The Psychological Reason Kids Love Elmo

Gail Oskin, Getty Images for Children's Hospital Boston
Gail Oskin, Getty Images for Children's Hospital Boston

In 2012, researchers at Cornell University prepared a test for 200 children aged 8 to 11. They were presented with the option of having a cookie or an apple as a snack during a school lunch period. Most children chose the cookie.

Then, researchers conducted a second trial. They offered the same cookie or apple, but this time the apple came affixed with a sticker featuring Elmo from Sesame Street.

Kids in the first group chose apples at a rate of 20 percent. Kids seeing an apple with the sticker picked the apple at a rate of 40 percent. The mere presence of Elmo encouraged children to choose the healthier food option at double the rate of the unstickered fruit.

It’s clear that Elmo—the red-furred, hyper, inquisitive Muppet—strikes a chord with kids. Youngsters tend to stop what they’re doing when he appears on the screen, gripped in a kind of hypnosis. Tickle Me Elmo was one of the toy industry’s biggest success stories, causing long lines when it debuted in 1996. Its appeal wasn’t lost on adults, either, with the vibrating toy soothing the famously stoic Bryant Gumbel during a Today show segment on holiday gifts.

But for children under the age of 4, there’s quite a bit more working in Elmo’s favor than simply being cute. In many ways, he was engineered to resonate with this target audience, and child behavioral experts think they know why.

Elmo wears a tuxedo during a public appearance
Peter Kramer, Getty Images

Visually, Elmo presents as a very atypical presence on camera. He’s virtually the only red Muppet in the show’s cast of characters, which is relevant because young children tend to see bright colors like red more vibrantly at a young age than muted colors. (Brown, for example, tends to bore babies.)

Once Elmo has captured a kid's attention, he manages to keep it by speaking in a unique cadence that some child psychologists have dubbed “parentese,” a gentle vocal rhythm that kids associate with the authority, warmth, and calming effect of their guardians. By speaking in the third person (“Elmo likes you!”), the character also becomes relatable: Young children tend to conceptualize themselves in that manner as they learn their way around language.

"His speech style is 'mother-ese,'" Dr. Lauren Gardner, administrative director of the Autism Center at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, told CafeMom in 2018. “The high-pitched voice, dragged-out vowel sounds, and exaggerated inflection is how most children are spoken to by caregivers in our culture.”

Initially, Elmo didn’t have much to say. When the character made his first appearance on Sesame Street in 1985, he was not the giggling, slightly mischievous Muppet that was fleshed out later. At first, producers at Sesame Workshop knew simply that he would share many of the same traits as the toddlers watching him on television. He would be open-minded, curious about the world around him, and generally upbeat. By mimicking many of their attributes, he would capture their attention.

"[Elmo is] just like toddlers who are in an exploratory stage of life,” Dr. Tovah Klein, director of the Center for Toddler Development at Barnard College, told Slate in 2013. Both kids and Elmo are “like little scientists, trying out and exploring what is around them, delighting in it.”

For some kids, Elmo speaks to them. For others, he speaks for them. Either way, he’s far more likely to keep a child’s attention than most children’s show characters, relatable in virtually all ways. Except for the fur.

Target Has Launched a Harry Potter Line of Clothing, Accessories, and Home Goods

Target
Target

No more blending in with the mediocre Muggles—now wizards can decorate and accessorize like the magical creatures they are with Target's brand-new line of Harry Potter clothing and home goods.

Target shoppers will feel like they’ve stepped through Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station as they wander the Harry Potter-stuffed aisles. Popsugar reports that Target will carry more than 500 Harry Potter-themed items, including socks, lanterns, pillows, dolls and much more.

You’ll be able to wake up in your Hogwarts sheets, have your morning coffee in a Slytherin mug, and take a ride on a foam Nimbus 2000 replica while rocking a Potter t-shirt. Not sure what house you’re in? No sweat! Target is even carrying a real-life sorting hat.

Whether you need a gift for the kiddos, or just want to treat your inner witch, Target is sure to have the perfect find in its Wizarding World line.

House Boasting a ‘Harry Potter Room’ Under the Stairs Hits the Market in San Diego

Cupboard under the stairs featured on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter in London.
Cupboard under the stairs featured on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter in London.
Matt Robinson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When Harry Potter fans dream of living like the boy wizard, they may picture Harry's cozy quarters in the Gryffindor dormitory at Hogwarts. One home owner in San Diego, California is trying to spin one of Harry's much less idyllic living situations as a magical feature. As The San Diego Union-Tribune reports, a listing of a three-bedroom house for sale in the city's Logan Heights neighborhood boasts a "Harry Potter room"—a.k.a storage room under the stairs.

In the Harry Potter books, the cupboard under the stairs of the Dursley residence served as Harry's bedroom before he enrolled in Hogwarts. Harry was eager to escape the cramped, dusty space, but thanks to the series' massive success, a similar feature in a real-world home may be a selling point for Harry Potter fans.

Kristin Rye, the seller of the San Diego house, told The Union-Tribune she would read Harry Potter books to her son, though she wouldn't describe herself as a super fan. As for why she characterized her closet as a “large ‘Harry Potter’ storage room underneath stairs" in her real estate listing, she said it was the most accurate description she could think of. “It’s just this closet under the stairs that goes back and is pretty much like a Harry Potter room. I don’t know how else to describe it," she told the newspaper.

Beyond the cupboard under the stairs, Rye's listing doesn't bear much resemblance to the cookie-cutter, suburban home of 4 Privet Drive. Nearly a century old, the San Diego house has the same cobwebs and a musty smells you might expect from the Hogwarts dungeons, the newspaper reports. But there are some perks, including a parking spot and backyard space for a garden or pull-up bar. The 1322-square-foot home is listed at $425,000—cheaper than the median price of $620,000 for a resale single-family home in the area.

If you want to live like a wizard, you don't necessarily need to start by moving under a staircase. In North Yorkshire, England, a cottage modeled after Hagrid's Hut is available to rent on a nightly basis.

[h/t The San Diego Union-Tribune]

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