprehension even explicit instruction has little effect upon the

quality of the response.

Incidentally, this observation raises the question whether the use of

proverbs, mottoes, fables, poetry, etc., in the moral instruction of

children may not often be futile because the material is not fitted to

the child's power of comprehension. Much of the school's instruction in

history and literature has a moral purpose, but there is reason to

suspect that in this field schools often make precocious attempts in

"generalizing" exercises.