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Children's Fictional Engagements

Our study in Pediatrics (Lillard & Peterson, 2011) and its follow-up (Lillard et al., Developmental Psychology, 2015) generated much interest.  The initial study found that 4-year-olds who had just watched 9 minutes of a fast-paced, fantastical television show were significantly impaired in what psychologists call "executive functions"--processes that guide goal-directed behaviors, including attention, the ability to inhibit immediate desires in favor of better long-term outcomes, the ability to follow directions and solve problems, etc--were significantly impaired compared to those of 4-year-olds who had watched slower-paced educational show or drawn with crayons and markers for 9 minutes. The follow up replicated this result with 160 4- and 6-year-olds, using two different fast-paced and fantastical television shows and 11-minute episodes. Another experiment in the follow-up suggested fantasy, rather than pacing, was what led to the difficulty with executive function tasks.

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