Children's Comprehension of Television Messages
The literature surveyed so far regarding children's attention to television has relied on observation of visual attention by the child viewers. Measures of visual attention alone do not provide an indication of what aspects of the message children are extracting from the television screen. In order to acquire indications of this, researchers have relied on post-viewing measures of children's recognition and recall of information from the program. This research will be considered in this section on children's understanding of television messages. Here the concern is not with what children are looking at and listening to, but what they remember from the TV and what meaning the TV content has for them.
Much of the research which has adopted a cognitive developmental perspective on studies of children and television has examined children's comprehension of television messages. The underlying assumption of these studies is that children bring different cognitive abilities and social experiences to the TV-viewing situation and that these influence how children made sense of the messages. Younger children with more limited inference-making ability are more likely to focus on the consequences of actions rather than the motivations of the actors, and often are shown to construe the television plot line quite differently from children and adults. The way in which children construe meaning from television cannot be directly inferred from cognitive development theory. Cognitive development theory may aid us in describing how children make sense of television, but we should examine children's understanding of television directly.
How, then, has cognitive development theory been used to study children's comprehension of television? First, several authors have relied on Piagetian theory to provide evidence of some general cognitive ability, such as the ability to focus on motivations when judging the goodness or badness of an action. These authors attempt to demonstrate through experimental or survey procedures that children of a particular age or stage level accordingly do or do not use television characters' motivations when assessing their behaviors. This is a clear-cut example of directly borrowing developmental theoretical notions and demonstrating their applicability when children are processing television information. In other situations, however, cognitive development theory in general may be less useful in directly describing or predicting age-related changes in children's construction of meaning from television. For instance, we are only beginning to examine children's understanding of various kinds of filmic techniques, such as zooms, camera movements, and montage (see Salomon, 1979). One researcher in this area, Solomon (1979), argues that these and other sorts of filmic techniques-- indeed, the whole symbol system used on television for representing reality--may actually...