Saturday, December 9 2023

Maria d’Alessio. Rai Eri, Rome 2009

By Norberto González Gaitano

“”He liked Dragon Ball so much that I had to buy him the entire series or
else he would throw a tantrum. Then to make him behave, I told him that if
he obeys me, I would buy him the action figures. I have no choice. The
other day I brought him to the hair dresser and as soon as she saw him, she
said ‘Would you like me to do your hair like Goku?’, ‘Yea, yea’, he

There you have it: the story of the mother of John (4 years old) told in
one of the interviews for the research on qualitative monitoring of the
relationship between children and the media. The study was conducted and
coordinated by Maria D’Alessio, Professor of Psychology at Sapienza
University (Rome, Italy). It focuses on the programming of RaiSat Ragazzi
(Rai Satellite for Children, Italy).

The example illustrates one of the many results of these studies, one
concerning identification: “the television narrative has quite different
characteristics than those of fairy tales. Myths embody and demonstrate
above all values and internal conflicts; and through symbols, they offer
patterns of behavior. TV characters present lifestyles and are examples to
be emulated, where behavior is more important than the interior
disposition” (p.106).

The book gives an account of all the research commissioned by RaiSat
Ragazzi and conducted over the time span of 1998 to 2008 in order to
perform a qualitative monitoring of its programs using the benefits from a
psychological research of child development previously carried out
elsewhere. Questionnaires were given to children of different ages, to
teachers, and to parents; and experiments were conducted in which children
watched clips from a few selected programs. There were several indicators
measured that allowed for the understanding of how children absorb the
programs they watched and the effects influencing their knowledge and

The book presents a brief description of the programs analyzed and includes
drawings and photographs with an exhaustive appendix of all the research
questionnaires used to measure the various “constructs” or indicators.
These are also presented in the explanation of the study in order to render
the underlying concepts and outcomes more accessible to the reader. Below,
I present a summary of the most relevant results, based on each of the
“constructs” or psychological concepts measured in the study.

Esteem, understanding, memory, identification process and attentional

1. Esteem, which differs from the concepts of pleasure, preference,
attraction, or even fun, although related to them, depends on cognitive
development, on affective and motivational dynamics, and on the
availability of the product. For example, although children understand more
about cartoons because they are more simple and linear, they more greatly
value programs with human actors. In the experiment reported, Grandpa Bruno
(a human character) achieves a higher score than Teddy Bear (a cartoon

2. Program comprehension by children, regardless of format, is always
greater than what parents imagine. Furthermore, research proves that “if
children are watching television in the company of their parents, the
effects will be different than a solitary enjoyment, whether it be on the
perceptual, cognitive, or emotional level. ” Comprehension increases when
parents often make comments during and after watching a program.
Furthermore, “the most productive situation is achieved when their parents
discuss and talk about the programs with their children and help them to
take television content and make analogies and contrasts with their own
lives” (p.73).

3. Memory obviously depends on age. Children of 6 to 10 years old are able
to remember all the programs that are offered. For the youngest, the
uniqueness and the strangeness of the situations experienced by the
characters determine a more intensive memory. Then, that which the children
remember does not coincide with what they prefer or with what they
identify. The conclusion that flows from empirical observations on the
memory is clear: “It is strongly recommended not to expose children to
content that is unsuitable for them, regardless of age. In the case of very
young children, lack of understanding means that undesirable content
reaches the child without any cognitive filtering, leaving an indelible
mark, even though it is unconscious. As for the older children, the more
structured value system acts as a filter in the organization of one’s
preference, but not on more automatic cognitive processes such as memory
“(p. 104).

4. If it is true that television viewing creates what psychologists call
“parasocial relationships”, which are “apparent relationships and emotional
ties with a television character”, it is equally true that children have a
greater critical capacity than you might have thought. From the age of 3,
children are able to establish a boundary between reality and fantasy; from
the age of 6 and up, they know that cartoon characters are not living
beings, although they are emotionally affected by what they see. Between 9
and 10 years old, children infer a separation between the values that
children represent in the programs from the children themselves, i.e. they
realize that the child actors act. In any case, “the child, unlike the
adult, does not empathize with the characters, but he absorbs emotions and
values” (p. 110).

5. Regarding the option of entertainment television or educational
television, the Italian research conducted by D’Alessio confirms the
findings of other international studies. “The cognitive complexity of the
child leads him to remember, comprehend and appreciate more complex
television content over simplified or trivial content” (p. 151). Films more
greatly capture their attention than animated cartoons, although they say
that they like cartoons. Still, the cultural stereotype that associates
cartoons to children continues and becomes enhanced by the production of
programs: 70% of the childhood schedule is filled with cartoons.


The volume, as the authors indicate in the presentation, thematically
brings together several studies carried out over a period of 10 years. The
tables and lists, provided during the work and in the appendix, are
complete and exhaustive but do not specify in each research the
characteristics of subjects studied, apart from their age. Furthermore,
combining the results of studies by subject weakens the methodological
indications of each study, except in the chapter on attentional behavior,
which is more detailed. This is surely the reason why inconsistencies in
the results were occasionally observed, such as those concerning
understanding. Reading this book gives the impression that these studies
were a replication of research conducted elsewhere in order to confirm the
results obtained in other countries, thereby lacking its own suitable
design while still targeting the Italian public.


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