By Nathalie Bonney
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In a series of experiments, scientists found that junior participants who watched 3D footage demonstrated quicker reaction times than those who watched the same film clip in 2D.
As well as improved cognitive processing, they were also more mentally engaged.
A follow-on from research in 2015, which monitored the effects of 3D on adults, behavioural scientist Patrick Fagan conducted the new study, testing children’s cognitive, social, emotional and physiological responses.
Fagan said: “We found that, just like for adults, 3D films can play the role of ‘brain training’ games and help to make children ‘smarter’ in the short term.”
Child psychologist, Dr. Richard Woolfson, comments: “An outing to the cinema has long been an enjoyable activity for parents and children, and 3D movies certainly add to the family fun.
"But results of this study show that young viewers can also benefit cognitively and psychologically from this exciting visual medium.”
The experiment monitored a group of over 60 children, aged between seven and 14.
One group watched a 20-minute clip of visual-feast Disney’s The Jungle Book, this year’s biggest grossing film to date at UK box offices, in 3D. The second group watched the same clip in 2D.
There was no doubt both groups enjoyed seeing Mowgli alongside fearsome tiger Shere Khan and loveable bear Baloo on the big screen - but how did their different viewing experiences affect them afterwards?
Following on from the clip, the children had to complete a computer-based task; for comparison purposes they completed the task before watching the film clip and again afterwards: those that had watched the 3D clip demonstrated faster reaction times than those who watched the 2D version.
Fagan said: “The shortening of response times after watching 3D was almost three times as big as that gained from watching 2D; in other words 3D helps children process things in their environment more quickly.”
The children also had to play the game Operation before and after watching the video clip. Tasked with removing as many ‘organs’ as possible in two minutes, the 3D viewers set off the buzzer 13% less often after watching the film clip; by comparison the 2D viewers set off the buzzer more frequently – by 19% after watching the film clip.
A smaller number of children wore physiological sensors to measure their excitement by monitoring heart rate and galvanic skin response (GSR).
The average maximum heart rate was 17% higher for 3D films than 2D and the average GSR reading was 14% higher in 3D viewers.
The special effects of 3D also have more of an emotional impact, according to the study, which was commissioned in part by Vue Entertainment. Asked to select which emojis best described their emotions after the film, the 3D viewers demonstrated a higher level of surprise (32% versus 5% in 2D).
The heightened experience of watching 3D is part of the reason the children had faster reaction times afterwards explains Fagan: “The more realistic, immersive world of 3D ostensibly captures the attention of our limited brains because the experiences ‘feel’ more ‘real’.
"As a result it’s also more stimulating than 2D – it’s the equivalent of driving 60km/h rather than 30km/h.”
With children now facing so many technological distractions, Dr. Woolfson is encouraged by the research findings.
He said: “In an age where children’s concentration levels and attention spans are shorter than ever before and split-screening has become the norm for adults and children alike, it’s encouraging that children appear more attentive and more emotionally-sensitive after watching a movie in 3D, as well as finding the viewing experience altogether more exciting.
“So, parents can happily take their kids to a 3D movie knowing that not only is this a enjoyable family activity but that the children will gain added psychological value as well.”
The ‘Kids on 3D’ study was commissioned in part by Vue Entertainment and led by behavioural scientist Patrick Fagan. The experiment comprised a pre- and post-test design, with children completing the same measures before and after viewing a clip of Disney’s The Jungle Book in either RealD 3D or 2D.