Cartoons are appropriate for developing children’s narrative skills and values

A study by the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country has analysed children’s media consumption and the use of cartoons to cultivate narrative skills and values

  • Research

First publication date: 04/07/2019

The validity of cartoons as an educational tool was explored at the UPV/EHU (Doraemon).

A study by the UPV/EHU’s Department of Evolutionary Psychology and Education has explored the validity of narrative and non-narrative cartoons for developing narrative skills, moral reasoning and values and countervalues in children in mainstream and non-mainstream education. The effect that may be exerted by the structure of the cartoons on these aspects when the children process the information was investigated.

Media consumption by schoolchildren in the 3rd year (8-9 year-olds) and 6th year (11-12 year-olds) of Primary Education, their narrative skills and the perceptions they have about the values/countervalues of the cartoons was explored by the Department of Evolutionary Psychology and Education of the UPV/EHU’s Faculty of Education, Philosophy and Anthropology. The research was conducted in various phases divided into two subcategories.

Firstly, the use that schoolchildren make of various devices, the Internet in particular, as well as the support and control strategies used by their parents, the positive and negative conceptions parents have about the use, difficulties and challenges they face when mediating in their use were identified. The aim of this section was to adapt the mediation programmes on the basis of the actual situation of families, schools and society.

Secondly, various tests were conducted to delve further into the interpretation and decoding that the schoolchildren carry out on the messages transmitted by the fictional content of the cartoons. These tests revealed that the type of narrative or non-narrative structure that characterises the cartoons affects the reception, processing, comprehension, memory and what the messages conjure up, in terms of narrative skills and perception of values/countervalues, of 8-12-year-old children.  “The narrative cartoons we analysed have the same structure as classical stories (introduction, core and denouement). The thread can be easily followed. In the non-narrative cartoons we analysed, the events do not take place in the same context, the characters jump continually from an everyday atmosphere to another virtual one, and the individual watching has difficulty understanding the reasons and outcomes of the events. What is more, in the latter, clinchers are used continually,” explained the UPV/EHU researcher Eider Oregui.

Didactic proposals

To conduct the study two types of cartoons were selected on the basis of high audience rates in the age groups being targeted by the study: Doraemon, with a narrative structure, and Code Lyoko, with a non-narrative structure. After displaying the cartoons, “we asked the schoolchildren to tell us what they remembered from what they had seen, and that way we analysed their narrative skills as well as the values and countervalues they had perceived,” added Oregui, who was responsible for the research. The accounts by the schoolchildren who had watched the cartoons with a narrative structure were much longer and more detailed and the values and countervalues were perceived effortlessly. In the case of the non-narrative ones, however, the accounts were very short, they had been altered, and focus was placed almost exclusively on the sequences of the action; the children also experienced greater difficulty perceiving the values and countervalues of the subject matter”.

The researchers also measured the schoolchildren’s attention capacity while they were watching the cartoons, and they noticed that the cartoons with a narrative structure provided the children with attention breaks. By contrast, during the non-narrative cartoons the schoolchildren maintained continuous eye contact with the screen. In the narrative cartoons, “each one chooses, as a viewer, what to pay attention to or not, in other words, it involves voluntary attention, whereas in the non-narrative ones attention is not voluntary because of the ongoing effect of the clinchers,” she explained. The viewers do not control their attention, which may mean that they do not properly understand the events when processing the information”.

In any case, the researcher regards both types of cartoons as valid. “The same values/countervalues always appear in the narrative cartoons analysed but in different situations, and this aids the children’s comprehension and processing; yet it is possible to find more types of values and countervalues in non-narrative cartoons and which could be perceived with the right mediation or various pedagogical activities; and that way, the effect exerted by the type of structure on the age groups included in the study would be prevented,” pointed out Oregui. So this study has given rise to some didactic proposals targeting schoolchildren, family members and professionals in the sphere of psycho-education and communication, and which are designed to encourage the development of children’s narrative skills and education in values and countervalues through their favourite fictional content.   

The researcher also referred to the importance of furthering the classification of cartoons; she proposes that they be classified not only on the basis of their content, but also on the basis of their narrative level or their structure and the values they deal with.  Oregui said that in the end “cartoons may be used both at school and at home to train children in values and countervalues, to deal with moral reasoning and to develop narrative skills as long as suitable resources are used and are adapted on the basis of age”.

Additional information

This research is linked to two major research projects and a UPV/EHU research group: the project “Children’s media consumption, attention level and perceived values” led by Dr Ana Aierbe-Barandiaran of the Department of Evolutionary Psychology and Education; the project “Contextualised, longitudinal study of schools of very high and very low effectiveness. Design of actions for school improvement”, led by Dr Luis Lizasoain-Hernandez of the Department of Research and Diagnosis Methods in Education, and the research group into Gender Socialization and educational contexts – Gandere, led by Dr Isabel Bartau-Rojas of the Department of Research and Diagnosis Methods in Education.

Bibliographic reference