Powerful force: Study shows young children strongly favor familiar characters


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Parents shopping for coveted holiday toys know well the pull that familiar characters in cartoons, movies or ads exert on purchasing. A recent study shows that even young children are highly susceptible to the allure of favorite characters when it comes to choosing products.

    Judith Danovitch, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Louisville, and Candice Mills at The University of Texas-Dallas looked at how 4-year-olds evaluate messages from familiar characters. Their study is in the December 2014 Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

    Children chose low-quality items – including toys that were dirty, broken or missing parts – decorated with a familiar character’s image over brand-new, high-quality ones that lacked a character image up to 74 percent of the time. In selecting between pairs of toys, children seldom chose the damaged toys when they were not decorated with a character’s image. “Just having that picture there has a big influence,” Danovitch said.

    The duo also found that children trusted familiar characters much like they trust familiar people.

    “Our findings demonstrate the powerful effects familiar characters have on children’s judgments,” Danovitch said. “Parents should be aware that children place a lot of trust in what these characters say, even when children know that the character may not be reliable, such as in advertisements.”

    Danovitch said the data confirm what cost-conscious parents suspect – that licensed characters matter to children.

    However, parents can also use this information to their advantage in establishing good habits. “Children may be more enthusiastic about using a toothbrush or wearing a bicycle helmet if the object has a picture of their favorite character,” she said.

    For more information, contact Danovitch at 502-852-4781 or j.danovitch@louisville.edu or check www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002209651400112X

    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.