Research shows that children under the age of eight are unable to critically comprehend televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased, says a task force of the American Psychological Association, which is recommending that advertising targeting children under the age of eight be restricted.

The Task Force conducted an extensive review of the research literature in the area of advertising media, and its effects on children. It is estimated that advertisers spend more than $12 billon per year on advertising messages aimed at the youth market. Additionally, the average child watches more than 40,000 television commercials per year.

The six-member team of psychologists with expertise in child development, cognitive psychology and social psychology found that children under the age of eight lack the cognitive development to understand the persuasive intent of television advertising and are uniquely susceptible to advertising’s influence.  

“While older children and adults understand the inherent bias of advertising, younger children do not, and therefore tend to interpret commercial claims and appeals as accurate and truthful information,” said psychologist Dale Kunkel, professor of communication at the University of California at Santa Barbara and senior author of the task force’s scientific report.

“Because younger children do not understand persuasive intent in advertising, they are easy targets for commercial persuasion,” said psychologist Brian Wilcox, professor of psychology and director of the Center on Children, Families and the Law at the University of Nebraska and chair of the task force. “This is a critical concern because the most common products marketed to children are sugared cereals, candies, sweets, sodas and snack foods. Such advertising of unhealthy food products to young children contributes to poor nutritional habits that may last a lifetime and be a variable in the current epidemic of obesity among kids.”