Children's books that feature talking animals, or animals displaying other human characteristics, like wearing clothes, lead to less realistic understandings of the natural world, researchers say.
A new study suggests such books not only inhibit specific, factual learning but also interfere with children's abstract thinking and conceptual reasoning about animals.
"Books that portray animals realistically lead to more learning and more accurate biological understanding," said Patricia Ganea, a psychologist at the University of Toronto. Ganea spearheaded research into the effects fantasy or unrealistic animals in books have on childhood learning.
The specifics of Ganae's study were recently published in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology.
"We were surprised to find that even the older children in our study were sensitive to the anthropocentric portrayals of animals in the books," added Ganae, "and attributed more human characteristics to animals after being exposed to fantastical books than after being exposed to realistic books."
Of course, a lack of fantastical (and wonderful) books about animals -- childhood staples like "Winnie the Pooh" or "Charlotte's Web" -- may have unintended consequences, a diminished imagination or curtailed creativity. But Ganae says her research isn't intended to discourage such books, only to remind parents and teachers that it's important to include informational and nonfiction books when helping children to understand the biological world.
[Frontiers in Psychology]