"Vamonos Means Go, But That's Made Up for the Show": Reality Confusions and Learning From Educational TV

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DOI: 10.1037/a0038041 · Source: PubMed
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Educational television for young children often combines factual content with fantasy. In 2 experiments, we examined 3- to 5-year-olds' reality judgments and the implications for their learning. In the 1st study, 145 children watched 3 clips featuring (respectively) a Hispanic, a Chinese American, and an Anglo character. Responses indicated age differences in character-reality judgments (e.g., "X can hear me"), acceptance of fantasy (e.g., talking backpacks), rejection of factual content (i.e., Spanish and Chinese words are "just pretend") but not perceived learning. Perceived reality of Chinese and Spanish words used by the characters partially mediated age differences in word comprehension, controlling for viewer ethnicity. In the 2nd study, 114 children were randomly assigned to see clips featuring either Hispanic or Chinese traditions and words. Age differences in reality judgments were replicated and were partially mediated by children's use of evidence or arguments to justify reality judgments and (to a lesser extent) by their cognitive flexibility. Further, children's reality judgments partially mediated age differences in learning of the educational content. Results suggest that reality distinctions improve with age, contributing to children's learning. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).
“Vámonos Means Go, But That’s Made Up for the Show”:
Reality Confusions and Learning From Educational TV
Marie-Louise Mares
University of Wisconsin–Madison Gayathri Sivakumar
Colorado State University
Educational television for young children often combines factual content with fantasy. In 2 experiments,
we examined 3- to 5-year-olds’ reality judgments and the implications for their learning. In the 1st study,
145 children watched 3 clips featuring (respectively) a Hispanic, a Chinese American, and an Anglo
character. Responses indicated age differences in character-reality judgments (e.g., “Xcan hear me”),
acceptance of fantasy (e.g., talking backpacks), rejection of factual content (i.e., Spanish and Chinese
words are “just pretend”) but not perceived learning. Perceived reality of Chinese and Spanish words
used by the characters partially mediated age differences in word comprehension, controlling for viewer
ethnicity. In the 2nd study, 114 children were randomly assigned to see clips featuring either Hispanic
or Chinese traditions and words. Age differences in reality judgments were replicated and were partially
mediated by children’s use of evidence or arguments to justify reality judgments and (to a lesser extent)
by their cognitive flexibility. Further, children’s reality judgments partially mediated age differences in
learning of the educational content. Results suggest that reality distinctions improve with age, contrib-
uting to children’s learning.
Keywords: children, ethnicity, fantasy–reality, race, video deficit
Consider a 4-year-old who watches a popular television pro-
gram featuring a Latina character. On the show, the character uses
some Spanish words intermingled with English and partakes in
various celebrations related to her ethnicity, such as a cousin’s
quinceañera, or Three Kings’ Day. However, the character and her
surroundings are animated rather than live action, leaving the
physical cues of her ethnicity and location subject to the judgments
of the illustrators. She interacts with a singing map, a talking
backpack, and a fox who tries to steal her belongings. What might
the viewer, within the target age group for this show, conclude
about Hispanics?
This question lies at the intersection of several lines of research.
One focuses on early learning and theorizing about social catego-
ries such as ethnicity. A second examines children’s developing
ability to distinguish fantasy and reality. A third, related line looks
at beliefs about the nature of television viewing.
In two studies, we examined 3- to 5-year-olds’ judgments about
TV content featuring various ethnic groups. Study 1 focused on
their perceptions of what was real and what was “pretend” in
programs featuring (respectively) a Hispanic, a Chinese American,
and an Anglo protagonist. In Study 2, we attempted to replicate
age differences, evaluate explanations for age differences, and
examine the relationships between realism judgments and learning
of cultural content.
Complicated Depictions and Developing
Understanding of Ethnicity
We focused on children’s responses to depictions of Hispanics
and Chinese Americans. Both are sizable ethnic groups in the
United States and are understudied with regard to children’s
knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes about them. We acknowledge
that Asians are considered a multiethnic racial group and Hispan-
ics a multiracial ethnic group, but because our emphasis is on
cultural material, we use the term ethnicity with its connotations of
learned differences.
Examination of educational TV programs for young viewers
(produced in the United States and aired internationally) indicates
that our opening description of Dora the Explorer is typical of
other depictions of Hispanics and Chinese Americans (e.g., Go,
Diego, Go!; Handy Manny;, and Ni Hao, Kai Lan). Such programs
sporadically offer information about Chinese or Hispanic culture,
make references to relevant countries and places, and present
Spanish or Chinese words. However, all but one (Sesame Street)
are animated rather than live action. As is typical in educational
shows for this age group (Mares & Acosta, 2008), the characters
interact with anthropomorphic creatures: talking animals (Ni, Hao,
Kai Lan; Go, Diego, Go!), talking tools (Handy Manny), a magic
rocket ship (Little Einsteins), or a Hispanic Muppet (Sesame
Marie-Louise Mares, Department of Communication Arts, University of
Wisconsin–Madison; Gayathri Sivakumar, Department of Journalism and
Technical Communication, Colorado State University.
