How Do Young Children Learn to Be Consumers?: a Script Processing Perspecive

Laura A. Peracchio, Northwestern University
Charise Mita, Northwestern University
[ to cite ]:
Laura A. Peracchio and Charise Mita (1989) ,"How Do Young Children Learn to Be Consumers?: a Script Processing Perspecive", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 791.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, 1989      Page 791


Laura A. Peracchio, Northwestern University

Charise Mita, Northwestern University

How do young children acquire and organize their knowledge about the world? According to Nelson (1986), young children acquire knowledge by learning stereotypical sequences of events, or scripts. In a series of studies, Nelson asked preschool age children about events in their daily lives, such as going to school and eating at McDonald's. Nelson found that even three year old children produce detailed, sophisticated scripts of these familiar events without error. In a consumer context, Roedder John and Whitney (1986) investigated the development of script knowledge in young children over multiple audio presentations of an unfamiliar script and, unlike Nelson, found the preschool age child to have relatively little script-like knowledge structures.

These disparate findings may be resolved by recognizing that many processing deficits, or perhaps limitations, in young children are dependent on task conditions. In this study, we examined the conditions under which a young child would acquire an unfamiliar consumer script for product exchange. Since young children prefer visually presented information and are often unable to spontaneously produce visual images to accompany audio input, I he children were provided with audio-visual presentations of the unfamiliar script. Children were also presented with multiple exposures to the new script to allow them several opportunities to experience the script.

This study also concentrated on reducing the processing demands of the dependent variables used to elicit the new script. Children often perform poorly when presented with decontextual, abstract questions. Donaldson (1978) found that children's performance dramatically improves when they are provided with a context, for example, objects and pictures, from which to formulate their verbal responses. In this study children were probed to determine their acquisition of the new script using a series of questions which varied from abstract to concrete. Children's performance on abstract questions, for example, "How do you return something to the store?", was very poor, while their performance on questions where they were provided with objects and pictures was superior. For example, children were given a broken toy and asked, "What would you do if I gave you this for your birthday?".

When young children were exposed to multiple audio-visual presentations of the product exchange script and concrete questions were used to elicit the script, even young children showed well-developed scripts and were able to generalize the product exchange script. Subsequent research examines how multiple exposures assist the young child in forming a scripted representation for an event.