TV Gets High Ratings

Explores the ability of toddlers in imitating what they see on television (TV). Average number of hours toddlers spend watching TV; Why children tend to be able to imitate live actions than actions from the TV.

By Rachel Barr, published on March 1, 2000 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016


Most people fret when they hear the statistics: On average,
toddlers watch television for more than three hours every day. They can't
seem to resist bright-colored space aliens and dinosaurs with lulling
voices. But my colleagues and I have discovered that it may not be as bad
as it seems.

Done right, TV-watching provides more than just lessons on being a
couch potato.

In our recent study, 12-, 15- and 18-month-olds watched a video of
an adult removing a mitten from a pink fuzzy hand puppet, shaking it to
ring a bell inside and then putting it back on. A second group of babies
watched a live adult perform the same actions. The next day, we gave each
of them the puppet to see if they could copy the adults' actions.

While the children were able to imitate the live sequence of
actions immediately, only the older babies were able to retain and
perform what they had seen on the set. This indicates that babies'
ability to imitate from TV lags behind their ability to imitate a live
person. The reason is simple. When watching TV, children must first
process the information they see and then make a major leap: Connect what
they saw in the 2' x 2' box with real life.

But compared to the one-minute video we used during the experiment,
kids watch the same show over and over again allowing plenty of time for
learning. Moral of the story: Babies are picking up more than we think,
so choose your TV programs wisely.

Adapted by Ph.D.