Preparation of this article was supported in part by a fellowship to the
first author from the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the
Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS) and by grants to the first author
from the Hamel Family Research Fund administered by the Department of
Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marie-
Louise Mares, Department of Communication Arts, University of
Wisconsin–Madison, 821 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706. E-mail:
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What background knowledge might young viewers bring to bear
upon such depictions? Comprehension of references to other coun-
tries, for example, requires both factual information (names, rela-
tive locations) and knowledge of hierarchical relationships (e.g.,
towns are within countries). Piaget and Weil (1951) interviewed
Swiss children and concluded that the majority of those under the
age of 5 years had no concept of country; 5- to 8-year-olds knew
the name of their country but had difficulty representing their town
as existing within their country. More recently, Barrett (2007)
reported that children across Europe showed simple knowledge of
their own country’s geography at age 5 but knowledge of foreign
countries only developed around age 8.
Similarly, understanding the cultural significance of characters
shifting from one language to another requires information about
what languages are spoken where and by whom, as well as an
understanding of what drives linguistic differences. Barrett and
Short (1992) found that most of the British 5- to 7-year-olds in
their sample could not identify the languages spoken in France,
Germany, Spain, or Italy, giving (unspecified) wrong answers.
Moreover, children’s theorizing about linguistic difference appears
to be a work in progress over the course of the preschool years.
Hirschfeld and Gelman (1997) found that U.S. 3- to 5-year-olds,
like college students, thought that phrases in an unfamiliar lan-
guage (Portuguese) were uttered by people depicted in unfamiliar
rather than familiar clothing or housing or by Blacks rather than by
Whites. However, 3-year-olds also picked pictures of adults facing
backward as the Portuguese speakers and adults facing forward as
the English speakers, suggesting confusion over what forms of
novelty are relevant to linguistic difference.
Finally, for children to understand that characters represent a
specific ethnic and cultural heritage requires at least rudimentary
knowledge of those categories. Lam, Guerrero, Damree, and
Enesco (2011) studied White, Black, and Asian 3- to 5-year olds in
London and reported that younger children and those less cogni-
tively developed were less likely to know racial labels and to use
racial categories in sorting photos of children (see also Kowalski &
Lo, 2001).
In sum, young viewers probably lack knowledge relevant to
televised depictions of other cultures. How do they distinguish the
realistic content (e.g., it is a tradition to give money in red
envelopes on Chinese New Year) from the surrounding fantasy
(e.g., a monkey gets money too)?
Developing Understanding of
Fantasy–Reality Distinctions
The accumulation of evidence suggests that children age 5 and
younger regularly distinguish between fantasy and reality but also
that they make mistakes. In a recent review, Woolley and Ghos-
sainey (2013) noted that although most attention has focused on
children’s erroneous credulity (e.g., believing in magical or im-
possible events), there is also considerable evidence of erroneous
skepticism (e.g., not believing that unfamiliar events can actually
For example, Woolley and Cox (2007) asked 3- to 5-year-olds
about events and characters in fantasy, realistic, or religious sto-
ries. Across the three story types, 37% of 3-year-olds erroneously
said that the main character was a real person or could come play
with them, compared with 21% of 4-year-olds and 15% of 5-year
olds. The more prevalent error, though, was undue skepticism:
72% of 3-year-olds, 62% of 4-year olds, and 42% of 5-year-olds
said the focal events in realistic stories (e.g., a boy learning to
dance) could not possibly happen, and more than half of the
children denied that someone like the main character could exist in
real life. Relatedly, Tullos and Woolley (2009) found that 4-year-
olds displayed a skepticism bias when judging the reality of novel
entities and were less able than 6- or 8-year-olds to use evidence
of the creatures’ existence to inform their judgments (see also
Woolley & Van Reet, 2006).
What explains these patterns? Woolley and Ghossainy (2013)
argued that young children’s limited cognitive resources and lack
of awareness about the inadequacy of their personal experience
and knowledge lead them to overestimate the significance of
unfamiliarity and, hence, to deny the reality of novel events or
objects. They tend not to modify their default skepticism on the
basis of further information, in part because of the effort involved
(unless evidence of reality is culturally pervasive as with Santa or
the tooth fairy). Relatedly, Shtulman and Carey (2007) noted that
(unlike older children) 4-year-olds lacked principled reasons for
saying something was impossible, justifying their claims with
redundant statements (“It’s impossible”) or hypothetical state-
ments that did not address possibility (“You’d hit your head”). The
authors suggested that in the absence of principled reasons, young
children rely on the simple strategy of denying the possibility of
surprising or unfamiliar events and (conversely) are vulnerable to
persuasion that magical events may occur.
