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October 26, 2004

Children's Attention Watching TV

Should children multi-task? In a psychology study, one group of 5-year-olds watched Sesame Street with toys in the room, and another with no toys. The researc hers filmed them to record how much attention they paid (how much they looked at the TV), and then tested them on what they remembered about the program. The surprising discovery was that although they children with toys paid much less attention, they remembered just as much-- though not as much about what was going on during the specific times they were not paying attention.

The researchers' conclusion was that the children were paying attention to the most informative parts of the program, carefully enough that paying attention to the other parts didn't yield them much extra comprehension. Thus, comprehension causes attention rather than the reverse.

An implication is that the way to get children to understand something on TV is not to grab their attention with fast pacing and gimmicks, but to slow down the pace to make it understandable, which in turn will get their attention.

I suppose this has implications for adults too, and for my teaching. I should slow down and be understandable!

The study is reported in Daniel Anderson and Elizabeth Lorch "Looking at Television: Action or Reaction?", chapter 1 of Jennings Bryant and Daniel Anderson, eds. Children's Understanding of Television (New York: Academic Press, 1983)

Posted by erasmuse at October 26, 2004 10:54 AM

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