Designers of educational television for young children face a major stumbling block: two-year-old children tend to ignore information presented to them on a TV screen.
For example, 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.
Troseth’s team think this ‘video deficit’ is caused by the fact young children quickly learn to distinguish between video and reality, predisposing them to ignore information presented by someone on TV.
One way to overcome this could be to encourage children to see the person on TV as socially relevant. To test this, some two-year-olds interacted with a researcher over a live video-link for five minutes, playing games, chatting and singing songs. Later on, when the researcher appeared on a pre-recorded video telling the same children where she had hidden a toy, they went and found it in the first place they looked 69 per cent of the time. In contrast, a control group of children who hadn't interacted with the researcher over the live video-link earlier on, found the toy just 35 per cent of the time.
“Learning that a person on video was a social partner who could share relevant information eliminated the typical deficiency in two-year-olds’ acquisition and use of information from video”, the researchers said.
The finding has implications for the design of educational TV. “If social cues suggest that people on television are serving as conversational partners, children will be more likely to pay attention and learn” the researchers concluded, pointing to the example of Blues Clues as a programme that is “on the right track”.
Troseth, G.L., Saylor, M.M. & Archer, A.H. (2006). Young children’s use of video as a source of socially relevant information. Child Development, 77, 786-799.