Children learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with human characters than with “cute” human-like animals, a new study has revealed. The study, carried out by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic (human-like) animals.
The researchers found that since many kids in this study did not see these characters as similar to themselves, they may be less likely to translate social lessons from these stories into their everyday lives. “These findings add to a growing body of research showing that children find it easier to apply knowledge from stories that are realistic,” said Patricia Ganea, Associate Professor of early cognitive development at OISE.
“Overall, children were more likely to act on the moral of the story when it featured a human character,” Ganea added. During the study, kids listened to a story with either human or human-like animal characters who spoke and wore clothes. Each book taught children about sharing with others. Children’s altruistic giving was assessed before and after the reading. Most kids said the animals lacked human characteristics.
The researchers said one of the reasons some children did not act generously was because they did not interpret the anthropomorphic animals as similar to themselves. The researchers also suggested that books with realistic characters lead to better learning for kids. “Books that children can easily relate to increase their ability to apply the story’s lesson to their daily lives,” Ganea said. “It is important for educators and parents to choose carefully when the goal is to teach real-world knowledge and social behaviours through storybooks.”