Kids are distracted by internet ads

January 23, 2017 - 06:20

It’s hard for them to avert their eyes from animated advertisements.

The eyes of children are easily drawn to animated advertisements on web pages. (Photo: Maskot/NTB scanpix)

Ads that are animated distract children the most.

This has been demonstrated in a Swedish study of children’s visual attention using eye-tracking devices.

Motion muddles concentration

The study was made with 25 children in an elementary school in southern Sweden.

Nine-year-olds were instructed to surf the net while eye-tracking cameras registered their focus on the screen.

On the average 15 ads popped up for 20 seconds each in the course of the seven minutes a child surfed the web.

Ads that were animated caught the children’s attention easiest. They also looked at ads more frequently if they were on the screen longer.

But the size of the ads had no impact.

The study does not say if the children consciously found the ads distracting or irritating.

Younger children most vulnerable

Individual differences in age and inhibitory control mattered as much as the configuration of the ads.

Younger children had more problems concentrating.

The Swedish researcher Nils Holmberg conducted four tests for his doctoral thesis. In one he measured how adept the children in two age groups were in fixing and controlling their gaze. Altogether, 45 children were instructed to ignore a spot that popped up and as quickly as possible look to the other side of the screen. 

Nine-year-olds managed this just two times out of ten. Twelve-year-olds were better at concentrating.

Previous research has shown that adults manage to control their attention in such tests eight times in ten.

No impact on concentration

Those who had the most trouble trying to concentrate on the test were the ones who were most disturbed by the ads.

Holmberg investigated how well the children managed to play a game on the web while being bombarded with ads.

Advertisements that suddenly popped up stole their attention much more frequently than ones that slowly appeared. The children were also more prone to look at ads that were visually similar to the content of the game.

But the ads did not necessarily impact their success at the game. What really mattered were their visual control, age and gender. The 12-year-olds managed the tasks better than nine-year-olds. Girls did better as did those who had managed the test earlier. This was noted even though the 12-year-olds were the ones who most often glanced at the ads.

The researcher was surprised by one result: No advantage was seen among children who were more used to using the internet. On average the children used the internet about an hour a day, usually for gaming.

Young internet users were equally adept, or equally poor, at ignoring the ads independent of how much they were online per day. 

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Translated by
Glenn Ostling

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