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Kids’ books featuring animals with human traits lead to less learning of the natural world

March 25, 2014

TORONTO, ON – A new study by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers has found that kids’ books fea­tur­ing ani­mals with human char­ac­ter­is­tics not only lead to less fac­tu­al learn­ing but also influ­ence children’s rea­son­ing about ani­mals.

Researchers also found that young read­ers are more like­ly to attribute human behav­iors and emo­tions to ani­mals when exposed to books with anthro­po­mor­phized ani­mals than books depict­ing ani­mals real­is­ti­cal­ly.

“Books that por­tray ani­mals real­is­ti­cal­ly lead to more learn­ing and more accu­rate bio­log­i­cal under­stand­ing,” says lead author Patri­cia Ganea, Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Depart­ment of Applied Psy­chol­o­gy and Human Devel­op­ment. “We were sur­prised to find that even the old­er chil­dren in our study were sen­si­tive to the anthro­pocen­tric por­tray­als of ani­mals in the books and attrib­uted more human char­ac­ter­is­tics to ani­mals after being exposed to fan­tas­ti­cal books than after being exposed to real­is­tic books.”

This study has impli­ca­tions for the type of books adults use to teach chil­dren about the real world. The researchers advise par­ents and teach­ers to con­sid­er using a vari­ety of infor­ma­tion­al and non­fic­tion books, and to use fac­tu­al lan­guage when describ­ing the bio­log­i­cal world to young chil­dren.

The study was recent­ly pub­lished in the online jour­nal Fron­tiers in Psy­chol­o­gy.

To view the study:


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Patri­cia Ganea
Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor, Applied Psy­chol­o­gy and Human Devel­op­ment
Dr. Eric Jack­man Insti­tute of Child Study, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: (416) 934‑4502,

Media Rela­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-0100