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Br J Dev Psychol. 2013 Mar;31(Pt 1):57-69. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.2012.02078.x. Epub 2012 Apr 27.

Young children's interest in live animals.

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  • 1Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, USA.


Animals are important stimuli for humans, and for children in particular. In three experiments, we explored children's affinity for animals. In Experiment 1, 11- to 40-month-old children were presented with a free-play session in which they were encouraged to interact with several interesting toys and two live animals - a fish and a hamster. Experiment 2 used the same methodology with 18- to 36-month-old children and two additional animals - a snake and a spider - to examine whether children's behaviours would differ for benign and potentially threatening animals. Finally, in Experiment 3, a more controlled paired-preference paradigm was employed to assess 18- to 33-month-old children's interactions with three live animals - a fish, hamster, and gecko - versus three physically similar toy animals. Across all three experiments, children interacted with the animals more often than with the toys. Further, they behaved differently towards the animals than the toys, talking about the animals more than the toys and asking more questions about them. The parents of the children also spent more time interacting with the animals, directing their children's attention more towards the animals than the toys. This research supports the idea that humans have an affinity for animals that draws their attention to animals, even when attractive toys are present.

© 2012 The British Psychological Society.

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