A new study, “Goldilocks Effect? Illustrated Story Format Seems ‘Just Right’ and Animation ‘Too Hot’ for Integration of Functional Brain Networks in Preschool-Age Children,” suggests a “Goldilocks effect,” where audio may be “too cold” at this age, requiring more cognitive strain to process the story, animation “too hot,” fast-moving media rendering imagination and network integration less necessary, and illustration “just right,” limited visual scaffolding assisting the child while still encouraging active imagery and reflection. The study is the first to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to explore the influence of story format (audio, illustrated, animated) on the engagement of brain networks supporting language, visual imagery, and learning in preschool-age children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents begin reading to their children as soon as possible after birth and provide limits on screen-based media use. In addition to TV, screen-based story platforms with animated features are increasingly marketed to children, yet the influence of animation on brain development is unknown. The purpose of this study was to determine whether there were differences in the engagement of functional brain networks supporting narrative processing for stories presented in audio, illustrated, and animated formats.
Findings suggest that the illustrated format provides visual scaffolding that assists the language network and encourages active imagery and self-reflection in young children, while animation may inhibit such network integration in favor of continuous audio-visual perception. They raise important questions about optimal promotion of healthy brain development and provide novel neurobiological context for AAP reading and screen-time recommendations.
“They underscore the appeal of illustrated books at this age, raise important questions about the influence of media on early brain development, and provide novel context for AAP reading and screen-time recommendations,” says lead author Dr. John Hutton, a researcher and pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with a special interest in emergent literacy.