Scientists Probe Secrets of Kids' TV

Characters that make eye contact with toddlers help them learn, study finds

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TUESDAY, May 30, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- TV- and video-watching toddlers learn best from onscreen characters that directly relate to and interact with kids, U.S. research suggests.

"Because 2-year-olds are more likely to learn from a person on video whom they perceive as a conversational partner, video in which two-way interaction has been established can be used to convey information," researcher Georgene L. Troseth, an assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said in a prepared statement.

Her team conducted two experiments. In the first, they tested differences in learning from video and face-to-face interaction among 24 2-year-old children. Some of the children watched a video of a woman telling them where to find a stuffed toy animal hidden in another room. Other children received the same information from the same woman in person.

Children who watched the video rarely found the toy animal, according to the study, which appears in the current issue of Child Development. That suggests that the toddlers didn't believe or listen to her. Children who received the instructions in person usually found the toy, however.

In the second experiment, the researchers used an interactive video. A closed-circuit video system enabled the woman on the screen to see, hear and respond to the children through conversation and games. After five minutes of interaction with the woman on the screen, the children were able to find the hidden object.

"It appears that toddlers do not perceive standard video as providing information that applies to the real world, because they look to social cues such as eye contact and responsiveness to decide when to pay attention to what is being conveyed," Troseth said.

The next step is to determine whether toddlers will accept actors or characters who repeatedly appear to talk to them -- as characters on popular children's shows such as Blue's Clues or Dora the Explorer do -- as their "social partners."

"These findings have implications for educational television aimed at toddlers, as well as for the use of video images in research with this age group," Troseth said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and television.

SOURCE: Society for Research in Child Development, news release, May 17, 2006

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