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Media cues and gender connections: The relations between young children's media use, character familiarity, and gender knowledge

Barbara J Colombo-Adams, University of Massachusetts Amherst


While media have fast become an integral part of young children's daily lives, much remains unknown about how early media use may be influencing learning and development. The current study examined the relations between the amount of time young children spend viewing children's media, character familiarity, and their emerging gender knowledge. References to young children's media use in this report are referring to their viewing of children's shows on television and/or on DVDs. Television/ DVDs remain the predominant way most families view children's shows on a regular basis (Rideout, 2011). In the first phase of the study, parents responded to a survey on children's home media use and familiarity with animated characters. Surveys were distributed through 25 participating child care centers in Massachusetts. Parent survey responses helped determine the media-use measures for the study and the range of characters included in the testing phase with children, between 21 and 43 months (N =169). In phase two, children's character familiarity and gender knowledge of characters, people, and objects were examined through a series of four picture-identification tasks presented on a touchscreen computer monitor. The study revealed that young children are processing gender-based information from the characters they frequently see in children's media. Children with high levels of character familiarity significantly outperformed those with low levels on the gender knowledge of people and characters tasks. Results also found character familiarity to be predictive of children's gender knowledge. Although girls' and boys' overall familiarity with characters was comparable, girls (n = 84) were significantly more familiar with female and other-sex characters than boys. Boys (n = 85) were significantly more familiar with same-sex characters than girls. Another major finding revealed that children's media viewing did not directly contribute to their gender knowledge. However, media viewing was significantly related to and predictive of character familiarity. Together, the main findings provide new information revealing that young children's nascent ability to identify the sexes is mediated by their familiarity with the animated characters they see on screen. The results also reveal the significant contribution of media-based factors in children's gender-knowledge acquisition.

Subject Area

Early childhood education|Multimedia Communications|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Colombo-Adams, Barbara J, "Media cues and gender connections: The relations between young children's media use, character familiarity, and gender knowledge" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3603069.