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East Asia Child Science Exchange Program 5: Infants are interested in humans - Analysis of infants' behavior toward television -

My area of research is the influence of television on children. Research on infants' responses to television and the characteristic features of their favorite TV commercials indicates that infants are the most interested in humans. After discussing these results, I will consider how to deal with the decreasing interaction of infants with others in today's society.

1. Infants show interest in humans on the TV screen and seek sympathetic response from parents ? Group survey and behavior analysis results?

A group survey and behavior analysis were conducted to investigate infant responses to television. The questionnaire survey of 1,600 children between 3 to 24 months old focused on their involvement with television. The results were as follows. Children between 3 to 4 months old only respond to the light and sound of television. When able to sit up, children start watching TV and swaying to music on TV. By the time they become able to crawl, children start to approach the TV. When their favorite TV characters appear on the screen, children shriek with laughter or try to speak to the characters. When able to stand upright, children start mimicking TV characters. By the time they are 18 months old, children start to enjoy watching TV with their parents by pointing a finger at what they are watching and asking questions.

Next, a 12-minute video was shown to children aged 0 to 1 with their parents in a playroom to observe their natural state (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

When the television is on, children respond to it in various ways. When their favorite TV characters appear, children look at their parents' faces with a laugh or ask questions by pointing a finger at what they are watching. It seems that the television works as a communication tool if their parents are present. In addition, there are commonalities in the scenes they tend and tend not to watch as well as those that elicit shrieks of laughter and attempts to speak to the television. Therefore, it was found that the images and contents had characteristic features that trigger children's responses and communication.

The video shown to the infants and their parents had scenes from both programs that infants seem to like (commercials with babies and puppets, opening scenes of children's programs, puppet shows; and exercise programs) and scenes from programs that infants do not seem to be interested in (baseball games, landscapes, and adult education programs). The video was divided into 66 scenes and the attributes of each scene were evaluated. The average viewing rates of the scenes with or without these attributes were evaluated. As a result, it was found that infants tend to watch scenes with smiling when TV characters looking at the viewer. On the other hand, infants do not watch the TV screen very often if the characters look away, look sideways, or turn their back to the viewer (Fig. 2).

Figure 2

Regarding response behavior, it was observed that infants frequently mimicked movements and sounds. Their movements only mimicked those of humans and TV characters who smiled and looked at the viewer. Infants did not mimic animals. As for sounds, infants mimicked the voice, words, and songs vocalized by humans or TV characters. It can be said that infants mimic humans who smile at them.

After reacting to the video scene, the infants most frequently looked at the parent's face. This was the most frequently observed behavior in all cases, whether after asking questions, mimicking movements and words, swaying to the music, or smiling at the screen. Parents responded by nodding, praising, and mimicking together and singing along with the child.

As indicated above, infants show interest in humans on the TV screen who smile at them. They mimic the movements and language of the person on the TV screen and then appeal to their parents for a sympathetic response.

2. Infants show interest in humans who smile at them
- Characteristics of favorite commercials ?

Because TV commercials contain a vast range of information, it can be assumed a study of the characteristics of their favorite commercial will indicate what infants are most interested in. We recorded 44 commercials that were listed as infants' favorites on the survey of 0-1-month-olds, and 42 other commercials aired before and after these 44 commercials. The attributes of these commercials were then compared.

The results showed that infants' favorite commercials were cute, cheerful, and fun and featured infants and children who addressed the viewer directly with a smile, speaking to them and dancing around.. Multivariate analysis estimated that the characteristics of infants' favorite commercials included smiling TV characters looking at the audience and a child voice at the beginning of the commercial. It indicated that out of the large amount of information on TV, infants were most interested in a smiling person looking at them.

Many other studies also indicate that infants show interest in a smiling person looking at them. Examples are as follows. Newborn babies gazed a drawing looking like a human face for a long time. Newborn babies stared at a picture of a person looking at them for a longer time than one not looking at them. In a 4-month-old-child, the part of the brain responsible for facial recognition was activated only when the child looked at the picture of a person's face staring at him/her. As for children 4 to 5 months old, the frequency of gaze and smile decreases if the mother looks away while she cradles the child, comparing with when she makes eye contact while cradling. The prefrontal area in children 9 to 13 months was activated when they saw their mother smile. Orbital frontal region in adults became activated when they saw a smiling person. We asked adults to watch the videos that many infants had watched, and measured the cerebral blood flow in the prefrontal area using a near infrared spectrometer. Their prefrontal area was activated when TV characters appealed to the viewer.

