Watching animations can be developmentally beneficial for children, but not every child’s show is made equal. Rather than focus on the vocabulary, the violence, or even the show’s subject matter, new study suggests the structure of the stories within are what make all the difference. Cartoons that follow a traditional narrative structure with a rise, peak, and fall may improve children’s ability to comprehend and remember significant morals about how to deal with other people.
Past studies have compared cartoons that follow a narrative form to cartoons which are more manic and less structured and found children were better in recapping the particulars of narrative stories. When they watched non-narrative animations, their recollections were more limited to simple descriptions like”it was about fighting.”
A group of social scientists suspected this might be extra important because children’s capacity to comprehend the stories could influence what values, emotions, and morals they pick up on in the narrative. To test this, the researchers recruited 186 students between the ages of 7 and 13 and evaluated their general attention spans, in order to control for this when testing comprehension. Then participants were divided into two groups — one was revealed the animation Doraemon, that had a story structure, and another watched an episode of this non-narrative based cartoon, Code Lyoko. While narrative cartoons had the aforementioned arch, non-narrative shows relied on what researchers refer to as”clinchers,” such as loud sounds, cutaways, and disappearances and reappearances of particular characters. Then the researcher had children retell everything the animations were about, including certain morals and values.
The results, published at the Annals of Psychology, demonstrated that children understood and might recall far more of the story when they watch narrative cartoons, and this influence understanding more than other variables such as age, sex, attention span, and socioeconomic status. “Unlike other works of research that have studied these factors separately or partially, this work has considered all of them conjointly,” the researchers noted.
In fact, the non-traditional structure does allow creators to pack more information into an episode, which might be useful with a specific educational aim. Granted, the animations used in this study didn’t appear to do this, and the authors note additional study is needed to explain why. The experiment was also restricted by a small sample size and researchers recommend results be replicated in additional study before drawing any firm conclusions.
Children generally thrive with a bit of structure, and this study would suggest this fact is reflected in the sort of cartoon they watch. It’s very important to children’s media to classify — and for parents to take note of — the different kinds of animations as story or not, so children can get healthful exposure to narrative skills, even when they’re”just” watching cartoons.
“Continued exposure over time to this kind of episode may have an influence on narrative ability and the values system that the student is building,” the authors concluded. “So highlighting consideration of formal aspects in literary content for future research, as well as their educational implications, proves necessary.”