To Learn by Human Observation or to Learn from a TV Screen

A study conducted by the Psychology Department at UMass Amherst indicates that babies learn more effectively when observing human behavior, rather than when the same behaviors are exhibited on a television screen.

Currently, there are no hypotheses, which can be proven explaining this discrepancy. Based on conducted studies however, it is clear that this difference exists until the age of three, when learning from a screen becomes equally effective as learning behavior through observation.

In conducting this study, researchers designed a situation in which a child would observe behaviors and hear directions through a window.  For example, the child may have heard, “Cindy likes to hide Barney under the couch.” Or, “Cindy likes to hide Barney behind the television.” Then, Cindy, a graduate student, would demonstrate these actions for the child to watch. Afterwards, the child would be led into a different room, with the exact set up as outside of the window, and asked to find Barney. Nearly 90% of the time, the child would find Barney on his first attempt.

The situation then changed to have the child watching and hearing these behaviors demonstrated on a television screen. In this case, the child only “found Barney” approximately 60% of the time. This illustrates a significant gap in learning, attributed to the way in which the child is exposed to the information.

As a result, the psychology department suggests, that using educational television for children is often ineffective until the age of three. However, beginning at three, the psychology department also did studies suggesting that a relationship exists between watching educational television and a student’s high school grade point average. According to the study, there is a positive correlation between the two, illustrating that educational television does have a positive effect when used in appropriate situations for children.


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