Many thanks to Kate Mooneyham of Dark Star for passing along this newspaper clipping about the Fels Institute which continues the research, but has been shifted from the village and Antioch College to Wright State University.
Many “Fels babies” still live in the area, and many still return from all over at intervals for measurement updates.
Note that the key to the photographs can be found at the end of the article.
The Springfield News-Sun March 3, 1940
WHY ARE CHILDREN DIFFERENT?
FELS FOUNDATION SEEKS ANSWER TO QUESTION BY RESEARCH BEFORE AND AFTER BIRTH
What makes Johnny go into tantrums when he is refused a second piece of candy, and brother Jimmy sulk in the corner when he is denied the same thing?
Why is little Mary eager to find playmates, and sister Ann content to look at a picture book?
What is the solution to this riddle that makes one individual different from another?
Since time began, man has sought the answer to the problem and has failed to produce satisfactory answers. What was once the subject of philosophers, however, has since been taken up by physicians, and most recently, psychologists, and the concerted attack is beginning to show results.
One of the most active center of this pursuit of the cause of individual differences is located in Yellow Springs, where physicians, psychologists, chemists, physiologists and nutritionists are working in a combined effort to explain individual differences.
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Nearly 11 years agho the Samuel S. Fels Research Institute for the Study of Prenatal and Postnatal Environment was established at Yellow Springs under the direction of Dr. Lester W. Sontag. During the first year of its existence, the Institute was housed in a small frame dwelling and was managed by a staff of four persons.
Today the Institute occupies a 20-room brick structure on the edge of Antioch College campus, and an eight-room frame house is used as an observational nursery school and office building. Parts of two chemistry laboratories in the college building are utilized for work in nutritional chemistry.
The staff now consists of 19 full-time workers, including physicians, psychologists, a nutritionist, chemists and a physiologist. Five student assistants help with the work of the Institute.
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The number of chilldren has increased from 15 or 20 during the first year to 150 in 1940. According to Dr. Sontag, approximately 12 new children are accepted by the Institute each year. They are selected from families whose residences are stable and who are able to cooperate with the Institute. Children from the same family constitute an interesting study. There are now two families, Dr. Sontag said, with four children each enrolled at the Institute; ten families with three children each, and approximately 35 with two each.
“The object of the Institute may be broadly defined as an investigation of the causes of individual differences in children,” Dr. Sontag said. “Obviously, heredity accounts for many such differences. Environment in its broader sense, including such factors as nutrition and illnesses, is also of great importance. In order to conduct the studt of such causes, it is first of all necessary that a group of children be available for study over a long period, in this instance many months before birth until the age of 18 years.
“It is also necessary that accurate methods be developed for measuring the progress of growth and maturity, personality characteristics and health in such a group. If an accurate appraisal of the significance of any influence is to be made, it is obvious that very specific measures of the child’s development must be available. It is not enough to say that a child does not do well after a case of measles. It is necessary to know whether his growth in height and weight are interrupted as a result of the disease. It is likewise necessary to know whether the disease proved a drain on the minerals of his skeletal system, whether the electrical conduction patterns of his heart were altered, whether any residual infection remained in any part of the body, or whether there was any slowing in his mental growth as a result of the interruption in his physical progress.
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“It is equally important to know whether his changed environment during the period of illness (such as increased solicitude and care from his parents or the interruption of his school attendance) have affected his personality. Will he become more timid or more aggressive as a result of this experience? Will it interfere with qualities of leadership he may have developed, and tend to turn his personality in upon itself? How significant are any such changed which may occur, and for how long will they persist? The example cited, of a severe case of measles, is, of course, only one of hundreds of influencing factors, which include quality of nutrition, function of the endocrine glands, the nature of school environment\ and the home environment, etc. Each item of growth and maturity must be appraised individually if the measurement of its progress is to be accurate, and likewise each item of environment must be similarly appraised. It is only after breaking don individual items of growth and maturity of a child, and likewise of his environment, that a study of cause and effect may be made.
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Various areas into which the work of the Institute has been subdivided include fetal behavior, prenatal and postnatal nutrition, physical growth, psycho-biology, skeletal appraisal, appraisal of home environment, personality appraisal at an experimental nursery school and an experimental play school maintained by the Institute, and appraisal of the child’s progress in grade school and high school.
