Children in the United States have been increasingly more exposed to different screen media, such as television, computers, tablets, etc., over the last decade. In a recent national survey of parents on their children’s media use done in 2013, 75% of children under the age of 8 had access to a tablet in their household up from 52% in 2011 (Rideout, 2013, p. 9), and for children under the age of 2, 38% had used a tablet-like device (p.
23). With increased accesses to tablets and smartphones, the survey found that children were using thses devices for educational purposes. For example, 43% of children between 2 and 4 years of age often or sometimes played educational games or apps on a mobile device such as a tablet (p. 25). Over the past decade, researchers took note of the surging popularity of tablets and other mobile devices amongst children, and they studied the effects such devices had on toddlers’ developmentEarly research into the topic primarily focused on children around 2 years old and their ability to learn language from screen media. Researchers discovered that although toddlers can recognize objects on a screen, it takes longer for toddlers to learn from a video than if they were taught the same material through exposure to real events, also known as the video deficit effect (Anderson, 2005, p.
518). Further studies, such as Myers (2015), have shown that children can overcome the video deficit effect and learn from screen media if they view socially contingent screen media (p. 1).
Social contingency is the idea that individuals are aware of, can create, and respond to social responses, which in turn influence their own future actions (p. 10). In this study, toddlers between 1 and 2 years old were placed in either a group where they saw a pre-recorded video or in a group where they participated in a real-time interactive video chat. In each group, children were introduced to a novel object, shown how to use the novel object, and then were read a book that required the toddlers’ participation (p.3-4).
The study tested the toddlers’ ability to recognize their partner one week after the initial video session, the toddlers’ ability to remember the novel object’s name and use, and the toddlers’ ability to remember the verbal pattern from the story (p. 5-7). The study found that toddlers around 2 years of age only learned in the real-time interactive video chat group due to the social contingency present when interacting with a person on a video chat (p. 1). This built on previous research by showing that the video deficit effect does not apply to all forms of screen media and can be overcome when using socially contingent screen media. A more recent study by Kirkorian (2016) extended the findings from Myers (2015) by removing the social element from the screen media and showing that children can still learn from on screen media when that media demands specific contingent responses. In the study, toddlers between 2 and 3 years of age were tasked with watching a video on a tablet in which an actress pulled 4 objects out of boxes on the screen, referring to each as “this one” except the novel object which the experimenter labeled a specific name. Toddlers were placed into 3 groups to view the video: a noncontingent group (which involved no interaction with the video), a general contingent (which involved the toddler touching anywhere on the screen at specified times throughout the video in order to continue), and a specific contingent (which involved the toddler touching the box when prompted by the actress in order to continue the video) (p.
407). After watching the video, toddlers were tested to see if they had learned the name of the novel object using various word learning tests (p. 408). The study found that only 2 year olds from the specific contingent group were able to learn the name of the novel object, suggesting that toddlers are able to learn from contingent videos without interacting with a live partner because the contingent video redirects the toddlers’ attention to the information trying to be taught (p. 411). The purpose of this study is to extend the research done so far on the topic of toddler development and screen media use by following an avenue of research that Kirkorian suggested in his study (2015).
As suggested by Kirkorian, this study tested whether toddlers around the age of 2 could learn information from contingent videos other than words (p. 411). Our study assessed how contingency affects the ability of toddlers to learn sounds, particularly animal sounds. Animal sounds provide a form of information that can be learned without knowing the name of the animal. As a result, toddlers were not required to learn any new words in the current study while still being taught a new form of information. If toddlers are able to learn other information from screen media other than words, we should see toddlers who are assigned to the contingent group learn the novel sound with greater frequency than those in the noncontingent group.MethodParticipants: Participants were 36 toddlers (19 boys, 17 girls) aged 24 to 28 months.
18 participants were randomly assigned to each condition (noncontingent and contingent), and the average age in each condition was 26.2 months and 26.5 months, respectively. Participants were from primarily white families of upper-class homes from around Princeton, New Jersey. The average amount of years of education for parents of the participants was 19 years, and the participants’ parents were surveyed prior to being selected on a) if their child has used mobile devices or tablets to play educational games and b) how long they spend on average using tablets or mobile devices per day.
