Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Effect of Flashback on Children's Understanding of Television Crime Content

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Effect of Flashback on Children's Understanding of Television Crime Content

Article excerpt

Television uses a variety of camera and editing techniques to present information. Visual techniques such as zooms, cuts, and flashback, and auditory techniques such as music and sound effects, are used to guide the viewer's attention, to stress essential elements of events, to compress time, and for a range of other purposes. Several techniques, such as cuts and flashback, are used to alter the normal temporal sequencing of events, requiring the viewer to integrate information temporally in order to comprehend program events accurately (Abelman, 1990; Calvert, 1988; Wright & Huston, 1983). In this paper, we examine the effects of flashback on young viewers' grasp of the sequence of events and comprehension of specific details of a program.

To understand television programs, children need not only to deal with the temporal organization of the text but also to infer information not explicitly shown, such as the reasons for particular events. These are challenging tasks and some previous research indicates that children below ages 7 or 8 years fail to comprehend much of the plots of fictional television programs (Calvert, Huston, Watkins, & Wright, 1982; Collins, 1982; Collins et al., 1978; Collins & Wellman, 1982; Kelly & Spear, 1991). Age related increases in children's comprehension have been found for different types of content, including content that is essential to the plot of the story (central), content that is not essential to the plot (peripheral), and content associated with central scenes that is not explicitly shown but can be inferred (implicit). For example, Collins et al. (1978) investigated children's comprehension of an action-adventure television program and found that, for boys and girls, recall and recognition memory for central, peripheral, and implicit content improved from grade 2 through grade 5 to grade 8. Although both central and peripheral content scores improved with age, central content scores improved more markedly. Collins et al. suggested that as children develop, they attend increasingly to content that is central to the plot while systematically ignoring peripheral content. In a review of the literature, Doubleday and Droedge (1993) conclude that the comprehension of central plot information and inferences about implicit or missing content in television are limited below ages 7 to 8.

On the other hand, there is evidence that young elementary school children comprehend and retain more information from television programs when that information is congruent with their prior expectations -- such as expectations based on familiar events or their scripts for routine programs of a particular genre (Collins & Wellman, 1982; Newcomb & Collins, 1979). These findings are consistent with evidence from other contexts that children's event knowledge is schema bound (e.g., Fivush, Kuebli, & Clubb, 1992; Hudson & Nelson, 1983; Nelson, 1996). Gibbons et al. (1986) and Lorch, Bellack, and Augsbach (1987) have demonstrated that young (four to seven years-old) children can comprehend and retain central plot information provided that discrete units of information are tested and that presentation is not confounded with demands upon inferential or integrative skills.

In practice, much of television viewing is likely to involve the integration of information and inferences about events, relationships, or motives that are not actually shown, as well as discriminating among information which is important and that which is peripheral (Collins, 1982; Collins et al., 1978). Young children's poor comprehension of television is often attributed to their difficulties in handling the representational characteristics and formal features of the medium itself (Anderson & Smith, 1984; Dorr, 1986; Huston et al., 1992). Our focus here is on a technique which is used in television to depict the passage of time and to remind or inform viewers of past events. Flashback is a valuable dramatic device from the point of view of the producer, because it allows for the representation of temporal events more economically and more creatively than simply allowing those events to unfold in real time and in normal chronological order (Reisz & Millar, 1968). …

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