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Sarah Vaala published in the Journal of Children and Media

Sarah E. Vaala, Ph.D., Martin Fishbein Postdoctoral Fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and Robert Hornik, Ph.D., Wilbur Schramm Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, have published the article “Predicting US Infants’ and Toddlers’ TV/Video Viewing Rates: Mothers’ Cognitions and Structural Life Circumstances” in the Journal of Children and Media.


There has been rising international concern over media use with children under two. As little is known about the factors associated with more or less viewing among very young children, this study examines maternal factors predictive of TV/video viewing rates among American infants and toddlers. Guided by the Integrative Model of Behavioral Prediction, this survey study examines relationships between children’s rates of TV/video viewing and their mothers’ structural life circumstances (e.g., number of children in the home; mother’s screen use), and cognitions (e.g., attitudes; norms). Results suggest that mothers’ structural circumstances and cognitions respectively contribute independent explanatory power to the prediction of children’s TV/video viewing. Influence of structural circumstances is partially mediated through cognitions. Mothers’ attitudes as well as their own TV/video viewing behavior were particularly predictive of children’s viewing. Implications of these findings for international efforts to understand and reduce infant/toddler TV/video exposure are discussed.

The work of Dr. Vaala and Matthew A. Lapierre, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at University of North Carolina Wilmington, was also published recently in the Journal of Consumer Affairs: “Marketing Genius: The Impact of Educational Claims and Cues on Parents’ Reactions to Infant/Toddler DVDs.”


Infant/toddler-directed DVDs have become commonplace in American homes. Most of these DVDs carry direct claims or implied cues of educational benefit, despite complaints from the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and others regarding a lack of confirmatory research. Using a DVD package created for this study, this experiment tested the impact of DVD brand name, educational claim specificity, and a personality dimension (i.e., regulatory focus orientation) on parents’ perceptions of educational value and purchase intentions. Parents reacted similarly to specific and ambiguous educational statements, but gave higher educational value estimations when the brand name had an educational cue. An interaction suggested that the effect of the claim outcome specificity depended on the claim verb specificity. Parents with a strong focus on pursuing possible rewards (promotion focus) had higher perceptions of educational value and stronger desires to purchase the DVD. Implications for policy and further research are discussed.