An MRI-based study looked at the effects of:
–simply reading a story to a child
–telling the story with the kind of animation that might be presented on a tablet or a TV screen
–telling the story with the aid of a traditional picture book
For the 4-year-old kids who were studied, the MRI data was said to suggest better patterns of mental development for the third type of storytelling than for either of the other two. Note that it was a very small study: only 27 kids, probably too few to draw any kind of definitive conclusions…but interesting.
From the WSJ article:
The sound of the storytelling voice on its own seemed to be “too cold” to get the children’s brain networks to fully engage. Like the second bowl that Goldilocks samples, animation of the sort that children might see on a TV screen or tablet was “too hot.” There is just too much going on, too quickly, for the children to be able to participate in what they were seeing. Small children’s brains have no difficulty registering bright, fast-moving images, as experience teaches and MRI scanning confirms, but the giddy shock and awe of animation doesn’t give them time to exercise their deeper cognitive faculties.
There is a bit of pleasurable challenge in making sense of what he’s seeing and hearing. There is time to reflect on the story and to see its reverberations in his own life—a transaction that may be as simple as the flash of making a connection between a real donkey he once saw with the “honky tonky, winky wonky donkey” of Craig Smith’s picture book. The collaborative engagement that a child brings to the experience is so vital and productive that reading aloud “stimulates optimal patterns of brain development,” as a 2014 paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics put it, strengthening the neural connections that will enable him to process more difficult and complex stories as he gets older.
This ties in with some comments I made on my post Metaphors, Interfaces, Memes, and Thinking, which expands on some of Neal Stephenson’s ideas:
I’d observe that as a general matter, the sensorial interface is less open to challenge than the textual interface. It doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.