Television program comprehensibility and attention

Michael L. Stevens & John E. Richards, Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina.

The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of central stimulus comprehensibility on attention in children ranging from 6 months to 2 years. This will be done by using distractors presented at a priori HR-look duration combination intervals. The central stimulus will be a Sesame Street movie, "Follow that Bird," and language comprehensibility will be modified by having versions with English, Spanish, Low-Pass filtered, or reverse speech. The distractors will be computer-generated abstract visual patterns or another Sesame Street movie ("Sesame Street 25th Anniversary") presented on adjacent TV on the right or left of the center television monitor. The distractors will be presented at times defined by the duration of the look at distractor onset and by HR-defined attention phases. The goal of the study is to examine the effect of central stimulus language comprehensibility on the latency and probability of distractor latency as a function of time-HR defined delays.

We are also testing a group of infants at 2 years of age. Some of the preliminary analyses of the first study have shown that attention is engaged equally by movie presentations with English and Spanish soundtracks, but that filtered or reverse speech do not engage attention. That is, infants are more easily distracted from viewing the center stimulus when the filtered or reverse speech movie is shown than when the English or Spanish soundtracks are shown. This difference is paralleled by minimal heart rate change to the former stimuli and large HR changes to the latter stimuli. We are now replicating this effect in 2-year-old children with a variety of stimuli (English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, older-child TV program, uninteresting TV program, computer-generated audiovisual stimuli).