Morris Miller soon forsook his work in economics but became increasingly absorbed in applied psychology. He drafted the Mental Deficiency Act (1920) and in 1922 was appointed first director of the State Psychological Clinic whose chief task was to test children’s intelligence and advise on special education. Miller became an enthusiast for 'mental hygiene' while avoiding the harsher elements of racial and social eugenics. From 1924 Miller was also president of the (Royal) Tasmanian Institution for the Blind and Deaf, and from 1925 chairman of the Mental Deficiency Board.

Mental Hygiene

Morris Miller believed that although people’s physical and mental capabilities were hereditary, they were also shaped by society. In turn, individuals could act on society, changing it for the better. This led to his interest in the mental hygiene movement, which originated in North America. According to Miller, individuals could only contribute to society by reaching their potential - good mental hygiene, especially in childhood, enabled them to do it. Although the Mental Deficiency Act also dealt with adults, much of its purpose was to identify 'deficiency' in children so that they could be educated to lead 'happy and useful lives'. Miller was Director of the Clinic from its inception, and Chairman of the Board from 1924, retiring from both in 1946. In 1921, he travelled to the United States to study new approaches to psychology, where he met C. W. Beers, the secretary of the American National Council for Mental Hygiene. Beers asked him to establish a similar movement in Australia. This failed, although Miller set up a Tasmanian branch in 1930 that was followed by others in Victoria and New South Wales. Miller gave evidence to a 1925 Royal Commission into health, arguing for better use of the methods of mental hygiene in schools, clinics, and children’s courts.

Morris Miller - AAPP
E. Morris Miller (front row: left) and colleagues at the 1925 annual
meeting of the Australian Association of Psychology and Philosophy.
Sydney Daily Telegraph, 22nd May 1925

Intelligence tests

The Stanford-Binet or Terman test was the first professionally developed Intelligence test. It was developed at Stanford in the US by 1916, deriving from work published by Binet and Simon in France from 1905-1911. It was individually administered with a mixture of verbal and nonverbal items at each level.

Test Material for the Measurement of Intelligence

Turman, Lewis - Test Material for the
Measurement of Intelligence


The Porteous Maze test is a nonverbal test, and could be used with people with limited English or those with language or hearing problems. It has maze problems of increasing difficulty at each year level.
(Notes by James Alexander)


Tuning forks

Tuning forks were used for demonstrating and measuring auditory perception.In 1923 (Calendar, 1923) the Advanced Psychology course at the University of Tasmania included a note:
The course for both pass and pass with distinction will include a limited amount of experimental work in the sensory processes of vision, hearing and touch, as well as in the processes of attention, association, and memory.

Morris Miller had bought a box of equipment, probably on his trip to the US. It included a set of tuning forks for hearing (still held in the school), a compass with blunt point for a two-point touch threshold, cards with visual stimuli and similar simple apparatus.

Remove the forks from the wooden sound box. Strike one and while still vibrating place it in one of
the socket holes on top of the box. It should be audible across the room from the open end of the sound box.
(Notes by James Alexander)

Tuning forks

Tuning forks- enlarge


The Mental Deficiency Act, 1920

In 1920, Edmund Morris Miller drafted the Mental Deficiency Act with the help of Dr E. S. Morris, Tasmania’s Chief Health Officer, basing it on similar British legislation. The Act set out four categories of 'mental deficiency' – 'idiots', 'imbeciles', the 'feebleminded', and 'moral imbeciles', that is, 'mental deficiency' combined with a 'vicious or criminal' tendency. Individuals could be tested in the State Psychological Clinic, established by the Act and, if they fell into one of these categories, be put in the care of the Mental Deficiency Board, also established by the Act, which placed them with a guardian or in an institution. The intention was to maximise the happiness and usefulness of people categorised as 'mentally deficient'. This meant that the primary focus was to prevent bad outcomes by identifying 'mental deficiency' in childhood through testing programmes in schools and the children’s court. Miller also tested prisoners in the Hobart Gaol, developing a classification system that improved discipline.

Mental Deficiency Act

The Mental Deficiency Act 1920 and
Regulations under the Act.


However, the Mental Deficiency Act attracted criticism on a number of grounds. One of these was that parents feared the state would remove their children. Another came from the officials at the Children of the State Department that oversaw state wards, about a quarter of whom came under the Act. The officials believed that the recommendations of the Psychological Clinic adversely affected the children and so resisted it or assisted foster mothers to do so. Finally, poor funding meant that the follow-up institutions that Miller recommended were not established, so that people classified as 'deficient' were placed in the lunatic asylum at New Norfolk or St John’s Infirmary at New Town where no special education was available. In addition, a 1946 Royal Commission into the Hobart Gaol found that it had become a 'designated' institution under the Act so that authorities could transfer 'mentally deficient' individuals, who had not broken the law, there for misbehaviour.
(Notes by Caroline Evans)


See also: Alexander, James, Miller and Psychology PDF


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