The Effect of Narrative Cues on Toddlers’ Imitation from Television and Picture Books
Television viewing and picture book reading are prevalent activities during toddlerhood (Rideout, Vandewater & Wartella, 2003). Recent research has shown that toddlers can imitate novel actions on real-world objects that were originally introduced via television (Barr & Hayne, 1999) or in picture books (Simcock & DeLoache, 2006). However, variations in methodology used for television and book studies do not allow for comparisons. Thus the purpose of the present study was to directly compare 24-month-olds’ ability to imitate from books and television and to examine the effect of narrative cues on their performance. Toddlers were either shown a pre-recorded video or were read a picture book depicting an experimenter constructing a novel toy rattle accompanied by either full descriptive narration of the target actions or empty vague narration. Following a ten minute delay, the toddlers were given the depicted objects and were asked to make a rattle. Toddlers imitated more actions after exposure to a televised demonstration than a book reading demonstration, but narration only facilitated imitation from the video. Results supported the representational flexibility hypothesis in which Hayne (2004) argues that the degraded perceptual attributes of two-dimensional media make learning from books and television a challenging task for toddlers. Cognitive flexibility influences the facility with which toddlers can use the information presented in 2D media, which has important theoretical implications for our understanding of toddlers’ emerging representational insight. Further, this data has important practical implications to help inform parents, teachers, and policy makers on the cognitive effects of media on early development. Children under two years of age are one of the fastest growing groups of media consumers, and yet controversy still exists over the merits and potential harm of various types of media. Nowhere is this debate stronger than between television and books. Ninety-six percent of parents rated books as the media with the most educational value, and yet children only spend about 40 minutes a day with books, as opposed to 2 hours with screen media (Rideout et al., 2003). Ninety-nine percent of households have a television and 95% have a VCR or DVD player, helping to make screen media a child’s most frequent daily activity (Rideout et al., 2003). Thirty years ago young children first experienced television around the age of 2.5 years, but current times find children as young as 6 months, if not younger, watching videos and television (Rideout et al., 2003; Zimmerman et al., 2007). Books, as opposed to television, have always been regarded as necessary and highly beneficial to infants’ development. Yet only 45% of parents report reading daily to infants and toddlers, and only 51% of parents report reading even several times per week (Britto, Fuligni, & Brooks-Gunn, 2002; Bradley, Corwyn, McAdoo, & Coll, 2001). These findings are discouraging since the potential benefit of books comes from their complexity and frequency of exposure (Fletcher & Reese, 2005). Most other research with books has focused on children preschool age and older, ignoring the influences book reading can have on younger infants (Fletcher & Reese, 2005).