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Richards, J.E., & Stevens, M.L. (2018). Television program comprehensibility and distractibility in 24-month children. International Conference on Infant Studies, Philadelphia, July, 2018.(pdf )

Distractibility during television viewing may be used to examine children’s attention. There is increasing cognitive engagement that holds fixation towards the television as long as attention is engaged by the program content. The program comprehensibility or age-appropriateness are determinants of attention engagement. The present study examined the effect of program comprehensibility on distractibility in 24-month-old children by using a variety of audio-visual television programs. The ages of the children were 24 months. There were 7 conditions of 15 participants each (N = 105). The conditions were the presentation for 6 min of a known comprehensible and age-appropriate Sesame Street program (FTB: “Follow that Bird”), and the presentation for 6 min of one of several audio-visual stimuli that varied in language and format. These include programs such as: Backward speech FTB; Spanish-language FTB; English-Elmo; Mandarin-Elmo; Richard Scarry; Blues Clues; synchronized geometric patterns and audio wave file sounds. Distractors were presented on an adjacent TV screen at irregular intervals for 5 s. Distraction latency, distraction probability, and signal detection parameters were dependent variables. The independent variables were the type of foreground stimulus and the duration of the look at the occurrence of distractor onset. First, there was a main effect of foreground stimulus type on distraction latency and probability. Figure 1 shows the average distraction RT and probability as a function of stimulus type. The “Follow that Bird” had the longer RTs and smaller distraction probability than the “Geometry-Waves”, Richard Scarry, or Backward-FTB. The larger RT and smaller distraction probability indicate more attention engagement to the FTB. Somewhat surprising, both the Elmo-English and Elmo-Mandarin TV programs showed the most attention engagement for all stimuli. The FTB program showed more attention engagement than the less comprehensible program for all but the Elmo video. Second, for all stimuli types, the longer the look was in progress before distractor onset, the less likely the infants were distracted by the peripheral presentation. Figure 2 shows distraction probability as a function of the duration of the look at distractor onset, separately for the comprehensible FTB and the other stimuli. The pattern of lower probability with increasing look duration was similar for both stimulus types. Figure 2 also shows the signal detection parameter, c, as a function of the duration of the look. The decreasing negative values across look durations indicate a bias against responding. The bias against responding (?, c) increased as a function of look length, whereas measures of sensitivity (d') were not different across prior look duration or comprehensibility conditions. These results confirm the relation between distractibility and comprehensibility. The more comprehensible and age-appropriate stimulus, “Follow that Bird”, elicited enhanced attention (distraction latency and probability) compared with the other stimuli. The exception to this were the “Elmo” videos. Perhaps these videos are especially age-appropriate, even so far as to over-ride the mismatch between the child’s language and the Mandarin language. Signal detection analysis revealed an increasing bias against responding accounted for the look duration effect.