Consistent with these arguments that young children lack cog-
nitive resources for sophisticated evaluations of reality, some
research suggests that they rely on overly simplistic heuristics
about context to judge the utility of information. Richert and her
colleagues presented 3- to 5-year olds with solutions to problems,
either in fantasy or realistic stories (Richert, Robb, & Smith, 2011;
Richert & Smith, 2011). Across five experiments, children were
less likely to use a solution in an analogous situation if they heard
about it in a fantasy story rather than a realistic story. Presenting
the stories to the class in “circle time” did not increase use of
strategies presented in fantasy stories, despite Richert and Smith’s
(2011) hypothesis that doing so might signal the educational nature
of the content. Thus, as Richert and Smith (2011, p. 1106) put it,
3- to 5-year olds erroneously “quarantine” useful content in the
presence of narrative cues signaling lack of reality.
Children’s Judgments About Television Reality
Thus far, research on children’s fantasy–reality judgments has
examined their responses to pictures, sentences, brief vignettes, or
(more rarely) whole picture books. It is also worth considering
how children evaluate TV and other sources of video. Anderson
and Hanson (2010) argued that processing screen media content is
a demanding cognitive activity that requires special forms of attention,
perception, and comprehension. As we review in this article, children
form theories and learn about the nature of video at the same time
as they learn about fantasy and reality.
Barr, Muentener, and Garcia (2007) proposed three phases in
children’s early understanding of the relationship between televi-
sion and the external world. In the first phase (roughly ages 5–12
months) infants treat two-dimensional (2D) images (whether pic-
tures or TV) in the same way that they do 3D objects, reaching out
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to grab the depicted objects. In the second phase, they are hypoth-
esized to have learned that 2D video images do not have the same
affordances as 3D objects (e.g., cannot be picked up, dropped, or
tasted) but not to understand that these images are representations
that can have relevance to the real world. Consistent with this
finding, research indicates that 1- to 2½-year-olds are much less
likely to learn actions and words presented on-screen than in live
interactions (Anderson & Hanson, 2010;Anderson & Pempek,
2005). Finally, at around age 3, children are thought to achieve
dual representation, understanding both that televisions (or other
screens) are objects separate from the images being shown but also
that video content can represent reality. Consistent with this, 3- to
5-year-olds tend to learn words, object locations, and simple action
sequences from screen depictions as well as from live interactions.
Despite the fading of the video deficit for word and action
learning by the end of the second year, other research suggests that
children’s knowledge of the relationship between TV and the real
world is still immature. Nikken and Peeters (1988) reported that
20% of 4- to 9-year olds said that characters on Sesame Street
could hear and see them. Similarly, Flavell, Flavell, Green, and
Korfmacher (1990) reported that 3-year-olds (and to a lesser
extent, 4-year-olds) said that objects depicted on-screen (e.g., a
bowl of popcorn) would spill if the TV were tipped over and that
people shown on-screen could hear the viewers. What do such
responses mean? On the one hand, Flavell et al. (1990) argued that
such responses merely reflected 3-year-olds’ difficulty focusing on
the affordances of TV images rather than the affordances of the
real-world objects; on the other hand, young viewers often respond
to TV character prompts (Anderson et al., 2000;Calvert, Strong,
Jacobs, & Conger, 2007) in a manner consistent with beliefs that
the character can see and hear them.
Other studies, using other types of questions, also revealed signs
of TV reality confusions. Hawkins (1977) reported that preschool
and kindergarten children, in contrast to first and third graders,
tended to say that characters on fictional programs such as The
Waltons continued their lives as depicted (e.g., together as a
family) even after each episode was over. Wright, Huston, Reitz,
and Piemyat (1994) asked 5- and 7-year olds whether the charac-
ters on their favorite show rehearsed what they said or did before
going on TV, performed their depicted job in real life, and could
help viewers with problems as depicted on the show. The 5-year-
olds were significantly more likely to say that their favorite show
was not rehearsed and were marginally more likely to say the
characters held their job in real life, but even 7-year-olds showed
substantial error rates. Thus, beyond the video deficit phase, chil-
dren still struggle with reality judgments, ascribing excessive
reality to the lives of fictional characters.
