FRIDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- Given the choice between a real animal and a toy, new research shows that children prefer a living creature.
Even babies as young as 11 months old are naturally drawn to animals, including those that may frighten many adults, such as spiders and snakes, investigators from the University of Virginia and Rutgers University found.
The researchers conducted three separate experiments in which children had the opportunity to choose between animals or attractive toys. The children, the study revealed, spent more time with all types of animals than with the toys.
The animals also sparked more curiosity and interest among the children than the toys did, the investigators noted. For example, when focusing their attention on the animals the kids gestured more, talked about the animals more and asked more questions. As a result, the researchers suggested that animals help children learn.
"The fact that children find animals so appealing suggests that children may benefit from having an animal, like a pet, in their lives," Vanessa LoBue, from Rutgers University, said in a news release from the British Psychological Society.
"Our research develops the idea that animals may be a good instrument for learning," she said. "This is borne out by the widespread use of animal characters in children's books and TV programs."
The study was published online April 27 in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has more about kids who love animals.
-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
SOURCE: British Psychological Society, news release, April 26, 2012
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