A new study shows that four- to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic (human-like) animals.
According to researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, the findings are noteworthy since so much of children’s media — from books to movies to video games — use human-like animal characters.
But researchers discovered that many children do not see these characters as similar to themselves, which means the kids are less likely to translate social lessons from these stories into their everyday lives.
“These findings add to a growing body of research showing that children find it easier to apply knowledge from stories that are realistic,” said Dr. Patricia Ganea, associate professor of early cognitive development. “Overall, children were more likely to act on the moral of the story when it featured a human character.”
In the study, children first had a chance to share some of their 10 stickers with another child. They were then read one of three books: A book about sharing with human characters; the same book with anthropomorphic animal characters; or a book about seeds. This book was used to check how sharing changed when the story did not involve sharing, the researchers explained.
After the reading, children had another chance to give away new stickers. The number of stickers shared provided a measure of children’s altruistic giving.
The researchers found that preschoolers shared more after listening to the book with humans. Children who were read the book with animal characters shared less after the reading.
One of the reasons some children did not act generously may have been because they did not interpret the anthropomorphic animals as similar to themselves, the researchers theorized.
Researchers also assessed whether children viewed anthropomorphic animal characters as human or not. Most children said these animals lacked human characteristics.
Of the children who read the animal book, those who attributed human characteristics to anthropomorphic animals shared more after reading, researchers noted.
According to Ganea, the study’s findings highlight that storybooks can have an immediate impact on children’s social behavior.
“Books that children can easily relate to increase their ability to apply the story’s lesson to their daily lives,” she said. “It is important for educators and parents to choose carefully when the goal is to teach real-world knowledge and social behaviors through storybooks.”
“Parents can play an important role in children’s learning by asking them to explain parts of the story and helping them see the similarity between the story and their own lives,” added Nicole Larsen, who worked with Ganea on the study as part of her master’s degree.
The study was published in Developmental Science.
Source: University of Toronto