“Johnny's a gentleman, but Jimmie's a mug”: Press coverage during the 1930s of Myrtle McGraw's Study of Johnny and Jimmy Woods

Paul M. Dennis, Elizabethtown College


Press coverage of Myrtle McGraw's study of Johnny and Jimmy Woods was examined for the years 1933 to 1942 to illustrate how the shift from scientist to reporter as popularizer contributed to psychology's declining public image in the 1930s. McGraw attempted to determine whether or not a child's later motor performance might be accelerated through stimulation at an early age. Early reports of Johnny, the “conditioned” twin, outperforming his brother, Jimmy, attracted heavy publicity in the press of the day because the results were novel, controversial, timely, and of human interest. However, as it became apparent at a later age that the differences in motor performance between the twins were not so great, the press began to promote the study as a test of the efficacy of scientific child‐rearing, suggesting that psychology was even less effective than common sense in the raising of a child. Copyright © 1989 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company