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How Animation Affects Children Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3818 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In today advancement of technology, television is a big part in the role of delivering information to the society. The influence of this form of media has no exception to children. Nowadays, children are growing up with television. They learn from television and trying to make sense of this system of communication. To understand what they are learning from it, the use of television and how they absorb the information are important areas to learn further about this issue. Animation as a part of television programs plays an important role to children development since animation often related to children as its target audiences. The use of cognitive skills and how they relate to many aspects inside the animation such as narrative, character, and many more influence what knowledge and skills that they acquire from watching animation. It influences their cognitive and social development with things that they are not obtained from their parents and teachers at school. This issue raises questions such as what can children learn from watching animation, or how children with different ages and cultures make sense of it in their development process.

Chapter 1: Children Learning Process

1.1 Children Cognitive Development

Before talking further about content of animation that influences children learning process, it is important to study the learning process of the children itself. Jean Piaget theory about cognitive development is a good first step to understand how children get their knowledge, construct it and use it.

According to Piaget, a newborn baby enters the world without basic cognitive skills and through the development as a child, he consistently trying to adapt the world around him. Constructing such an understanding is basically what cognitive development is all about. Piaget defines it as the properties of intelligence that explains why certain behaviours happened. According to Piaget there are three components that exist in cognitive development, which are function, content, and structure. Function in this case refers to broad characteristics of intellectual activity; on the other hand, content refers to what do children know, which is about raw behavioural data that is observable. In between function and content, Piaget mentioned about the existence of cognitive structure, which is the properties of intelligence that causing particular behaviours to occurs.

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When a child watching animation, they use their existing knowledge to make sense of the animation that they are watching, they are trying to understand what is happening in front of their eyes at the moment. Different age group has different way of seeing and perceived things because cognitive structure keep evolving as a human grow up and obtaining information through their experiences. To explore further about the age group of children and what can they absorb during those periods of time, Piaget further divided cognitive development process into four stages:

Sensory-motor stage / Infancy (0-2 years)

In this stage of development, a child is trying many things that he can feel, taste, see, smell, and hear. Through this repetitive process, he starts to build images in his brain about his surroundings. He is learning to identify things based on the interaction between the object and his five senses. He slowly learns about the existence of an object and learning to use symbolic abilities such as language. At this stage, he is still learning about object permanence. He is still unaware about the existence of an object when it is out of his sight, for example is a child who has his candy taken away from him and simply hide it will make him think that the candy is gone therefore he started crying.

Pre-operational stage / toddler and early childhood (2-7 years)

This stage of development a child started to learn to use symbolic images to define things and developing language ability. This is the stage where a child started to imitate other people behaviour while still having an egocentric thought. He needs a concrete physical situation to understand what is going on around him as he is not able to conceptualize abstractly in his brain. At this stage, a child is able to define an object based on one characteristic, for example is how a child at this stage will group his toys based on a type of the toys (grouping a car toys regardless of the colour of the toy or the size of it) or based on colour (grouping all red toys regardless the shape of them).

Concrete-operational period (7-11 years)

At this stage, a child start to lose their egocentric thought. He is able to conceptualize things and formed his logic based on his experiences to grasp the situation around him. He is able to use logic appropriately to manipulate symbols related to concrete objects, classifies objects based on their features and dimensions, and able to do abstract problem solving based on their concrete experiences.

Formal-operational period (11-15 years)

This last stage involves a child ability to use abstract thinking rather than concrete experiences. He is able to explain his problem solving process, able to use logical reasoning, and start to thinking about his future.

Another important analysis done by Piaget is the analysis of how well a child performs on different task between each stage. These tasks analysis involves four areas of study, which are:

Hidden Object

This area involves object permanence as it was mentioned at the sensory-motor stage before. The term “object” that Piaget mentioned in his theory refers to things that an individual believed that it exist in this world and able to interact with. At the first stage, which is sensory-motor stage, an infant do not see an object as something that is exist in this world, he only perceived it as a thing that drives his reflexive action. Piaget made an experiment by putting a cloth over a toy which made the child not interested anymore to the object that being covered. A child will slowly grasp the concept of object permanence after leaving the sensory-motor stage.


