Understanding the differential impact of children’s TV on executive functions: a narrative-processing analysis

Claire Essex, Teodora Gliga, Maninda Singh, Tim J. Smith

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6 Citations (Scopus)
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Evidence from multiple empirical studies suggests children’s Executive Functions are depleted immediately after viewing some types of TV content but not others. Correlational evidence suggests any such effects may be most problematic during the pre-school years. To establish whether “screen-time” is developmentally appropriate at this age we believe a nuanced approach must be taken to the analysis of individual pieces of media and their potential demands on viewer cognition. To this end we apply a cognitive theory of visual narrative processing, the Scene Perception and Event Comprehension Theory (SPECT; Loschky, Larson, Smith, & Magliano, 2020) to the analysis of TV shows previously used to investigate short-term effects of TV viewing. A theoretical formalisation of individual content properties, together with a quantitative content-based analysis of previously used children’s content (Lillard & Peterson, 2011; Lillard et al., 2015b) is presented. This analysis found a pattern of greater stimulus saliency, increased situational change and a greater combined presence of cognitively demanding features for videos previously shown to reduce children’s EF after viewing. Limitations of this pilot application of SPECT are presented and proposals for future empirical investigations of the psychological mechanisms activated by specific TV viewing content are considered.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101661
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Early online date14 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Children's TV viewing
  • Cognitive Development
  • Content Properties
  • Executive Function
  • Narrative-Processing Analysis

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