Lund: Children aged 9 are several times more sensitive to disruptive advertising than adults. This is shown by studies conducted at Lund University in Sweden, in which children’s eye movements were measured. Together with the Lund University Humanities Lab, media and communications researcher Nils Holmberg has developed a combination of methods for measuring how much children’s concentration is disrupted by advertisements.
“By measuring the children’s eye movements, we were able to see how disturbed they were”, says Nils Holmberg.
The children were asked to carry out a series of online tasks during the experiments, and the findings showed that their reading comprehension deteriorated considerably when animated ads appeared alongside the text.
“We observed a general decrease in task performance, but the strongest deterioration was found in children who also had lower control over their eye movements”, he says.
Whereas adults maintain 80 per cent control of their eye movements when they are exposed to advertising, the equivalent figure for children aged 9 is only 20 per cent.
We know today that “media-multitasking”, i.e. the ubiquitous use of various media and the constant shifting of attention this entails, may lead to stress and cognitive load.
“What we have done now is to show that children are much more affected by this than adults”, says Nils Holmberg.
Holmberg believes that his research will be welcomed by the advertising industry.
“There is an ambition within the sector to clean up among the worst offenders of internet advertising. With new measuring methods for investigating online advertising and the disruption it causes, it will be easier to set rules.”
On 9 December, Nils Holmberg publicly defended his thesis: Effects of online advertising on children's visual attention and task performance during free and goal-directed internet use: A media psychology approach to children's website interaction and advert distraction.