Date of Award

8-2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Seyda Ozcaliskan

Abstract

Screen time has become a prominent activity for many young children over the last several decades (Media and Young Minds, 2016). Earlier work has focused almost exclusively on the semantic content or educational features within programs. There is, however, no research that has examined the amount, diversity, and complexity of verbal and nonverbal language across a range of programs, and how these language outcomes may be influenced by program and character features. In this study, I examined 82 children’s television programs to explore how programs are utilizing speech and gesture, and whether their relative use of verbal and non-verbal input varies by programmatic features.

Descriptive findings suggested that programs vary greatly in their amount, diversity, and complexity of both speech and gesture. However, when grouped by program and character features such as educational content, character type (human, nonhuman), and character gender (male, female) there was minimal variability between groups. Using path analyses to further probe these relationships, two interesting patterns emerged: (1) programs with higher educational content produced less diverse speech, following patterns seen in parent-child interactions, and (2) female characters produced less diverse speech and less complex gesture+speech combinations, further emphasizing the male bias in children’s television. These findings suggest that additional factors may be contributing to the large variability in the use of speech and gesture across programs, and that networks may need to be more purposeful in their use of verbal and nonverbal communication to support engagement and learning in children’s television.

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