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Two-year-olds' comprehension of television: Do they believe their eyes or their ears?

Alisha M Crawley-Davis, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Previous research has shown that 2-year-old children are not able to use information from television (the location of a toy in a room) to solve a problem (finding the toy). One explanation for this result is that 2-year-olds are sophisticated enough to understand that what they see on television does not affect their immediate surroundings (the reality hypothesis). Another explanation is that difficulties with symbolic media led to their failure (the symbolic hypothesis). A third explanation is that the visual perceptual quality of television is too weak for the children to use to update their representations of the location of the toy in the room (the perceptual hypothesis). The first purpose of this study was to replicate the finding that 2-year-olds are unable to find a toy in a room if they see the toy hidden on television, but are able to find it if they watch through a window as a toy is hidden. This finding was replicated, although the result was not significant. It was also found that 2-year-olds performed significantly above chance on the first trial when they watched the hiding event on television. The second purpose of this study was to determine whether the reality hypothesis was supported when visual symbolic and visual perceptual issues were accounted for. Two-year-old children listened to an experimenter, either live or on television, tell them where to find a toy in a room. This eliminated any potential visual symbolic or perceptual problems. Two-year-olds did significantly better when the live experimenter told them where to find the toy than they did when they heard the experimenter on television, supporting the reality hypothesis. However, first trial effects indicate that the reality hypothesis cannot completely account for children's failure to use televised information to find a toy in a room. A new explanation for these results is put forth that is based on the idea that 2-year-olds can and will use information presented on television to solve a problem as long as that information does not conflict with information that they received in “reality”.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Cognitive therapy|Mass media

Recommended Citation

Crawley-Davis, Alisha M, "Two-year-olds' comprehension of television: Do they believe their eyes or their ears?" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3056214.