For those who aren’t familiar with Elmo, let’s meet him! Elmo is a Muppet character on the children’s television show Sesame Street. He is a furry red monster and in the show he presents Elmo’s world, which is aimed at toddlers. In 2009 Sesame Street was broadcasted in 140 countries. Does the name DoDo (not the bird) ring any bells? Probably not if you haven’t got a Taiwanese background. Well, let’s meet him, too! DoDo is a furry, teddy bearlike, cuddly animal. Now this particular unfamiliarity with DoDo was exactly what researchers from the Georgetown University in Washington DC (Lauricella et al. 2011) were looking for. A socially meaningful character (Elmo) versus a not socially meaningful character (DoDo).
Alexis Lauricella and her colleagues examined whether toddlers, prior to the age of two, could learn conceptual information from a video. To answer this question all toddlers were visited in their homes at a time chosen by their parents and these sessions were recorded on video for later coding. In this kind of on-site research, the video is often coded and analyzed in great detail afterwards using The Observer XT research software.
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Results show the power of Elmo
As expected, 21-month-old toddlers who viewed a video of the socially meaningful character Elmo as he demonstrated a task learned to seriate nesting cups significantly better than toddlers who saw no demonstration (you can find an illustration of the seriation task at the website of CMDC). Toddlers who viewed the less socially meaningful character DoDo as he demonstrated the same task did not learn to seriate cups significantly better than toddlers who saw no demonstration, in other words, neither group performed the task as well as the Elmo-watchers. Isn’t it amazing to see what young children can learn from onscreen characters?
Learning important cognitive seriation skills after viewing a video
Lauricella et al. concluded that toddlers could learn from actions performed by a popular onscreen character such as Elmo. There is one caveat: the toddler must be familiar with the onscreen character. However, in an age in which TV, Internet, and movies increasingly penetrate our living rooms, we most likely don’t have to worry about unfamiliarity with a TV character. Having said that, I feel it is encouraging to hear that even very young children learn from watching television shows.
- Lauricella, A.R.; Gola, A.A.H.; Calvert, S.L. (2011). Toddlers’ learning from socially meaningful video characters. Media Psychology, 14 (2), 216-232. Retrieved from: http://cdmc.georgetown.edu/papers/socially_meaningful_characters.pdf
- PowerPoint presentation presented at the 2009 Children’s Digital Media Center meeting http://cdmc.georgetown.edu/papers/meeting/CDMC2009_Georgetown1.ppt