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Introduction: Attention engagement increases as a look to a stimulus (e.g., TV program) is sustained (Richards & Anderson, 2004). Psychophysiological markers have been used to measure attentional engagement with audiovisual stimuli. In infants, longer looks to TV are associated with decreased distractibility and slower heart rate (HR) (Richards & Gibson, 1997; Richards & Cronise, 2000), and in school-aged children, slower HR is associated with TV program content and the presence of coviewing parents (Rasmussen et al., 2016). Furthermore, longer looks are associated with improved recognition memory for TV content in adults (Burns & Anderson, 1993), but it remains unknown whether such an association exists in children. The purpose of this study was to bridge these literatures by examining the relation between children’s overt attention to a TV program, HR during TV viewing, and subsequent memory of TV content.
Method: Children (3- to 5-year-olds) play with toys in a comfortably furnished room during a 5-minute baseline period and three randomly ordered 8-minute segments of child-directed TV, adult-directed TV, and no TV (white noise). Meanwhile, participants wear an Empatica E4 wristband to record HR. The session is video-recorded for later coding. Additionally, participants complete an assessment to evaluate cued recall and recognition memory of the child-directed program. Of particular interest here are the relations between the duration of looks toward child-directed TV, their heart rate during child-directed TV, and their subsequent recall and recognition of TV content. To date, data from 21 children (~50% of target sample) have been collected, coded, and processed.
Results: Preliminary findings indicate slower heart rate and longer duration of looks toward TV during child-directed TV than adult-directed or no TV [F(2, 36) = 19.49, p < 0.001; F(2, 50) = 143.27, p < 0.001, respectively] (Figure 1). Children’s total duration of looks at TV was significantly correlated with children’s cued recall (Figure 2) but not recognition memory [r(18) = 0.60 p = 0.005; r(18) = 0.32, p = 0.176, respectively]. Inter-beat interval (time interval between individual heart beats) was not significantly correlated with children’s look duration or memory [r(18) = 0.37, p = 0.104, and r(19) = 0.02, p = 0.948, respectively].
Discussion: The overall average duration of looks toward child-directed TV was positively correlated with children’s cued recall but not recognition memory. This result suggests that cued recall may rely on high overall attention, enabling children to integrate information across an entire TV narrative. Conversely, recognition memory may require overt attention only at the exact moment when a particular scene is shown (Burns & Anderson, 1993). Similarly, overall average HR was not correlated with overall average look duration, suggesting that there are not systematic individual differences in covert and overt attention. Rather, HR may vary systematically within individual looks to the TV (Richards & Chronis, 2000). When data collection is complete, our next step will be to examine associations between HR and memory within individual looks toward the TV.