Among the participants, 48% often or sometimes used mobile devices, and they typically spent on average 4 minutes on the device per day. Procedure: This study followed a similar procedure as Kirkorian (2016); however, certain aspects of the procedure were modified to accommodate the specific challenges of this study. Each participant viewed the video on an iPad Pro 12.9 inch using an app that was specifically made for the study. Regardless of whether the video was contingent or noncontingent, the content and sequence of the video remained the same.
To begin, the participant entered the room and sat down at a table across from the experimenter. In front of the participant, an iPad connected to a stand was set up so that it would be at eye level with the participant. Once the participant was ready to begin, the experimenter tapped the screen for the video to begin. The format of the video was as follows: there were 4 boxes containing, from left to right from the participant’s perspective, a cow, a pig, a dog, and a loon (the novel stimuli). The actress began with the farthest box to the participant’s left and asked the participant, “Do you want to see what is in the box? Watch me. I am going to show you what is in this box. Here I go.” At this point for the contingent group, the video would pause, and the actress on screen would instruct the participant to touch the box to continue the video.
The video did not resume until the participant touched the box the actress was referring to, and the participant was reminded every 10 seconds by the actress on screen to touch the box following. Once the child touched the box, the actress then opened the box, removed the object, and said, “Oh, look at this! I wonder what sound it makes?” Again, the video would pause, and for the participants in the contingent group, the actress asked, “Touch it to see what sound it makes.” The video only continued when the animal was touched. Once the animal was touched, the sound of the subsequent animal would play twice, each time lasting for 5 seconds, before moving to the next box where the actress would follow the same script.
For the noncontingent group, the video never paused, and the actress never instructed the participant to interact with the screen. The video was watched 3 times by each participant, meaning the participant would hear the novel sound and see the novel animal for 30 seconds. At no point throughout the test did the experimenter or actress in the video refer to an animal by its name. Rather, the word “it” or “this” was used to refer to the animal.Measures: After viewing the video three times, the experimenter placed 4 boxes on the table identical to those in the video. The experimenter removed from left to right the animals from the box and set them in front of each respective box. On the table, the experimenter had an iPad connected to a speaker set up in front of the participant.
To begin the test, the experimenter informed the participant that they would hear a sound, and if they knew from which animal the sound came, then they should point at that animal. Each animal sound was played twice. In order, the sounds were played: cow, loon, dog, pig, cow, pig, loon, and dog. If the participant correctly matched the novel sound with the loon, the experimenter recorded a 1. If the participant incorrectly identified the novel sound with any other animal, then the experimenter recorded a 0. Discussion Participants in the noncontingent group on average correctly identified the novel sound to be that of the loon 32% of the time while the participants in the contingent test group correctly identified the novel sound 60% of the time (see, Figure 1). This study was conducted to test whether the findings from the prior research on contingency done by Kirkorian (2015) that 2-year-old toddlers learn from contingent video applied to other domains of learning outside of word learning.
The findings of the current study are similar to prior research in that contingent screen media improved the ability of toddlers to learn; furthermore, they extend prior research by showing that contingent videos improve the ability of toddlers to learning across a variety of domains, words (Kirkorian, 2015), and sounds. This suggests that contingent videos may improve the ability of young children to learn any information from video provided there is contingency; however, future research is needed to discover exactly what other types of information children are able to learn from contingent videos. Taking an overview of prior research on the topic of children and learning from screen media gives insight into some possible directions for future research. For example, before extensive research had begun on contingent videos, research was still being conducted on the affects social contingency had on learning with screen media, and it was shown that baby signs (Dayanim, 2015), words, actions, and patterns (Myers, 2017) could be taught through screen media. The ability of contingent videos to teach patterns, baby signs, and actions to children are all possible avenues for further research.
Generally, this study tried to retain as many elements from Kirkorian (2015) so that the results could be related, and in doing so, a few elements of the study had some weakness. Two possible weaknesses include the unknown effect that the parents’ education had on the ability of toddlers to perform the test and the unknown effect that toddlers’ familiarity with tablets had on the ability to perform the test. Also, using 3 familiar animals, such as a pig, cow, and dog, might inflate the ability of the participants to attribute the novel sound to the loon since the sound of the pig, cow, and dog are so distinct and different from that of a loon. Another possible weakness of the study is the participants and their lack of diversity; however, it is fairly representative of the group that commonly owns and commonly uses mobile devices with 20% of lower-income children having a mobile device compared to 63% of higher-income children having one (Rideout, 2013, p. 11).