As programme-makers, parents and educators, we’re responsible for important decisions about what our children watch. We try to balance what we believe they’ll enjoy, with what we feel they should learn. We know that children enjoy watching other children, and learn from them. But however open-minded we are as adults, we’re likely to believe that most 5-year-old boys would enjoy watching boys playing with dinosaurs more than girls doing ballet, and this may influence the decisions we make on their behalf.
We recruited 100 children aged 3-7 from across the UK to watch three films based on content from the high-rating CBeebies “Our Family” series. Two of the films show children engaging in gender-typical activities: one features brothers visiting a dinosaur park, the other shows sisters putting on a dance routine and doing craft. The third film features a variety of children, some with disabilities, engaged in diverse activities, from a birthday party to worshipping at mosque. While children watched the films on laptops in their home environment, their faces were recorded by the front-facing camera. Emotion recognition software coded their facial movements and classified their expressions, measuring attention, degree of expressiveness, and specific emotions including enjoyment, surprise, fear, sadness, contempt, anger.