Believing that characters have ongoing lives (perhaps inside the
TV) does not necessarily mean that those lives are considered
informative or representative of life outside of TV. Hawkins
(1977) reported that although preschool and kindergarten children
scored higher than first or third graders on character reality beliefs,
they gave lower ratings of the realism and educational utility of
television depictions (e.g., “Families on TV shows are like families
in real life”; “TV shows about families help me know how to
behave at home”). Similarly, Wright et al. (1994) found that
5-year-olds were more likely than 7-year-olds to say that events
depicted in a series of clips, including news, were “just on TV, not
in real life,” and were not like people or events “around here.”
They were also more likely to misunderstand the goal of news and
documentaries, saying that such clips were “just for fun” rather
than for learning (see also Dorr, 1983).
Wright et al. (1994) considered two possible explanations for
these age differences—the amount of viewing experience and
cognitive development. In fact, prior viewing did little to predict
the accuracy of children’s realism judgments. Age and (to a lesser
extent) vocabulary were the primary predictors of judgments,
suggesting the centrality of cognitive processes. The authors con-
cluded that children gradually form schemata for familiar program
types (e.g., cartoons, Sesame Street, news) and that the cues for
distinguishing these genres are learned prior to understanding the
implications for reality. In the absence of such understanding, the
default is to be skeptical of TV realism, while granting credence to
characters’ reality.
In sum, children’s theorizing about video develops in parallel to
their general fantasy–reality judgments, with elements that are
unique to the medium. The fantasy–reality and TV reality litera-
tures together suggest a variety of outcomes to be examined—
character and fantasy reality, content realism, viewer responses to
character prompts, and knowledge of the educational goals of the
program. Although it makes sense that these would all be inter-
twined, no prior research has examined them together or examined
the trajectory of these judgments over the preschool years. Further,
no research with preschool-aged audiences has examined how
these judgments and behaviors are related to learning of the
The Current Studies
In two studies, 3- to 5-year olds watched clips from educational
TV narratives. We assessed their reality/realism judgments and
learning to examine three core research questions.
Developmental Trajectories of Reality Judgments
In a small longitudinal study of three children from ages 2 to 5,
Jaglom and Gardner (1981) reported that children first ascribed
physical reality to TV images, then went to the opposite extreme
of denying the reality of any content. There is little other evidence
about the trajectory of these judgments within the preschool age
range. Thus, a primary research question of both studies concerned
age differences in judgments.
What Might Explain Age Differences
in Reality Judgments?
We considered two possible explanations—the acquisition of
relevant experience (with TV and with the depicted content) and
the acquisition of relevant cognitive skills. In Studies 1 and 2, we
considered whether prior exposure to the programs would predict
more accurate reality judgments. In doing so, we were extending
the work of Wright et al. (1994). They found little indication with
5- and 7-year olds that prior viewing predicted reality judgments,
but it is possible that effects would be observed among younger
children who have less accumulated experience. Further, we ex-
amined whether belonging to the depicted ethnic group (Study 1)
or prior contact with the depicted ethnic group (Study 2) would
improve reality judgments. Despite the intuitive appeal of this
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prediction, research support is scant. In a study by Wright et al.
(1995), 7- and 10-year olds were expected to have less TV-biased
schemas about the characteristics of nurses and policemen if they
knew some in real life, but there was no such effect. Greenberg and
Reeves (1976) found that 8- to 12-year olds judged stereotyped TV
depictions of African Americans to be more realistic (rather than
less) if they had real world contact with African Americans. Given
these findings, and given that children under 5 tend not to use
evidence to inform their reality judgments (e.g., Woolley & Van
Reet, 2006), it seems possible that contact with, or even member-
ship in, the depicted ethnic group might not alter judgments or alter
only those of older children.
In Study 2, we also examined possible cognitive explanations.
Based on Woolley and Ghossainy’s (2013) argument that young
children’s skepticism bias reflects overreliance on unfamiliarity,
we coded children’s open-ended answers for rejection of content
based on lack of familiarity (e.g., “I’ve never heard people use
those words”). Conversely, based on Shtulman and Carey’s (2007)
work, we coded whether children gave arguments or evidence to
support judgments of realism (e.g., “Spanish teachers speak Span-
ish, so other people do too.“). Of course, age differences in
open-ended responses can reflect multiple sources of development
(experience, reasoning, verbal ability), but the question was
whether specific forms of reasoning explained age differences in
reality judgments. Finally, we also examined whether cognitive
flexibility (multiple classification skills) helped explain age differ-
ences. This variable has been argued to reflect basic cognitive
development and was found to predict racial classification accu-
racy (Lam et al., 2011) and less biased processing of race-related
content (Bigler & Liben, 1993).