Regardless the space that objects stayed, the quantity of it will stay the same. This is what Piaget means by conservation in this matter. He made an experiment by presenting water inside containers to a child. He poured water into two containers with the same size and asked the child which one has more water and the child think that they have the same amount of water. When Piaget take one container and poured the water inside into a different container that is thinner and taller and presented it again to the child, the child said that the thinner and taller containers have more water compared to the one before. This example shows that a child still do not have the logic to think about the volume of an object and deceived by the physical appearance of it. As a child grow up, his logic of conservation will be developed until age 11-12 when he reached the peak of concrete operational-period, when he is able to define volume in an object.

Transitive Inference

Also known as Seriation, Transitive Inference is the skill to logically arrange things based on particular criteria. In this case, Piaget made an experiment by presenting wooden sticks with different length to a child and asked him to arrange them. In the end, the child was not able to arrange them based on the height of each stick and just put them randomly next to each other. Transitive Inference will evolve as a child Conservation skill evolving. By grasping the understanding of each measurement unit, a child will form logic of Transitive Inference in his head as well.

Balance-Scale Task

Balance scale task involves systematic understanding of physics related area. For this area of study, Piaget made an experiment by placing a bar on top of a small object and adding different weight for each end of the bar. Without considering that the length between the small object and two weights are different, child at pre-operational stage said that the side with more weight will go down. Child at concrete-operational stage struggled to use his logic to combine the two elements, distance and weight. Child at formal-operational period has the logic to decide which side will go down.

Piaget uses these four areas of study to explain further about his stages of child’s cognitive development. He presented relevant experiments for each category to give a clear example of child’s learning process at different stages.

1.2 Knowledge Representation

Children and adults have a different way of seeing things. Compared to adults who see things more abstractly and conceptually, the way children seeing things are more imaginary. If both adult and children were given a brown coloured dog, different image representation will be formed in their mind. If adults will try to remember why the dog is brown by thinking what breed is the dog, children will simply remember it as a dog with brown colour.

After they fully grasp the idea of object permanence when they entering pre-operational stage, they can form a mental representation inside their mind. Arietta Slade in her book Children at Play defines mental representation as “..an ability with enormous adaptive value. Out of sight no longer means out of mind, an achievement that involves a new capacity for organized psychological experiences.” (1994, pp.6) She took an example of a mother and her child by saying that the mental representation of a mother can be stored in the child’s mind and during the mother absent, the child will use his mental representation to take out the memory of his mother’s basic visual appearance, such as the voice, the smell, or the touch.

Piaget in his book defines mental representation as an ability to hold an image in a child’s mind for a period beyond the immediate experience. Piaget mentioned that a child is able to form a mental representation after a year and a half during sensory-motor stage. At the later stage, which is pre-operational stage, a child takes the mental representation one step further and started to use symbols as a representation of his knowledge. A symbol can take a form of picture, written word, or spoken word. Due to their egocentric thought a child may use symbols as a representation only for their point of view. For example is an experiment called three mountain task done by Piaget and Barbel Inhelder to study the perspective view of a child. The experiment was done by laying down three models of a mountains and a child facing a direction of those models. On the other side, a doll was placed with a different point of view at those models. Then Piaget asked the child to describe the overlapping of those models from the doll’s perspective. The existence of egocentrism was proven when a child at pre-operational period cannot differentiate their view and the doll view.

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At the concrete operational period, children take their symbol representation ability one step above from just using symbols as a representation, to be able to manipulate symbols with their logic. They are not seeing things only from their perspective anymore, but they still need a concrete situation to be able to use their logic to manipulate the symbol. Lastly, when they enter formal-operational stage, concrete situation is no longer needed to put logic to manipulate a symbol. They can think logically to adapt in a abstract situation.

