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J Exp Child Psychol. 2015 Sep;137:137-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.04.002. Epub 2015 May 15.

They can interact, but can they learn? Toddlers' transfer learning from touchscreens and television.

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Department of Psychology, Binghamton University, State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton, NY 13902, USA.
Department of Psychology, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA.
Human Research and Engineering Directorate, United States Army Research Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD 21005, USA.
Department of Psychology, Binghamton University, State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton, NY 13902, USA. Electronic address:


Despite the ubiquity of touchscreen applications and television programs for young children, developmental research suggests that learning in this context is degraded relative to face-to-face interactions. Most previous research has been limited to transfer of learning from videos, making it difficult to isolate the relative perceptual and social influences for transfer difficulty, and has not examined whether the transfer deficit persists across early childhood when task complexity increases. The current study examined whether the transfer deficit persists in older children using a complex puzzle imitation task constructed to investigate transfer from video demonstrations. The current test adapted this task to permit bidirectional transfer from touchscreens as well. To test for bidirectional transfer deficits, 2.5- and 3-year-olds were shown how to assemble a three-piece puzzle on either a three-dimensional magnetic board or a two-dimensional touchscreen (Experiment 1). Unidirectional transfer from video was also tested (Experiment 2). Results indicate that a bidirectional transfer deficit persists through 3 years, with younger children showing a greater transfer deficit; despite high perceptual similarities and social engagement, children learned less in transfer tasks, supporting the memory flexibility account of the transfer deficit. Implications of these findings for use of screen media (e.g., video, tablets) in early education are discussed.


Imitation; Memory flexibility; Social learning; Television; Touchscreens; Transfer; Video deficit

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