Disney Animated Features & Their Psychological Effects on Children
As a student of both communications media and psychology at university, the effects that media could have on an individual were always of great interest to me. As someone with a deeply-held respect for the Disney legacy, I was particularly interested in the effects that Disney media - especially their iconic animated features - could have on people. For although I've always disagreed with those who say that Disney cartoons imposed negative values and beliefs upon children, I wanted to see what the data really said. What was the truth?
I chose to use the opportunity that my senior thesis afforded me to study four commonly-held beliefs about such films: that Disney animated features promote the beauty-goodness stereotype; that Disney animate features overemphasize physical attractiveness; that Disney animated features depict male and female characters in a sexist or antiquated fashion; and that Disney animated features contain too much death and violence than is healthy for young viewers.
A study of over 40 sources yeilded some fascinating conclusions. First, that Disney animated features do promote the beauty/goodness stereotype but do not apparently pose a threat to children; second, that Disney animated features do not negatively impact children in their depictions of physical attractiveness and furthermore promote certain values - such as kindness and cleverness - as being of greater importance than physical attractiveness; third, that Disney animated features, while still open to personal and subjective evaluation, do depict a broad range of roles and personalities for male and female characters, with male depictions being only slightly less varied; and finally, that Disney animated films do feature a comparatively large presence of violence, death, and fearful situations, but that scenes depicting such things actually pose potential benefits to children and families.
Having studied the available research, I then interviewed four former employees from varying corporate levels within the Walt Disney Company in order to gauge professional insight into the four critiques. Participants included a former character actor, two former imagineers, and a former top executive in the Walt Disney Company. As it turned out, the answers of these employees mostly reflected the primary findings of this analysis, though certain delineations and trends within their answers were noted.
If you'd like to read the full thesis, you can download the pdf here.
To see the powerpoint that accompanied the information, click here.
The thesis - which was submitted to both the communications media program and the psychology program at Franciscan University of Steubenville - recieved an A from both programs.
The downloadable versions of the pdf and powerpoint have both been edited to protect the anonymity of the 4 participants. No other information has been changed.