Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Two- to three-year-olds' understanding of the correspondence between television and reality

Kelly Lynn Schmitt, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Although it has been hypothesized that children's attention is mediated by their comprehension (Anderson & Lorch, 1983), very little research has examined what toddlers actually understand of what they see on television, mostly due to their limited verbal abilities. Research on the comprehension of other symbolic media (i.e., pictures or scale models) indicates a rapid developmental change between two and three years of age in the realization that a symbol represents something other than itself. Two experiments were designed to non-verbally test whether 2- to 3-year-olds showed a similar developmental progression in understanding the correspondence between television and reality. In Study One, 2-, 2.5-, and 3-year-olds were shown a video of a toy being hidden in a room. Subsequently, they were asked to find the toy. Their performance was compared to that of children who saw the same event through a window. At all ages, children who watched through the window were able to find the toys. Three-year-olds who watched the events on TV were also able to find the toys. Two- and 2.5-year-olds who watched the events on TV were able to find the toy during their first trial but on subsequent trials frequently made an error of going to the location where the toy had previously been hidden. The 2.5-year-olds were able to correct such errors but 2-year-olds had difficulty doing so. In Study Two, 2-year-olds' ability to use televised information was examined with an easier task. They watched on video or through a window as a person placed a toy on a piece of furniture. They were subsequently asked to imitate the toy placement. Performance was again superior after watching presentations through a window than on TV. Two-year-olds performed better with this imitation task than they had with the searching task. Performance was better during the first 2 trials than during the latter 2 trials. The findings from this research indicate that toddlers have some sense of the correspondence between TV and reality. Nevertheless, there are considerable developmental advances in the stability of this understanding between two and three years of age. It was suggested that young toddlers' difficulty with using televised information was due to a weaker representation, requiring them to use alternative strategies. Understanding of the correspondence between television and reality appears to show a developmental progression similar to that seen with other symbol systems, suggesting that there are underlying cognitive changes that are necessary in order for children to be able to understand the representational function.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Cognitive therapy

Recommended Citation

Schmitt, Kelly Lynn, "Two- to three-year-olds' understanding of the correspondence between television and reality" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9809398.