Relationships Between Reality
Judgments and Learning
The third focal research question concerned the relationships
between reality judgments and learning. Anderson and Collins
(1988) argued that if children dismiss educational content as
unrealistic, they may learn it but not incorporate it into their
knowledge base about the real world, rendering that material
“academically useless” (p. 41). Alternately, Huston, Wright, Fitch,
Wroblewski, and Piemyat (1997) hypothesized that if children
categorize content as pretend, they may invest less effort into
processing it and hence not learn it as well as they would if they
thought it was realistic.
There is some evidence with elementary-school-age children for
both patterns. Consistent with the former, Huston et al. (1997)
reported that second- and fifth-grade children incorporated more
information from documentary clips than from fictional clips in
their answers about what real world caterers and movie directors
do, even though both sets of information were, in fact, equally
accurate. Use of information from the fictional segments was
predicted, in part, by perceptions of how realistic those segments
were. Consistent with the latter, Huston et al. (1995) reported that
third- and fourth-grade children remembered more of characters’
emotions if they thought the content was factual (e.g., happened to
a real family) and more actions and events if they thought the
material realistic (e.g., characters were like people they knew in
real life).
What about the implications of believing that characters can see
and hear audience members? One intriguing possibility is that such
beliefs may foster learning. Calvert et al. (2007) reported that
children who responded to Dora’s questions while watching Dora
the Explorer showed greater learning. However, they did not
examine whether beliefs about the character’s reality mediated this
As noted earlier, educational programming for preschool audi-
ences is almost all animated rather than live action, and fantasy
elements are ubiquitous. Given that the findings of Wright et al.
(1994) that children first learn “cartoons” as a genre and that this
genre is considered entertainment, young viewers’ reality judg-
ments seem potentially fraught. The current studies examine chil-
dren’s reality judgments about animated educational programs and
the implications of those judgments for children’s learning. In
Study 1, we examined whether perceived reality of Chinese and
Spanish words used in the clips mediated age differences in
comprehension of these words. In Study 2, we assessed learning
across more outcomes and examined whether reality judgments
and interaction with the character mediated age differences in
content learning.
Study 1
In addition to the core questions we have outlined, in Study 1 we
examined whether the prevalence of fantasy within a clip would
affect reality judgments. Children were randomly assigned to see
either clips that focused on realistic interactions with human rel-
atives or clips that focused on magical interactions with anthropo-
morphic characters. Given the prevalence of fantasy in educational
programs and the centrality of the nonhuman characters in the
programs used, all clips featured at least some fantasy interactions,
but the duration of these interactions varied.
Participants. A total of 145 children participated: 50 were 3
years old, 57 were 4, and 38 were 5 (age M3.92, SD .78); 68
were girls (46.9%). Parental consent forms indicated there were 98
Anglo, 27 Chinese or Chinese American, and 20 Hispanic partic-
ipants. Hispanic participants were significantly older (M4.50,
SD .61) than Anglo participants (M3.80, SD .75), F(2,
142) 7.73, p.01, reflecting younger Hispanic children’s
difficulty completing the study in English.
Design. This was a 3 (3- vs. 4- vs. 5-year olds) 3 (program
with Anglo vs. Hispanic vs. Chinese protagonist) 2 (family-
focused vs. fantasy-focused clip) design. All children saw one clip
from each program and were randomly assigned to see either
family-focused or fantasy-focused clips.
Procedure. Clips were shown in randomized order on a laptop
computer. Each clip was followed by questions. Sessions took
approximately 35 min.
Materials. Each child saw three 4-min clips: one from Dora
the Explorer featuring a Hispanic character; one from Ni Hao, Kai
Lan featuring a Chinese American character, and one from Fran-
ny’s Feet featuring an Anglo character. All three were cartoons
rated E/I (educational and informational), meaning that they were
intended to have educational content. Each featured a young fe-
male protagonist who interacted with anthropomorphic characters
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and addressed the audience directly. In each clip, the opening song
was left intact, followed by a segment ranging in length from 2 min
45 s to 2 min 50 s. For external validity, clips in both conditions
contained interactions with relatives and nonhuman characters, but
the proportions differed. In family-focused clips, an average of
51% of the time was spent with a relative, 23% with nonhumans,
and 26% was spent alone. In fantasy-focused clips, 17% was spent
with a relative, 57% with nonhumans, and 26% was spent alone.
Measures. For reality/realism questions, the response options
(in randomized order) were “no” (depicted on screen by a red X,
coded 1), “yes” (green check mark, coded 1) and “not sure”
(black question mark, coded 0). The interviewer read them out and
pointed to each in turn.
Character reality. Children were asked (a) “If you’re watch-
ing Xon TV, and then the show is over, and you turn off the TV,
is she still in there doing things while you’re not watching?” and
(b) “When she asks you a question, if you call out the answer, can
she hear you?” Thus, across the three clips, there were six items
that were averaged.
