Recently Completed Studies

Parasocial Relationship Survey

Both adults and children form parasocial relationships, or one-sided, emotionally tinged relationships with media characters. Although much is known about adult parasocial relationships, less is known about children’s parasocial relationships.  Our team is interviewing children about their favorite characters and asking parents to fill out surveys about their children’s preferred media characters.  We hope to better understand these unique childhood parasocial relationships, and the implications these parasocial relationships may have on learning and behavior.

Parasocial Relationships and Children’s Food Preferences

We expanded our research on parasocial relationships with children’s favorite characters to their favorite media characters who market foods to them.  We are investigating children’s knowledge of media characters who market foods to them, and the strength of their parasocial relationships with the media characters they select as their favorite.  Through this approach, we can better understand how parasocial relationships with media characters can influence children’s food preferences.

DW App Study

In this study, children play a tablet app game that features DW from Arthur choosing healthy foods to gain energy and avoiding unhealthy foods to lose energy.  We then ask children which foods help DW and themselves gain energy and which foods ‘zap’ DW and their own energy.  Overall, we will examine what children learn about healthy and unhealthy foods from playing a game with a familiar character.

iPad Credibility Study

Our lab is investigating how familiarity influences the credibility (i.e. trustworthiness) of media characters by having children play a fruit-naming game on an iPad with a familiar character (Elmo) and an unfamiliar character (DoDo, a children’s character, that is popular in Taiwan).  In addition to learning about how young children determine credibility, our goal is to investigate how children interact with and use touchscreen technology.  Results indicated that children trusted accurate rather than familiar characters when faced with novel objects.

Building Meaningful Parasocial Relationships Between Toddlers and Media Characters to Teach Early Math Skills

Very young children have difficulty transferring what they view onscreen to their offscreen worlds. This study examined whether familiarizing toddlers with a character would improve toddlers’ performance on a subsequent seriation task. Toddlers were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) a familiarized character condition where toddlers viewed character-based videos and engaged in character-based play over a 3-month period before viewing the seriation video demonstration; (2) an unfamiliarized character condition where the toddler only saw the seriation video demonstration; and (3) a no-exposure control group where the toddler did not see the seriation video demonstration or have any involvement with the character. All toddlers were tested on the same seriation task at age 21 months, with the familiarized character group beginning the study at age 18 months and the other groups participating only at age 21 months. Toddlers in the familiarized character condition, but not the unfamiliarized character condition, completed the seriation task significantly better than the no-exposure control group. Within the familiarized character condition, toddlers who nurtured the character during play subsequently had higher seriation scores.The results suggest that meaningful relationships with media characters can help toddlers learn early mathematical skills.

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Personalized Interactive Characters for Toddlers’ Learning of Seriation from a Video Presentation

Children’s media is rooted in relationships with onscreen characters. In this study, 18-month-old
toddlers were initially exposed to one of two unfamiliar interactive media characters for 3
months. Conditions varied whether the character was personalized to them or not. At age 21
months, toddlers were tested on a seriation task that was presented onscreen by the character and
compared to the performance of a 21-month-old control group who did not view a video
demonstration (Total N = 48). Toddlers learned significantly more from the personalized
character, but not from the non-personalized character, when compared to the control group.
Children in the personalized condition also increased in parasocial, nurturing behaviors directed
at the character during play sessions, and these scores were linked to better seriation
performance. The results suggest an important role for social relationships with interactive
characters to teach early seriation skills.

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Advergame Marketing to Children

As part of our childhood obesity initiative, the Children’s Digital Media Center conducted an experimental study to assess the effects of Internet food marketing on children. Third and fourth grade students chose healthier snacks after playing a health-promoting advergame.

This study was recently published in the July 2009 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a publication of the American Medical Association. Professor Calvert recently presented these findings at the Food Presentation and New Media Conference, sponsored by the Department of Health and the UK Association for the Study of Obesity, in London, England.

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Pac-man Advergame picture