Human Protagonists & Moral Impact


A study from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) looked at the effect of human vs. animal protagonists. In the study, researchers read one of three stories to almost 100 four to six year olds. One book was a control book about seeds, the other two taught that sharing makes you feel good and one had human protagonists and one had animal protagonists.

The children were offered 10 stickers before they were read the story and were told that an anonymous child would not receive any. It was suggested that they could share the stickers by putting them in the envelope after the story. The children who were read the story with the human characters were more generous with their stickers. There was no difference between the effects of the control book and the animal protagonists.

From The Guardian:

Ganea said that while “a growing body of research has shown that young children more readily apply what they’ve learned from stories that are realistic … this is the first time we found something similar for social behaviours”.

“The finding is surprising given that many stories for young children have human-like animals,” said Ganea.

I’m fascinated by this study given that so many picture book for children this age have animal characters. Then you have Charlotte’s Web and other books for older children with animals as the characters too. While this is one study and needs to be duplicated, I do think it’s an interesting piece of information to keep in mind for educators and librarians.