Cognitive Daily

i-ccbd0c55512c72f3746bd6dd903506b5-barney.jpgWhen he was a toddler, our son Jim was entranced by Barney the Dinosaur. He’d watch the program for an uninterrupted 30 minutes each day, giving exhausted parents a much-needed chance for a rest, while Jimmy learned important skills such as counting and letters. While the rest was welcome, our belief that the programming was educational might have been misguided. An article in BPS Psychology Digest has the details. Apparently two-year-olds just don’t pay attention to instructions transmitted via the TV:

In an initial study by Georgene Troseth and colleagues, two-year-olds told face-to-face where a toy was going to be hidden went and found it in the first place they looked 77 per cent of the time, whereas those told by the same researcher via a video-recording found the toy in the first place they looked just 27 per cent of the time.


  1. #1 Scott Spiegelberg
    May 30, 2006

    Yes, but were they being told by a purple dinosaur or monster? Or were the directions incorporated into a song? I think the research misses the point of why children learn from these shows. The children don’t pay attention because it is on TV. They pay attention because the information is presented in an entertaining way. A good experiment would have two factors: TV/live, entertaining/non-entertaining. I would bet dollars to donuts that the entertainment factor is highly significant, and the TV issue is not nearly as significant.

  2. #2 Scott Spiegelberg
    May 30, 2006

    Actually, now having read the BPS post, I think their experiment does show that entertainment/engagement is the important factor. I don’t like the spin that article puts on the results.

  3. #3 Dave Munger
    May 30, 2006

    I think you’re right, Scott — a big key is for the child to be engaged. Jim actually ended up learning his alphabet from “Wheel of Fortune.” We’d happen to be watching it, and we noticed that as soon as Pat Sajak said the letter, Jimmy would repeat it. Then Vanna would flip the letter around, and Jimmy would learn the shape that went with the sound. I guess Jimmy just liked all the sparkly, shiny things in that show, so he learned from it.

  4. #4 Dan Sroka
    May 30, 2006

    As the parent of a 2 year old, my thought is that one of the first lessons learned about media is that the man (or dinosaur) talking on the TV is not talking to *you*. The child watching learns the difference between presentation and actual communication.

  5. #5 Jane Carroll
    May 31, 2006

    I think it is worthy of note that you say “we were watching” the programme not Jim was watching the programme. When an adult watches a programe with a child they interact with the child and reinforce what the child may say / explian what is happening and comment. Thus providing the engagement / interaction and reinforcement so then the tv programme becomes interaction not presentation.

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