May 26, 2019 | 78° F

Rutgers professor analyzes cross-generational effect of cartoons on child sleep patterns, development

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Amy Jordan, a professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, found that children are more likely to engage in behaviors that reflect the media they absorb. PIIXABAY

A Rutgers professor has discovered that there is a cross-generational effect that cartoons have on childhood sleep patterns.  

Amy Jordan, a professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, studies the effects of television shows and advertisements, and is currently looking at the role media have in children’s sleep. 

Developing children learn a lot from people, but they frequently learn from media and television series like “The Smurfs,” Jordan said.

“I don’t like the lesson they are learning here,” she said. “What we saw was a whole cast of male characters and one female character, who existed to be the pretty love interest.” 

Jordan said that when children do not see themselves in the media,  it can negatively affect their sense of identity and self-esteem.

Along with televison programs, advertisements also have an affect on children — in her research, Jordan is studying the balance between exposure to unhealthy foods compared to healthy ones. 

“A child would have to watch television for 10 hours before they would come across an advertisement for even one healthy product. They’re more likely to see snack foods and sugary drinks,” she said. 

Knowing that media can have a negative effect, Jordan said she decided to conduct an experiment on how teens react to messages encouraging them to drink healthier beverages. 

Jordan said she showed teenagers different public service announcements to see which were more persuasive — funny ones, scary ones or ones that appeared to health.

The most effective PSAs were ones that used the element of fear. 

“Those were the ones that made people worried so they were more likely to remember it and increase their intentions to drink water,” she said.

This research ties into real life, as well. Jordan said it has been the catalyst of many policies.

“If we go way back to the 70s and 80s when more teenagers were smoking, there was a real incentive to study what was influencing them,” she said. “We found that there was an impact from exposure to advertising.” 

Decades ago, cigarette companies were allowed to promote products in magazines and television ads, she said. For example, people may be familiar with Camel and its “smooth character” mascot. The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act passed by Congress banned these ads from all national networks. 

“You would never see a tobacco ad on television now,” Jordan said. 

Research on media has made more educational content for children available. Jordan’s research has shown that when children are exposed to shows that present healthy lifestyle choices, they not only learn more but are more confident in new situations. 

This has resulted in forms of regulation. For example, there was a mandate by the Federal Communications Commission that required television stations to incorporate some form of educational content in their broadcasting, she said. Congress has also appropriated fundraising for more educational content on channels like PBS.

“Now if you watch television on Saturday morning, you’ll see cartoons that are more likely to be educational,” Jordan said.

With rapid changes in technology, things have changed and so has Jordan’s work. She is currently interested in how smartphone use affects sleep — turning the tide on the idea that cell phone use before bed is strictly bad.  

Jordan hopes that people recognize the role media play in the lives of children and adolescents. 

“But just studying it at one point in time is only going to give you a limited perspective. You need to keep going back to the same population and understanding what’s changed and what’s the same,” she said. 

Catherine Nguyen

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