Dr. Sontag emphasized the point that the study does not have as one of its functions the replacement of the services of the family physician, information regarding the physical state of either mother or child collected by members of the research staff is passed on to the family physician to use as he may see fit. Medical care is not furnished by the Institute.
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“Many areas of the work are of particular interest to laymen,” said Dr. Sontag. “The psycho-biological measurements are designed to measure certain physiological changes in children which are actually a part of the changes in emotion. Minute changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rhythm, salivation and electrical skin resistance are also frequently associated with the emotional adjustment of individuals. It may be possible by a study of such factors to estimate the adequacy of the emotional adjustment of children by the repeated measurement of such physiological factors. The measurements are of interest also because of heightened emotional tension and failure to make satisfactory adjustment are usually considered to be major factors in the development of such adult degenerative diseases as peptic ulcer or high blood pressure.
“Standards of bone growth of considerable value to pediatricians, roentgenologists and orthopedists have been and are being developed. Such standards representing normal skeletal growth of children make it possible to appraise quickly from an X-ray picture of a single area of a child’s body the degree of general skeletal development which he has attained. Such formation is becoming increasingly important in estimating the function of the endocrine glands. Bone scars, fine white lines seen near the end of the long bones, and usually the result of growth retardation, appear in the X-ray studies. This retardation may be caused by the severity of the birth process, illness, malnutrition and other factors. Scars are also seen in the teeth,” Dr. Sontag said. “’Baby’ teeth are collected routinely as they are replaced by permanent teeth and are subjected to microscopic examination and chemical analysis.
“The study of fetal behavior is carried on by measurement of fetal heart rate and activity. Studies have shown that even du ring the fetal period differences are apparent. The heart responds to outside influences (such as vibratory stimulation) and to the mother’s smoking. In each instance the response is usually an increase in rate. Fetal activity has been measured in two ways, by means of a balloon which is sensitive to movement, strapped over the mother’s abdomen; and by having the mother record movements as she notices them. Records suggest that fetuses differ greatly in the amount of time that they are active. Furthermore, mothers with active fetuses also seem to demonstrate a slightly greater increase in basal metabolic rate during pregnancy. Infants who were more activities when fetuses, tend to show more advanced development at six months and one year postnatal age.”
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The results of the work at the Institute are published in various scientific periodicals and are presented to various scientific societies at their meetings.
Usually some 20 to 25 research papers emerge each year. In addition to these reports, the information from all sources for each child is accumulated into an individual record book or case history book, for that child. In such books, growth and development in all the areas investigated is presented in diagrams and tables so that with a minimum of effort it is possible to trace relationships between various factors. It is possible in such records to see instantly whether bone scars resulted from a specific illness, whether the eruption of teeth has kept pace with the growth of the skeleton, whether a child with an unusual amount of tooth decay has had a diet adequate in minerals, and whether he has had a large or small amount of cod liver oil during his infancy. This portrayal of the life history of each child in graphic form, together with the longitudinal nature of the study, including both prenatal and postnatal environment, are features of the Fels Research Institute, which is one of the largest and most completely equipped organizations in this country for the study of the development of children, Dr. Sontag said.
No 1.—One f the young Fels Institute children is measured during a regular visit to the Institute at Yellow Springs. His mother is at the left, and Margaret Anderson, of the physical growth division of the Institute is at the right.
No. 2.—The main building of the Samuel E. Fels Research Institute consists of a 20-room brick structure at the edge of the Antioch College campus. An eight-room frame house serves as an observational nursery school and office building, and parts of two chemistry laboratories in the college building are utilized for work in nutritional chemistry. [Note: this is G. Stanley Hall hall, now torn down, but once used for the Fels Institute before the red brick building at the corner of South College and Livermore was constructed.]
No. 3.—Margaret Anderson weighs one of the Fels Institute children.
No. 4.—Dr. Lester W. Sontag, director of the Institute since its establishment in 1929.
No. 5.—A Fels Institute boy is measured for muscular resistance, and his ability to relax.
No. 6.—Staff members prepare to take X-ray pictures of various parts of the child’s body. Standards representing normal skeletal growth of children make it possible to tell from an X-ray of an area of a child’s body what degree of general skeletal development he has attained.
No. 7.—Dr. M. A. Wenger, chairman of the staff’s division of psychophysiology, examines the results of a child’s tests as recorded on the electric cardiograph.