A new Canadian study suggests that talking animal characters such as Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh may damage a child’s intellect. For a more educational experience, children’s literature or cartoons with realistic animals is now recommended. The findings were published in Frontiers in Psychology.
The study, conducted at the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development at the University of Toronto, found that children’s cartoons, and books in particular, which feature anthropomorphized animals or creatures with more humanized characteristics lead to less factual learning, as well as influencing the toddler’s reasoning concerning the topic of animals.
It was also found by the researchers that human emotions and behaviors were more likely to be attributed by the young reader to animals when exposed to stories that have anthropomorphized animals as opposed to stories that depicted animals more realistically.
Patricia Ganea, the lead author and an Assistant Professor at U of T, said that to her surprise even children who were older were sensitive to the Mickey Mouse like characters. They too attributed human characteristics to animals after reading books that were fantastical compared to realistic books.
According to the team, the research is important because it suggests the type of children’s literature adults should use to teach their children about living in the real world. Furthermore, the researchers also give advise to both parents and teachers to make sure they use a diverse number of books in the nonfiction and informational genre, especially novels that use factual language to describe the world in a biological sense.
In order to come to the conclusion that exposure to talking animals damages a child’s intellect, as the study suggests, the impact of the depiction of animals was assessed along with the language. Depictions such as Winnie the Pooh in his red pants, and Winnie the Pooh in his cheerful splendor were examples of the literary images assessed.
The first study involved children who were between the ages of three to five, and they were asked to look at picture books which featured drawings of real animals. Half of those children were exposed to realistic and factual language, while the other half of the children heard language that was anthropomorphized. The second study replicated the first, but instead, comparisons were made between illustrations of Mickey Mouse-esque animals to real animals.
The results of the study revealed that talking animals may lead to a downgrade in learning. More so, it also had an influence on a child’s “conceptual knowledge of animals.”
Talking animals have been an integral part of children literature stretching as far back to Ancient Greece with Aesop’s Fables, which included talking foxes, frogs, asses, dogs, and birds. There are the Grimm Fairytales with the Big Bad Wolf or other fairytales like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Who can forget Charlotte’s Web or other modern classics? Children learn from cartoons too with Disney and Pixar shows and films featuring a variety of talking and walking animals. Two of the most notable of all the talking animals that have had a profound influence on children throughout generations are Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh, granted the latter does walk around without pants on which is odd, but his influence on children cannot be denied.
So, as the study suggests does exposure to talking animals such as Mickey Mouse damage a child’s intellect? That could be a new age-old debate with this study now published. However, Professor Ganea says this does not mean children should stop reading those books or watching those cartoons to their children entirely. Simply, a parent should also expose their children to books and cartoons that interpret realistic animals as well.
Commentary By Kollin Lore