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23 November 2023

How a good story can give children an enriching experience beyond their everyday lives

Children love stories. Stories are entertaining and fun, but can they offer more than that? From research with adults, we know that stories can give insights about life and deeply move us when showing us moral beauty. A study in Media Psychology indicates that stories in the media can also be meaningful for children.

Take aways

  • Stories can be meaningful for children in four ways:
  1. stories can fuel children’s social intelligence,
  2. stories can be an opportunity to experience (moral) beauty,
  3. stories can help children to acquire the same insights as the protagonist,
  4. stories can inspire to never give up.
  • Overall, stories can be an accelerated way to gain life experience and wisdom.

Study information

  • Who?

    66 children aged 4–15 years; 56% girls

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    The children watched the Disney • Pixar film Inside Out and then, along with a sibling or friend, had an in-depth conversation with one of the researchers. The interviews consisted of mostly open-ended questions to encourage the children to share their thoughts, including the key question: “Was there a part of the film that you had to think about?”

Facts and findings

  • The children made sense of the feelings, motives, and behaviors of the characters in the film, for which they used their social intelligence skills. When challenged in understanding the story, this could further fuel their social intelligence.
  • Stories were also found to be meaningful for experiencing moral beauty. Children appreciated acts of compassion, kindness, love, bravery, and self-sacrifice in the film. Just like adults, children could be moved when witnessing this. They experienced goosebumps and tears in their eyes. The study showed that the feeling of being "moved by love" usually appears around the age of eight.
  • When watching the film, children were encouraged to follow in the footsteps of the protagonist (Joy), which could help them to acquire the same insights as her. During the story, Joy discovers the importance of sadness and that collaboration with sadness, as well as the other emotions, is important. By accompanying her on this journey, the children too discovered these valuable insights.
  • Finally, the story encouraged children to never give up. Protagonists in stories usually face challenges but persevere, which can be inspiring for children.