By exploring further about how children evolved in their knowledge representation as they grow up, one should have a better understanding of how they perceived things around them.

Chapter 2: Children and Animation

2.1 Animation and Archetypes

Before talking about archetypes in animation, it is important to get an understanding about the basic of animation. According to Paul Wells in his book Understanding Animation, animation derived from the latin verb, animare, which means ‘to give life to’ and he further said that “..within the context of the animated film, this largely means the artificial creation of the illusion of movement in inanimate lines and forms.” (1998, pp.10) Animation provides us with things that cannot be achieved in real life as Paul Wells further explained in his book, “Animation can defy the laws of gravity, challenge our perceived view of space and time, and endow lifeless things with dynamic and vibrant properties.” (1998, pp.11) Therefore, animation provides us with imagination that we cannot get from live action movie. Imagination is an important aspect in children development. When children watch an animation, they will relate themselves with the character in the animation. By putting themselves in the shoes of one of the character in the animation, their personalities are being influenced by the archetype of the character in the story. Psychologist Carl Gustave Jung defines archetypes as a result of collective unconscious, which he defines as a knowledge we are all born with, yet we are not conscious of it. Jung divided archetypes into four main forms, which are:

The Shadow: The Shadow, embodies chaos and wildness of character, It is an archetype that reflects deeper elements of our mind.

The Anima (male)/Animus (female): The Anima/Animus is the route of communication with collective unconscious. It represents our true self, without the mask that we use everyday.

The Self: The Self is a process where all aspects are brought together as one. It unifies conscious and unconscious.

Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces defines seven archetypes in storytelling:

Hero: The Hero is basically the protagonist or main character. His journey is a path from the ego, often consist of seperation from his family to a new places before going back to the hometown.

Mentor: The Mentor is a character who trains the hero, represents wise quality within us

Threshold Guardian: The Threshold Guardian is the hero’s first obstacle in his journey. Its role is to test the worthiness of the hero to start a journey.

Herald: The Herald is not necessarily to be a person. Its role is to delivers a challenge to the hero to begin his journey.

Shapeshifter: Often is the opposite sex of the hero, The Shapeshifter’s role is to delivers suspense to the story by questioning beliefs and assumptions.

Shadow: The Shadow often take a role as an antagonist in the story, representing things we do not like that we want to eliminate.

Trickster: The Trickster provides comedy to the story to balance its tension. The trickster often is a companion of the hero.

2.2 Narrative in Animation

According to dictionary, narrative has a meaning of a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious. According to Seymour Chatman in his book Story and Discourse, “Narratives are communications, thus easily envisaged as the movement of arrows from left to right, from author to audience.” (1978, pp.71) So, it can be said that narrative is a form of communication from the author as a guide to the audience. Chatman tried to draw connections between narrative and how it affecting the audience by breaking down the elements in the narrative. Chatman made an analysis of narrative by detailing the clear distinction between story and discourse. Defining story and discourse is a matter of asking what and how. Story is what the animation trying to communicate, which is the content of the animation, and discourse is how the animation being communicated, which is the form of the animation.

Chatman further divides story into two parts which are events and existents. Events exist because there are existents, and vice versa. Events are things that happened in the story and existents are the one who make it happen. Regarding of events, Chatman mention about naturalizing in story which is a way in which “audiences come to recognize and interpret convention” (1978, pp.49) An author often use Naturalizing to make the audience have a better understanding of what is happening in the event of a story. For example is when a character open and read his diary or a letter, there is background voice that highlighting what is written in it. By connecting the image and the voice, it gives the audience better understanding about that particular event in the story.

While Events deal with time in the narrative, on the other hand, existents deal with space. Existents contain settings and characters in the narrative. According to Chatman, setting is the place or collection of objects in movie space that interacting in some way with the character.