Fantasy reality. Children were asked one question per clip,
“Do you think there are real places, outside TV, where...kids can
have a talking backpack like Dora?...animals can talk like in Kai
Lan?...kids can put on special shoes and then be in a different
place like Franny?”
Comprehension and reality of Spanish and Chinese words.
Children were asked (a) “When Dora (Kai Lan) says “Vámonos”
(“Ni Hao”), what does she mean?” (b) “Great! Do you know other
things she says like that—not in English?” (c) “Do you think she’s
using real words that real people use outside TV, or are they just
made-up words for the show?” After a pause for a spontaneous
response, the interviewer continued, “Do you think, yes, they’re
real; no, they’re not real, or you’re not sure?” (d) Those who did
not say the words were real were asked, “Sometimes Dora (Kai
Lan) says she’s speaking Spanish (Chinese). Is that a real language
that people use outside TV, or is it just made up for the show?”
(same response options as for 3).
Word comprehension could range from 0 to 2: 1 point for the
target word and another for an additional word volunteered. For
language reality, children scored 1 if they said that the language
was real in response to the first question, 0 if they chose “not sure”
to either question or were inconsistent, and 1 if they answered
both questions by saying the words were made up.
Perceived learning. Children were asked, ““Do you think you
learn about other places by watching X?—no (0); yes, a little (1);
or yes, a lot (2).”
Prior and related media exposure. Children were shown pic-
tures and asked, “Have you ever seen . . . Dora the Explorer;Go,
Diego, Go!;Handy Manny;Little Einsteins; and Ni Hao, Kai
Lan?” If response was yes: once or twice (1) or more than once or
twice (2).
Preliminary analyses. Initial analyses showed no main or
interaction effects of experimental condition (family-focused vs.
fantasy-focused clips). Given this, and given that the two condi-
tions contained the same characters albeit for different amounts of
time, we combined the two conditions. In addition, repeated-
measures analyses of covariance (ANCOVAs) revealed no signif-
icant differences among the three programs for any of the out-
comes, and there were no interactions between program and the
child’s own ethnicity. Given this, we averaged responses to the
three clips, strengthening the measures and simplifying the anal-
Relationships between reality judgments. Table 1 shows
correlations between the reality measures. Character and fantasy
reality scores were positively correlated and (ironically) were
positively correlated with perceived learning about other places.
However, fantasy reality ratings were negatively correlated with
word-reality ratings, suggesting that responses did not simply
reflect “yay-saying.”
Predictors of reality judgments. We performed five regres-
sion analyses predicting reality judgments, summarized in Table 2.
On the first step, we entered dummy codes for the child’s ethnicity,
prior exposure to the three programs viewed in the experiment, and
prior exposure to other programs featuring Hispanic and Chinese
characters. On the second step, we entered the child’s age in years
(too few parents answered the question about birth month for us to
use age in months). We initially included gender (given female
Table 1
Bivariate Correlations: Reality Judgments and Behaviors in Studies 1 and 2
Variable 123456
Study 1
1. Character reality
2. Fantasy reality .443
3. Chinese/Spanish reality .086 .166
4. Perceived learning .400
.019 —
Study 2
1. Character reality
2. Fantasy reality .463
3. Chinese/Spanish reality .200
.104 —
4. English words reality .167 .190
5. Traditions reality .010 .028 .465
6. Show is for learning .031 .003 .075 .151 .088 —
7. Responded to character .012 .068 .011 .003 .135 .194
Note. Chinese and Spanish reality: Study 1 word reality and Study 2 word and language reality.
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  • Article
    Within the extensive literature on the role of educational media in children's learning and the factors influencing that learning, the possible impact of media literacy remains unexamined. The present study examines the influence of media literacy on learning from television and hypermedia environments. In a sample of 150 children with a mean age of 5.33, a computer-based test was used to assess media literacy, and recognition and inference questions were used to measure learning. The influence of intelligence, media usage, and socioeconomic status as independent variables was also assessed. Hierarchical regression analyses showed that media literacy was a significant predictor of learning from media, even when controlling for other relevant factors such as intelligence.
  • Article
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    Although preschoolers learn from educational TV, they may not use information appropriately due to their developing understanding of video and fantasy-reality distinctions. Seventy 3-to 5-year-olds watched a Sesame Street clip, introduced as either " fun " or " for learning, " that depicted aspects of Hispanic culture (e.g., fiestas). They answered comprehension questions and rated the reality of the educational and fantasy content. Approximately a week later, a seemingly unrelated interviewer asked for help planning a fiesta (transfer task), then reassessed memory and reality judgments. Regardless of condition, children retained most of what they learned, but all ages became increasingly skeptical about the reality of both the educational and fantasy content. Consistent with theorizing about transfer, children's use of the educational content depended on both memory and reality judgments. Older children remembered the information better than younger children, but memory only predicted transfer if the information was remembered as real.
