Is Eating Healthy Bearable? Examining Children's Transfer of Health-Related Concepts from a Storybook

Smith, Eric, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Lillard, Angeline, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Many parents believe reading books is important for children’s cognitive development. Thus, it is no surprise most 4- to 6-year-olds in the United States are read to, on average, over 45 minutes per day (Rideout, Vandewater, & Wartella, 2003). Prior research has demonstrated that these parent-child reading interactions afford benefits in literacy, vocabulary, and writing. Far less attention has been devoted to the content children learn from storybooks and the circumstances promoting and hindering learning, particularly with trade books. This dissertation filled gaps in existing literature by (1) examining whether 4- and 5-year-olds gleaned an intended message (i.e., theme) from a story and used it to guide behavior; (2) assessing anthropomorphized story characters’ impact on Aim 1; and (3) examining whether medium-specific differences accounted for differences in children’s ability to extract thematic content and behaviorally apply it. Results revealed that children adeptly identified thematic content, but failed to generate abstract thematic statements and generalize thematic content. Anthropomorphic bears were most effective at encouraging theme-consistent behavior, particularly when children were familiar with them. Similarly, children more readily transferred a modeled behavior conveyed through a storybook than a matched video when they were familiar with the bears. Theme comprehension positively influenced behavior for those children who viewed a video, but had no effects on behavior across storybook conditions. In sum, the current studies are the first to my knowledge to concurrently examine the relationship (or lack thereof) between children’s ability to extract thematic content and behaviorally apply it. The resultant dissociative relationship between theme extraction and behavioral application domains inspired a hot/cold model explaining these processes. Crucially, these systems function independently and contribute to the field’s understanding of how children learn from storybooks.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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