CRITC Archives

CRITC, the Center for Research on Interactive Technology, Television & Children, was originally founded as the Center for Research on the Influences of Television on Children in 1978 by John C. Wright and Aletha C. Huston at the University of Kansas to study the impact of  television  on children’s behavior and development.  In 1996 it moved with Wright and Huston to the Division of Human Development and Family Sciences in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Texas at Austin.   The new title reflects changes in the range of electronic media used by children and a corresponding change in the emphasis of research in the center.

Forms of TV.  Grounded in developmental psychology and communication research, one early focus of the research in the center concerned how children decode the medium of television, how they understand its forms and formats, as well as its content.   Formal features of TV were analyzed, and children’s attention to and comprehension of televised messages presented in different formats were investigated.

Determinants of Media Use.  Children in America spend more time watching television than in any other waking activity.  They also devote time to video and computer games and to using the Internet.  CRITC has conducted studies of the properties of programs and interactive games that boys and girls of different ages use most often, as well as characteristics of families, neighborhoods, and social groups that predict who uses what media.

Educational Media.   According to CRITC’s longitudinal studies, viewing informative and educational programs in the preschool years enhances children’s school readiness when they enter school.   Educational viewing predicts achievement in English, math, and science many years later when they reach high school.   Numerous experimental studies explore how educational content can be presented most effectively on TV and in interactive game formats.

Perceived Reality of TV.    TV programs are likely to have particular impact on children if they believe the content is real.   CRITC research identified two attributes of perceived reality.   Perceived factuality is the belief that fictional content exists in real life.  With age and cognitive maturity, children learn to differentiate fact from fiction.   Perceived social realism is the belief that the content is like real life even though it is fictional.  These beliefs do not decline as children get older.  Instead, the more children watch TV, the more they believe its content is truly representative of the real world.

CRITC’s research has been funded by more than four million dollars in grants from both private foundations and the federal government.   Sources include the Spencer Foundation, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Children’s Television Workshop, the Markle Foundation, as well as the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Science Foundation. CRITC’s work has been disseminated in more than 120 publications and presentations at scientific and professional meetings and conferences.