The Effect of Character-Similarity on Identification and Comprehension of a Narrative in Childhood

The Effect of Character-Similarity on Identification and Comprehension of a Narrative in Childhood

First Author: Rebecca Dore -- University of Delaware
Additional authors/chairs: 
Eric Smith; Angeline Lillard
Keywords: narratives, Identification, Reading comprehension, Retention, Early childhood age 3-8
Abstract / Summary: 

The purpose of this study was to test whether children would exhibit better comprehension for narratives with a protagonist of their own race than for narratives with a protagonist of another race, perhaps because children are more likely to identify with characters who are more similar to themselves. Seventy-three primarily White children between 6 and 8 years of age were individually read a storybook and randomly assigned to see either a White or Black protagonist. Afterwards, children responded to questions assessing their identification with the character, engagement in the story, and character-related attitudes, as well as two types of comprehension measures: a free recall measure, and specific comprehension questions. Children also completed the PPVT as a standardized measure of verbal ability. Individual regression models were conducted predicting identification and comprehension measures from character race. All models tested for effects of, and if needed, controlled for other variables of interest, specifically age, gender, receptive vocabulary, engagement in the story, and character-related attitudes. Estimates of effects were obtained from a full model (including all factors, interactions, and covariates that might be of interest) and compared to simpler, nested models. Findings showed that children were more likely to strongly identify with the White character than with the Black character, and that although children did not answer more comprehension questions correctly after seeing the story with the White character, they did freely recall more information from the story with the White character. These findings have the potential to inform our understanding of children’s comprehension of narrative texts and the effect of character race on comprehension.