Behavior of young children in a situation simulating entrapment in refrigerators was studied in order to develop standards for inside releasing devices, in accordance with Public Law 930 of the 84th Congress.
Using a specially designed enclosure, 201 children 2 to 5 years of age took part in tests in which six devices were used, including two developed in the course of this experiment as the result of observation of behavior.
Success in escaping was dependent on the device, a child's age and size and his behavior. It was also influenced by the educational level of the parents, a higher rate of success being associated with fewer years of education attained by mother and father combined. Three major types of behavior were observed: (1) inaction, with no effort or only slight effort to get out (24%); (2) purposeful effort to escape (39%); (3) violent action both directed toward escape and undirected (37%).
Some of the children made no outcry (6% of the 2-year-olds and 50% of the 5-year-olds). Not all children pushed. When tested with devices where pushing was appropriate, 61% used this technique. Some children had curious twisting and twining movements of the fingers or clenching of the hands. When presented with a gadget that could be grasped, some (18%) pulled, a few (9%) pushed, but 40% tried to turn it like a doorknob.
Time of confinement in the enclosure was short for most children. Three-fourths released themselves or were released in less than 3 minutes; one-fourth in less than 10 seconds. Of those who let themselves out, one-half did so in less than 10 seconds. One-third of the children emerged unruffled, about half were upset but could be comforted easily, and a small group (11%) required some help to become calm.
Forces exerted in any horizontal direction by the children for whom such records were obtained ranged up to 29 pounds. The average was about 10 pounds for 3-year-olds and about 21 pounds for 5-year-olds. For reasons not known, the 2-year-old group exerted a slightly greater average force than did the 3-year-old group.
More than one-fourth of the children exerted in excess of 18 pounds and almost two-thirds in excess of 12 pounds.
Data from these experiments proved valuable in developing standards for release devices (as required by Public Law 930), which are expected to be effective for self-release by a large percentage of, but not all, entrapped children. An important result of the behavior study was the finding that, when entrapped, children most often try to escape either by pushing on the door through which they entered the enclosure, or by manipulating a knob release as they would a doorknob. Relatively few children pushed against the back, sides or ceiling of the enclosure.
A follow-up study of 96 test subjects, 8 months after the tests, by interviews with the mothers showed very little obvious residual effect. Reversion to infantile behavior was not found. A number of children still talked about the tests, some with pleasure, a few with resentment. Mothers were not aware of more than ephemeral emotional upset in any of the children.
Reasons for the low level of anxiety engendered by the tests may lie in the precautions taken and in factors inherent in the situation; the parents were not involved in the incident, which enabled them to be calm and casual with the children.