Young Children's Parasocial Relationships: Media Characters as 21st Century Playmates
Richards, Melissa N.
Calvert, Sandra L
Popular characters bring media programming alive to children. These whimsical characters are crucial components of movies, television shows, and touchscreen apps. Children develop parasocial relationships, (i.e., emotionally-tinged, non-reciprocal relationships) with onscreen characters (Calvert & Richards, 2014). Because of the importance of these relationships, research was conducted to elucidate their multidimensionality during early childhood.The first series of behavioral experiments studied trust--a component of children's parasocial relationships. Children judged the credibility of information about familiar and afterwards, novel fruit names presented on a touchscreen tablet by a familiar and unfamiliar media character. Depending on the condition, either the familiar or unfamiliar character accurately labeled the familiar fruits. Irrespective of age, prior familiarity with the character, or corrective feedback provided by the tablet, children trusted the previously accurate character when they had to select the names of the novel fruits. The results suggest that knowledge conveyed by popular characters, with whom children are likely to form parasocial relationships, is discounted when characters are incorrect.The second experiment assesses parasocial relationships through a child self-report survey based on parental surveys (Bond & Calvert, 2014a). Factor analyses revealed similar conceptual categories of children's parasocial relationships (i.e., character personification, social realism) from child report and earlier parent report data, with child and parent report accounting for approximately the same percentage of variance. However, children reported humanlike needs as a component of parasocial relationships whereas parents of other young children had previously reported attachment as the third component.In the final study, the child survey reports of children's parasocial relationships were compared to assessments made by their own parents. Character personification, social realism, and humanlike needs emerged during factor analysis among parent and child reporters, but parents also reported attractiveness as a fourth parasocial relationship dimension. Parent-child pairs, however, identified the same favorite character only 30% of the time.These studies document new approaches for measuring children's parasocial relationships. Behavioral experiments reveal limitations of trust in popular characters when they were previously wrong. Surveys demonstrated that parents and children may not agree on a favorite character, yet conceptualize most components of children's parasocial relationships similarly.
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Galloway, Daniel (2013-05-06)Background. Research suggests that media characters influence children’s food choice, leading the Institute of Medicine to recommend that characters be used to market healthy foods to children (IOM, 2006 & 2012). Some ...