Children, Unlike Adults, Recall More Of What They See On Television Than What They Read, Study Finds

February 28, 1997

Researchers See Useful Implications for Education

WASHINGTON -- While some parents might view the frequent use of films and videos in their children's classrooms as a sign of laziness on the part of teachers, a new study published in the American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Educational Psychology suggests otherwise: such teaching materials may help children -- unlike adults -- remember more of what they are taught.

Psychologists Juliette H. Walma van der Molen, Ph.D., and Tom H.A. van der Voort, Ph.D., of the Center for Child and Media Studies at Leiden University in The Netherlands wanted to see if the results of previous studies comparing the recall of television and print news information in educated adults would apply to children as well. All the earlier studies (except one, which found no difference) found that adults remembered more of what they read than what they saw on television, possibly because adults take advantage of the freedom to re-read printed material that they don't usually have with television.

To do this, the researchers designed a study in which 152 fourth- and sixth-grade children (between ages 10 and 12) were presented with five children's news stories, either in their original televised form or in a verbatim printed version. Some of the children were told they would be tested on what they read or saw (to simulate the school setting) and others were not told that they would be tested (to simulate watching or reading at home). The television version of the five stories lasted 11 minutes and was viewed once; the children reading the printed versions could take as long as they needed to read them.

Across the board, children who watched the television news reports recalled more of what they viewed than the children who read the printed versions (which carried no photos or illustrations). There were some differences, however: the more proficient readers remembered more from either medium than the less proficient readers (poor readers were excluded from the study) and the older children who were told they would be tested expended greater mental effort than those who were not told they would be tested. Also, the children who watched the televised version recalled more items of information that were presented both verbally and visually than they did those that were presented only verbally, without accompanying pictures. In other words, the television items were particularly effective (compared with the printed versions) when the children received the news via two channels: the spoken commentary and the television pictures conveying more or less the same information.

Noting that the superiority of television as a news medium for children proved to be of a more general nature than they had expected -- it was not restricted to certain subgroups of children -- the researchers were also pleased to see that the superiority of television was not confined to the "school situation in which children may consume the news knowing that they will be questioned about the information."

"The results of this study," the researchers conclude, "are 'good news' for children, because in the home situation they rely primarily on the medium that can serve them most effectively. For instructional settings, the study suggests that television news that is adapted to children's level of understanding and that effectively uses television's ability to convey news both verbally and visually may be an effective aid to the teacher."

Article: "Children's Recall of Television and Print News: A Media Comparison Study" by Juliette H. Walma van der Molen, Ph.D., and Tom H.A. van der Voort, Ph.D., Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands, in Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 89, No. 1.
(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 142,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 49 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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