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21 December 2017

May I Help You? Children Help Their Friends More Often After Watching Prosocial Disney Movies

Keywords: characters, movies, parents, prosocial, DVD, Western Europe, experiment, kids, television,

A study in Journal of Children and Media shows that children who watch a Disney movie in which the main character helps a friend, help their own friends more often. Interestingly, this effect does not hold for children who watch Disney movies on a regular basis; they do not show more helping behavior.

Take aways

  • Children act directly upon what they see in a Disney movie: watching a helping Disney character influences children’s own short-term helping behavior.
  • However, it is not the case that children who watch Disney movies regularly also show more helping behavior in general.
  • For parents, practitioners and educators it is important to be aware that Disney movies can influence actual behaviors of children.

Study information

  • The question?

    Does exposure to a prosocial Disney clips predicts children’s helping behavior toward their friends?

  • Who?

    113 children aged 7 to 11 years (mean age: 9 years old; 54% girls). The majority (95%) was born in the Netherlands

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    The researchers first asked teachers to form pairs of children who were friends. The children then filled out a questionnaire in which they answered questions about their prosocial behavior (“I am helpful if someone is hurt, upset or feeling ill”). In addition, the researchers also measured children’s general exposure to Disney movies by showing them the title and cover of the most recent released ones.

    After completing this individual questionnaire, the paired friends went to another room in which they watched a clip from the Disney movie Cars. This clip either contained a scene in which the protagonist, Lightning McQueen, either helped a friend (prosocial clip) or did not help a friend (control clip). Finally, the children both started a puzzle assignment. The researchers told them that they received various puzzles with different levels of difficulty and that they could ask their friend for help. However, for each pair of friends, one child received easy-to-solve puzzles and the other got a stack in which one puzzle was unsolvable. The researchers observed how many times and how long the children with the solvable puzzles helped their friend. 

Facts and findings

  • The number of times the children helped their friend varied between one and seven times and children helped their friend on average for 58.43 seconds.
  • Children who watched the Disney clip in which the main character Lightning McQueen helped a friend were more likely to help their friend than children who did not watch this prosocial clip (2.21 vs. 1.68 times). Also, children who watched the prosocial clip helped their friends longer than children who did not watch this clip (63.67 vs. 53.11 seconds).
  • 86% of the friends asked explicitly for help. Interestingly, children who watched the prosocial-clip did not ask their friend for help more often than children who watched the control clip.
  • Children who watched Disney movies regularly did not show more helping behavior before or after watching the prosocial-clip than children who did not watch Disney movies on a regular basis. This indicates that the effect of seeing a helping Disney character on children’s helping behavior might only be short term, or only for movie segments that explicitly show helping behavior.