A Canadian study has found that kids’ books featuring animals with human characteristics lead to less factual learning, and influences children’s reasoning about animals.
Researchers also found that young readers are more likely to attribute human behaviors and emotions to animals when exposed to books with anthropomorphized animals than books depicting animals realistically.
“Books that portray animals realistically lead to more learning and more accurate biological understanding,” says lead author Patricia Ganea, Assistant Professor with the University of Toronto’s Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development.
“We were surprised to find that even the older children in our study were sensitive to the anthropocentric portrayals of animals in the books and attributed more human characteristics to animals after being exposed to fantastical books than after being exposed to realistic books.”
The team said the study had implications for the type of books adults use to teach children about the real world. The researchers advise parents and teachers to consider using a variety of informational and nonfiction books, and to use factual language when describing the biological world to young children.
The researchers assessed the impact of depictions (a bird wearing clothes and reading a book) and language (bird described as talking and as having human intentions).
In the first study children aged three, four and five saw picture books featuring realistic drawings of a novel animal. Half of the children also heard factual, realistic language, while the other half heard anthropomorphized language.
In the second study, the first study was replicated, using anthropomorphic illustrations of real animals.
“The results show that the language used to describe animals in books has an effect on children’s tendency to attribute human-like traits to animals, and that anthropomorphic storybooks affect younger children’s learning of novel facts about animals. These results indicate that anthropomorphized animals in books may not only lead to less learning but also influence children’s conceptual knowledge of animals.
The study was recently published in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Do cavies talk?: The effect of anthropomorphic books on children’s knowledge about animals.
Patricia A Ganea, Caitlin F. Canfield, Kadria Simons and Tommy Chou.
Frontiers in Psychology 5:283. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00283