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28 October 2016

Let Children Learn From Watching Television: Use Trustworthy Characters!

Keywords: characters, education, learning, media, preschoolers, television, North America, experiment,

Producers of educational children television programs should create trustworthy characters to enhance children’s learning. A study in the Journal of Children and Media shows that children who trust a television character as a source of information are more likely to learn from this character than children who do not trust it.

Take aways

  • Children who think a television character is real will identify more with this character.
  • Children who trust a television character as a source of information learn more from this character. 
  • Producers of educational media should provide children with trustworthy characters if the goal of the program is to facilitate children’s learning.

Study information

  • The question?

    What is the relation between children’s learning from media characters and their perception of character’s social realism, identification with characters, and trust of characters as knowledgeable informants?

  • Who?

    Thirty-six 3- to 6-year old children (mean age = 5.54 years) participated. 44.5% of the participants was female. The majority (44.4%) identified themselves as Caucasian, 33.3% as mixed race or other, 8.3% as Latino/Hispanic, 8.3% as African-American/Black, 2.8 as Asian American and 2.8% declined to answer. English was the primary language spoken at home.

  • Where?

    Southern California, USA

  • How?

    Families visited an on-campus lab for one hour. The preschoolers spent the time with the researcher and watched a short video clip (90 seconds) of an animated educational television program about a preschool-aged boy who enjoys learning about science. Afterwards, children were asked whether they had ever seen the target character (character exposure), whether they believed the target character was real, and if they could interact with the character in the real world (social realism). They also asked (a) how much they liked, (b) how much they were like, and (c) how much they wanted to be like the character (identification). Finally, the children answered questions about whether they would trust the character (character trust). Finally, children’s comprehension (“what happened in the clip?”) was tested and they had to solve a problem similar to what they saw in the clip. Parents were sitting in an adjacent hallway in which they could watch the interview. They also filled out a questonnaire on media exposure and their children’s behavior. 

Facts and findings

  • Almost half of the children (41%) learned how to solve a real-life problem similar to what they had seen in the clip without needing a hint. These children were older than the children who never produced a solution to the problem (mean age = 5.91 vs. 5.09 years). 
  • Children who could solve a problem similar to what they had seen had higher trust in the character than those who were not able to solve the problem. This means that children learned more from the television character when they trusted him as a source of information. 
  • Children were more likely to identify with the television character when they believed he was socially real, and could exist outside the television.
  • However, there were no differences in perception of social realism and identification with the television character for children who correctly or incorrectly solved the problem that was similar to the problem shown in the clip. This means that whether children indicated the character as real or not and whether they identified with the character or not was not related to learning.