  • Article
    Research has considered how exposure to prosocial television narratives influences children’s social inclusion behaviors (e.g., Mares & Acosta, 2010). In these experiments, children typically view a stimulus episode alone; however, we know that children often watch with others at home (Chandler, 1997). Thus, in this study we examined how children’s proximal social context during viewing influenced effects. Using data collected from a 3-condition experiment (control, view-alone, coview with close friend) with Dutch children ages 5 and 6 (N = 80), we found that exposure largely did not influence children’s inclusion judgments or stigmatization beliefs. There was, however, an age × condition interaction, such that 6-year-old children in the coview condition demonstrated greater stigmatization beliefs toward other children, compared to 5-year-olds in the same condition, or all children in the other conditions. We discuss the implications of these findings while considering previous work on learning inclusion from prosocial television shows, reality judgments, and the bystander effect.
  • Article
    How is educational information presented in children’s science television shows, and how well do preschool viewers learn that information? A content analysis of 21 science programs for children (Study 1) found that half of the examined episodes taught science concepts by introducing and subsequently refuting inaccurate ideas (e.g., clouds are made of cotton candy), and one-third depicted focal science concepts in anthropomorphic ways. An experiment (Study 2) tested the effects of exposure to such representations on preschoolers’ science knowledge (N = 78). Despite existing concerns that refutation narratives might unintentionally teach children scientific misconceptions, no such degradations in knowledge occurred. However, children also showed no increases in factual knowledge (relative to a pre-test and to a no-exposure control group). In contrast, children exhibited more factual knowledge after watching episodes that contained anthropomorphic depictions of focal science concepts (relative to a pre-test and to the control group). Implications for existing theory are discussed.
  • Article
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    Parent report measures indicate that young children’s parasocial relationships (PSRs) are multidimensional constructs consisting of dimensions such as social realism, attachment and character personification, and human-like needs. However, little is known about how parent perceptions of these dimensions evolve as children mature and form new PSRs. In this 3-year follow-up study, parents (N = 156) from two previous studies were recontacted, and they provided updated information about their children’s PSRs in an online questionnaire. A principal components analysis revealed that the dimensions of social realism, attachment and character personification, and human-like needs reemerged when children were approximately 6- to 8-years-old and had formed new or retained previous relationships with favorite media characters. A new dimension of character qualities also emerged, paralleling the developmental changes that occur in children’s real friendships. These results clarify parent reports of the dimensions that comprise children’s PSRs and provide descriptive information about the ways in which parent perceptions of children’s PSRs shift as their children mature.
  • Article
    The current study examined if preschoolers' understanding of fantasy and reality are related to their learning from educational videos. Forty‐nine 3‐ to 6‐year‐old children watched short clips of popular educational programs in which animated characters solved problems. Following video viewing, children attempted to solve real‐world problems analogous to the problems in the videos and were asked to describe similarities between the video problems and the problems they solved in the lab. Additionally, children were tested for their understanding of which aspects of the clips and characters were realistic and possible and which were fantastical and impossible in the real world. Children were most likely to transfer solutions from clips that had moderate elements of fantasy or incorporated fantastical elements at moments that were relevant to solving the problem. Additionally, children's understanding of which elements of the clips were fantastical was related to their transfer. Findings are discussed in terms of their implications for the role of the fantasy understanding in children's learning from media. Highlights • Over the preschool years, children come to understand what aspects of animated programs are and are not possible in the real world. • Preschoolers learn problem-solving skills from animated shows when they have a clear boundary between fantasy and reality. • Engaging with moderate fantastical content in animated programs can support abstract thinking.
  • Article
    To examine the role of cognitive skill and racial stereotyping in Euro-American children's processing of race-related information, 75 Euro-American children, aged 4–9 years, were asked to recall stories that were either consistent with or inconsistent with cultural racial stereotypes. In 6 trait stories, a Euro-American main character encounters both a Euro-American and an African American child. A negative trait is attributed to either the African American (stereotypic story) or the Euro-American child (counterstereotypic story). In 6 social relationship stories, main characters interact with neighbors, friends, or married couples, portrayed either intraracially (stereotypic) or interracially (counterstereotypic). Individual difference measures were used to assess subjects' racial stereotyping and their classification skill (ability to sort stimuli along multiple dimensions). As predicted, lower degrees of racial stereotyping and the ability to classify persons along multiple dimensions were associated with better memory for counterstereotypic stories. Implications for intervention programs aimed at reducing racial stereotyping are discussed.
