Research published by the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) found that human protagonists are required to change behavior, according to The Independent as saying.
In the study, one of three stories were read to almost 100 children between four and six years old: Mary Packard’s Little Raccoon Learns to Share, in which anthropomorphic animals learn that sharing makes you feel good; a version of the story where animal illustrations were replaced with human characters; or a control book about seeds.
Before the story was read to them, each child chose 10 stickers to take home and were told that an anonymous child would not have any stickers to keep.
It was suggested to the children that they could share their stickers by putting them in an envelope for the anonymous child when the supervisor was not looking.
After they had been read the story, the children were allowed to choose another 10 stickers, and again asked to donate to the stickerless child.
The study, which has just been published in the journal Developmental Science, found that those children who were read the book with human characters became more generous with the stickers.
In contrast, there was "no difference in generosity between children who read the book with anthropomorphized animal characters and the control book; both groups showed a decrease in sharing behavior".
Patricia Ganea, associate professor of early cognitive development at OISE, said that while “a growing body of research has shown that young children more readily apply what they’ve learned from stories that are realistic … this is the first time we found something similar for social behaviors”.
“The finding is surprising given that many stories for young children have human-like animal,” she said.
"We should consider the diversity of story characters and the roles they are depicted in,” she said.