When showing cartoon films, the prefrontal area of the infants also was activated when humans or cartoon characters were captured in close-ups or looking at them (Fig. 3).

Figure 3

It is considered that humans develop facial recognition ability during the newborn period, and they continue responding to a smiling gaze directed at them with interest.

What about in the case of chimpanzees? We had 19 chimpanzees at the zoo watch TV for the first time. Initially, chimpanzees gathered around the television in an uproar, but soon they grew accustomed to it. Young chimpanzees watched TV until the end with the greatest curiosity. The TV program showed chimpanzees as their fellow beings, lions as the enemy, and zebras as neutral beings. Chimpanzees showed the most interest in the images of other chimpanzees. It can be said that humans biologically show the most interest in humans, and chimpanzees do so in chimpanzees.

When taken together, it can be said that humans biologically show an interest in other humans. Humans develop the ability to recognize faces as newborns, and continuously show interest in the smiling gaze of another directed toward them even after they grow up.

3. Decreased opportunity for infants to interact with others in today's society

In today's society, however, infants experience decreased interaction with others. According to the Japanese version of Denver Developmental Screening Test, a comparison of language development baselines in 1980 and 1999 shows that in the past 20 years, infants have started to speak meaningful words or two-word sentences later (Fig. 4), and this is a

Figure 4

continuing trend toward delayed language development. Such delayed language development has many possible causes. One of them is an increasing number of nuclear families in the past 20 years in Japan. A comparison of 18-month old children in nuclear families whose fathers are not at home when they go to bed with those in large families (those in extended families and those in nuclear families whose fathers are at home when they go to bed) shows that the children in the latter group spent 1 hour and 42 minutes longer in interaction with others and played with more people. In Japan, fathers have been returning home increasingly later and nuclear families are increasing. Infants' interaction with others has physically decreased both in quality and in quantity (Fig. 5).

Figure 5

Another major cause of decreasing infant interaction with others is the widespread use of media in today's society such as TV, video, Internet, and mobile phones.
According to a survey of 1,900 children aged 18 months, the percentage of children who had not yet begun meaningful speech was 2.1 times higher among those whose TV was on for a long time and viewing time was long compared with those whose TV was on for a short time and viewing time was short. There was a correlation between the prolonged TV watching and the delay in language development (Fig.6).

Figure 6

We examined parent-to-child utterances to study the reason for the correlation between the prolonged TV watching and delayed language development. The results showed that parents sang along to the songs when TV was on, but conversation was short and infrequent. Parents explained things shown on TV using only nouns but not verbs and adjectives. It was found that when children watch TV with their parents, this triggers emotional communication, but not verbal communication. The delayed development in language and sociality can be attributed to habitual and prolonged TV watching.

Since response behavior and occurrence of communication while watching TV differ according on viewed content, we collected children's favorite videos and investigated the relationship between language development and the images, sounds, and content of the videos. Children 18 months old who had not spoken meaningful words preferred to watch videos in which characters did little to directly appeal to the viewer, so response behavior or communication tended not to occur. However, the programs have continual scene changes and are also likely to be watched by adults even with the volume muted, so it is inferred that children can also continue watching them. Children who had spoken meaningful words were more likely to watch videos that activated the frontal area of adults. Children who had not spoken meaningful words tended to prefer videos in which viewing resulted in almost no activation in the frontal area of adults. They passively observed the videos with numerous scene changes, but little direct appeal by characters to the viewer.

The widespread use of media seems to have an impact on the relationship between parents and children in the lactation period. Although studies are still under way, 72 percent of mothers sometimes watch TV and 46 percent sometimes use a mobile phone while breast-feeding. In families where the mother sometimes or always watches TV or uses a mobile phone while breast-feeding, the parent-child relationship shows a tendency to weaken as demonstrated by the fact that such children do not make eye contact during breast-feeding and do not cry even when no one is around.

In sum, infants become interested in people who smile at or appeal to their attention. They grow up interacting with such people. However, infants' experience in interacting with others is physically decreasing in today's society. Families and communities need to be aware that it is important for infants to be reached out to.

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