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Understanding Stories - the Significance of Social Background (2010)

In national and international studies the IZI addressed the question of how pre-school children understand programmes, and the role their cultural and milieu-specific background plays in this understanding. Because this age group is not yet able to articulate in a detailed way, specific, creative methods were used. One method was to keep pausing the programme and asking the children what they understood. Another method involved the children acting out the scenes with specially made play figures and asking them qualitative questions about the haptic reproduction of the content. In total, 298 children (average age 4.7 years) in Germany, Cuba, Brazil, Turkey and Russia took part in the study. Half of this sample intentionally consisted of children from marginalised socio-economic milieus. The respective interpretations of the non-verbal stories Anders Artig (Different) (ZDF), The Boy, the Slum and the Pan Lids (Brazil) and Olive Branch (Little Airplane Foundation) were analysed.      

Results: Overall, there are more similarities than differences between the countries and the respective milieus. Nonetheless, everyday life experiences are significant. Children from the affluent borough of Nymphenburg in Munich therefore do not really grasp the intended meaning of the story of a boy who steals a pan lid from a favela in São Paulo. Children from Egypt, however, immediately understand the context of the theft as well as the value of the pan lid. In most of the countries the children from less prosperous milieus are – because of their everyday experiences – in a better position to decode the story in its intended sense than children from affluent milieus. It is different in Brazil: here, three times as many children from the more affluent milieu than children from the slums believe the story is about stealing. It is likely that their assumptions about children from favelas and their behaviour are already deeply rooted by the time they start pre-school. In Russia there is a further surprising interpretation: the children think the boy is acting out of fear. The interpretation of the final scene in which the mother, that evening, embraces her son again when he returns with the pan lid – and, in fact, a second one – shows the role played by both everyday life experience and culturally defined interpretive paradigms in children’s understanding of stories. In Egypt the most frequent answer is that she embraces him because she loves him; the second most frequent reason given is that it is because he brought back two lids. The children from Munich cannot imagine that the second pan lid could be the reason for the embrace. They think it is more likely the mother is happy he has returned and is proud of him for playing good music.   

Götz, Maya; Schwarz, Judith; Gruber, Simone; Pembecioglu, Niluefer; Bondarenko, Ekatarina; Nasser, Seham; Carmona, Beth; Rivero, Pablo Ramos: "Why is he running?". An international comparative study on preschoolers' understanding of TV stories. TelevIZIon, 26/2013/E, 22-27.