Team's TV Study Points to Next Step
> 5/30/2006 9:40:45 AM

We've discussed television a couple of times over the last couple of months, from the consistently hot topic of on-screen violence to the actual effects of TV on a growing child. Today though, Yahoo! News has a report on one of the more interesting studies on the subject we've seen in a little while. Vanderbilt assistant professor of psychology Georgene L. Troseth led a team that produced two experiments examining the manner in which children were able to learn from contact with a "teacher."

In the first experiment one group of children was instructed on video and another in person on how to locate a hidden toy in a neighboring room. Then in the second experiment the video was replaced by an interactive instructor who was able to see and react to the child with "social cues and personal references."

The results of the experiment will need repeating as the study only used 24 children, but the conclusions are compelling:

Children who watched the video rarely found the toy animal, according to the study, which appears in the current issue of Child Development. That suggests that the toddlers didn't believe or listen to her. Children who received the instructions in person usually found the toy, however.

...After five minutes of interaction with the woman on the screen [in the second experiment], the children were able to find the hidden object.

As Troseth pointed out, the implications of this research on the way future groups design their studies is as important as the effect that this group's conclusions may have on the development of future television programming. Yahoo!'s story mentions that the next step is to see if toddler's will "accept actors or characters who repeatedly appear to talk to them -- as characters on popular children's shows such as Blue's Clues or Dora the Explorer do -- as their 'social partners.'"

What this report actually seems to push at however, is the role of video games, an undeniably more interactive medium, in the growth and development of younger children. Concerns about television and children often center on the passivity of the medium. If Blue or Dora can seem to interact with the child, something Troseth's research has shown to be more effective then simply talking at the child, then video games, which don't just seem to interact, but actually do interact should be the next step of research. Indeed, if a computer could simulate the "social cues and personal references" of a typical human-to-human interaction, wouldn't that tool be just as useful as an instructor?

The questions that need to be addressed are multi-faceted:
  1. At what point will the child form the type of social relationship with an in-game character that can foster learning and social development?

  2. As this relationship will in reality be "false," predicated on artificial intelligence instead of human interaction, are their hidden dangers that, because of a lack of technology, have not made themselves known?

  3. What is the best or most realistic form of interactivity (e.g. reactive sing-along, drum input, video cam, etc.)?

Once these points have been addressed, we can answer the most important question: If this new technology can in fact be beneficial, what do we teach?

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