2.3 Character in Animation

According to Aristotle, characters in narratives have the second place in importance. It exists to fulfill the role that the event requires him or her to perform. This kind of character usually has a very specific trait assigned to them in the story. The meaning of traits according to dictionary is a distinguishing characteristic or quality, especially of one’s personal nature. According to Chatman, traits are actions that becoming the label of the character in the story. According to him, character can have more than 1 trait which will creates self conflict in the story; therefore bring out the uniqueness to the character. Chatman definition of character in the narrative can be associated with Carl Jung’s archetypes. Carl Jung describes archetypes as repeating patterns of thoughts and actions that re-appear again and again across people. Jung main archetypes are not in a way that each person may be classified as one, but rather we have all the basic archetypes inside us, which is the shadow that embodies chaos and wildness of character, the anima/animus which represents our true self, and the self where all aspects are brought together as one.

An example of Jung’s archetype can be seen in Lotso, the pink teddy bear from Toy Story 3. He has the anima archetypes at the beginning of the movie when he guiding the hero in his journey. Then as the movie progress, he started to show the shadow archetypes inside of him.

2.4 What Can Children Learn from Animation

In their first year, a child is unable to grasp the concept and narrative of the animation that he watches. According to Jean Ann Wright in her book Animation Writing and Development, while an infant still unable to sits by themselves, they enjoying watching television just by paying attention to the changing patterns of light colours and sounds. Therefore, at this sensory-motor stage, animation for them is just the same as other forms of entertainment as they just paying attention to the basic forms, movement and colours. Their lacking of object permanence ability not allows them to understand the existence of a character in the movie. As they move to different stages, they start to explore the world around them. They begin to learn about language and symbols as a representation of actions. They will start to interact with things that they watch until finally they are able to grasp the content of the animation that they watch.

As they enter the pre-operational stage, narratives and characters in animation start to have influences on their development. Although they still see things very literally, they start to pay attention at the setting of the event, and as they developing language ability, they will start to imitate the movement and dialog of the character in the animation, although they still unaware of the traits that the particular character possess. They are still relating the character in the animation to them limited to what is literally shown in the movie. Their egocentric thought allows them to relate at the character in the animation in a very narrow point of view.

During the Concrete operational stage, a child is now able to relate the characteristic of the character to him to an extent of what a character is being portrayed in the animation. Without his egocentric thought he is able to see the character from other point of view. For example if he watches a Aladdin, he is not only seeing Jasmine as a beautiful princess but also taking the point of view of Aladdin as a princess that want to be free and his lover. But he still need a concrete situation in the movie to help him understand the character from other point of view. And lastly during the formal operational stage, a child is now able to fully relate himself to the character in the animation. He also begins to grasp the concept and morale behind it rather than using an image representation to relate to the character. He is now able to relate himself to the character abstractly using his logic. He is now able to think what possibilities that the character might behave in the movie even if it is not shown in any scene. Animation has the most impact at this stage, where a child can relate himself to many things from the character other than what the animation showed in the narrative. He will memorize lots of symbols regarding his surroundings.

Let’s take an example of how a child in formal-operational period can relate himself to violence aspect in animation. Does watching too much violence in animation will leads a child into a violent teenager? For example, a child at this stage will see a gun as a symbol of killing. But at the same time it does not necessarily cause a child to act more violently. As a gun can also symbolize justice where in the movie a hero use it to shoot the villain. It can promote a view that violence is common in everyday life, which will make them think that the world around them is a mean and dangerous place. Therefore it will create fears in their minds. Or it can create the opposite effect that having a gun will make a child feel safe. The ability of abstract thinking that a child at formal-operational period possessed will make a child have a different point of view compared to others.


By studying children learning process and how they can relate to the narrative and character in animation, it can be said that animation affects children differently according to their cognitive development level. At pre-operational and concrete-operational period, a child started to relate himself to the character in the animation limited to what is being showed in the animation. At formal-operational period, a child is no longer use image representation as much as before and able to fully relate himself to the character in the animation.


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