A matter of trust: Study explores children’s faith in characters vs. adults


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Shopping for back-to-school backpacks or supplies, adults may feel their children have blind allegiance to their favorite emblazoned cartoon or TV characters over any grown-up’s opinion. But a recent University of Louisville study suggests that by age 4, children understand expertise and can trust knowledgeable adults over their beloved characters.

    Allison Williams, a third-year doctoral student, and Judith Danovitch, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences, looked at how preschoolers trusted cartoon characters versus experts to teach them about unfamiliar foods. Their study is in the ScienceDirect online version of an article to be featured in the November 2019 Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

    Their study tested 120 children in Louisville preschools and in UofL’s Knowledge in Development Laboratory, showing them uncommon fruits on a computer screen along with an image of popular Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse or “Paw Patrol” characters Chase or Skye. The other image was of a woman identified as a fruit expert. After they received conflicting information from the character and expert, the children were asked about whom they believed.

    The 3-year-olds believed whatever the familiar characters had to say in the experiments; however, the children aged 4 and 5, when convinced that the other person had more expertise, trusted the more knowledgeable person.

    Adults need to clearly and specifically establish their own knowledge and expertise in guiding and explaining to children why to heed their advice, the researchers said. “Kids value that. They understand that expertise is important,” Danovitch said.

    “When kids see advertising messages, sit down and talk to them about what you know,” Williams said. Favorite media characters “interact” constantly with children, so the pull of an endorsement, though generally positive, can be strong.

    For more information, contact Danovitch at 502-852-4781 or j.danovitch@louisville.edu or check https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022096518305095?dgcid=coauthor


    EDITORS: A photo of Judith Danovitch and Allison Williams (left to right) is attached.

    Judy Hughes
    Judy Hughes is a senior communications and marketing coordinator for UofL’s Office of Communications and Marketing and associate editor of UofL Magazine. She previously worked in news as a writer and editor for a daily newspaper and The Associated Press.