  • Article
    Three studies investigated whether 3‐ and 4‐year‐olds interpret television images as mere pictorial representations of objects or as real, physically‐present objects. Four‐year‐olds gave clear evidence of making the former interpretation whereas 3‐year‐olds seemed to make the latter one. However, the data suggest that the younger children's errors reflect a failure to differentiate conceptually between television images and their referent objects rather than a conviction that real objects populate television sets.
  • Article
    Children from ages 4 to 9 watched segments from Sesame Street and answered questions about television reality. Factor analysis produced three reality dimensions: (a) Sesame Street really exists, (b) television characters can see and hear us, and (c) what you see is inside the television set. For preschoolers, age was the most important variable in regard to television reality. There were other background variables for older children: Children from working‐class backgrounds were more apt to believe that television characters can see and hear us and that they reside inside the television set than their middle‐ and upper‐class age peers.
  • Article
    Children's awareness of the dramatic and unreal nature of most of television (perceived reality) has been proposed as playing an important part in children's responses to television, although there is some disagreement as to just what that important part is. More basically, however, perceived reality has been assumed to be a unitary concept measurable by widely varying questionnaire items and experimental manipulations. Based on an explication of perceived reality that proposed a division into a variety of subdimensions, questionnaire items were constructed and responded to by children from nursery school. first. third, and sixth grades. Factor analyses revealed a basic important distinction between the degree to which children believe they are viewing either ongoing life or drama (Magic Window reality), and the degree to which they believe television characters and events do or do not match their expectations about the world (Social Expectations). An "adult discount" with age was found only for Magic Window reality; Social Expectations reality either increased with age or followed curvilinear trends. Given the breakdown of perceived reality into its component parts, further research should be much better equipped to examine its potential as in intervening variable in television effects.
  • Article
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    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children younger than 24 months of age not be exposed to television. Nevertheless, television programs and home videos are increasingly produced for very young children. This article reviews the extant research concerning television and very young children with respect to the AAP recommendation. More very young children are currently watching television than in the recent past; they pay substantial attention to TV programs and videos made for them. When learning from videos is assessed in comparison to equivalent live presentations, there is usually substantially less learning from videos. Although one study finds positive associations of language learning with exposure to some children’s TV programs, other studies find negative associations of viewing with language, cognitive, and attentional development. Background TV is also a disruptive influence. Evidence thus far indicates that the AAP recommendation is well taken, although considerably more research is needed.
  • Article
    Taiwanese children from 3 to 11 years of age were asked to identify their racial group membership and select potential playmates from arrays of racially diverse photos. Children at all age levels displayed some Asian bias; however, this bias was lowest in 10- to 11- year-olds. Same-race bias was also reduced in 8 to 9 year olds by labeling the Asian photos as an ethnicity other than Chinese. This labeling effect emerged and was strongest at the same point in development that children displayed a significant increase in their ability to identify their own group membership. Perception of racial features exerted more influence over children’s choices than recognition of ethnic labels. However, both of these features triggered some bias via knowledge of own-group membership, which appears to be particularly important to children early in development when it is first learned. Preference for familiar physical features and sociocultural information concerning group desirability also influenced children’s biases.
  • Article
    Many studies have shown that children of various ages learn from educational television, but they have not explained how children extract and comprehend educational content from these television programs. This paper proposes a model (the capacity model) that focuses on children's allocation of working memory resources while watching television. The model consists of a theoretical construct with three basic components (processing of narrative, processing of educational content, and distance, that is, the degree to which the educational content is integral or tangential to the narrative), plus several governing principles that determine the allocation of resources between narrative and educational content. A review of empirical research points to characteristics of both television programs and viewers that affect the allocation of resources under the model, as well as developmental influences on the relevant processing. Finally, implications for the production of effective educational television are discussed.
  • Article
    Young Hispanic and Caucasian children viewed an animated educational television program in conditions that varied the level of interaction required. Girls and Caucasian children identified with the Hispanic female character more than boys and Hispanic children did. Children who actively responded to character prompts were more likely to understand the important program content than were those who simply observed it. Interaction was especially beneficial to Hispanic girls. The results suggest that programs designed to involve children in the content through participation or interaction provide unique opportunities for children to learn important educational media content, and that even very young children are sensitive to qualities of the symbolic role models who deliver those messages.
  • Article
    Far from being the uncritical believers young children have been portrayed as, children often exhibit skepticism toward the reality status of novel entities and events. This article reviews research on children's reality status judgments, testimony use, understanding of possibility, and religious cognition. When viewed from this new perspective it becomes apparent that when assessing reality status, children are as likely to doubt as they are to believe. It is suggested that immature metacognitive abilities are at the root of children's skepticism, specifically that an insufficient ability to evaluate the scope and relevance of one's knowledge leads to an overreliance on it in evaluating reality status. With development comes increasing ability to utilize a wider range of sources to inform reality status judgments.