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.

Space Force: The Office's Greg Daniels and Steve Carell Aren't in Scranton Anymore

Steve Carell stars in Greg Daniels's Space Force.
Steve Carell stars in Greg Daniels's Space Force.
Aaron Epstein/Netflix

Greg Daniels and Steve Carell helped to make TV history when they collaborated on NBC's The Office. Now they've teamed up again for a brand-new show—and they're clearly not in Scranton anymore.

Daniels, who developed the American adaptation of The Office and co-created Parks and Recreation, is back with another workplace comedy—this time for Netflix and taking place in space. Space Force will follow Carell as the protagonist, and also stars big-name actors such as Ben Schwartz, Lisa Kudrow, and John Malkovich. As the title indicates, it's believed to be a spoof on Donald Trump's military branch of the same name.

This week, the first official images for Space Force were released, showing Carell and his co-stars in action—and it appears the beloved actor will have his hands full as the head of the Space Force.

In addition to starring in the series, Carell is also its co-creator (alongside Daniels) and one of its executive producers. Space Force will arrive on Netflix on May 29, 2020. In the meantime, you can check out some of the early images from the series below.

John Malkovich stars in Space Force
Aaron Epstein/Netflix

Steve Carell and Lisa Kudrow in 'Space Force'
Aaron Epstein/Netflix

Jimmy O. Yang in Space Force
Aaron Epstein/Netflix

Steve Carell and Ben Schwartz in 'Space Force'
Aaron Epstein/Netflix

YouTube Will Air a Different Andrew Lloyd Webber Musical for Free Each Friday

Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2018.
Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2018.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Broadway may have temporarily shut down all productions to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, but Andrew Lloyd Webber is here to make sure that musical theater aficionados still get their fill of top-notch content for the foreseeable future.

According to Broadway Direct, Webber’s production company, The Really Useful Group, has partnered with Universal on a new YouTube channel called “The Shows Must Go On!,” which will air a different Webber musical each Friday at 2 p.m. EST on YouTube. If you can’t tune in right at that time, don’t worry—the show will stay posted for 48 hours after it airs.

The series debuted last Friday, April 3, with 1999’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which stars Donny Osmond in the titular role and an ultra-talented supporting cast with Richard Attenborough, Maria Friedman, Joan Collins, and more. This week’s offering, tying in nicely with Easter, will be the 2012 Live Arena Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar, featuring Tim Minchin, Melanie C—a.k.a. the Spice Girls’ Sporty Spice—and Ben Forster. (If you’re interested in comparing it with 2018’s live concert version with John Legend and Sara Bareilles, you can catch that on NBC this Sunday.)

The schedule for future Fridays hasn’t been released yet, but Webber did mention in the announcement that it’ll include what he calls “the most important one, my disaster musical, By Jeeves,” a 1975 production based on P.G. Wodehouse’s classic stories. Other potential productions that could be part of the series include The Phantom of the Opera, Evita, School of Rock, and, of course, Cats.

In addition to full-length Broadway musicals, the channel will also post individual songs and behind-the-scenes content about how musicals go from stage to screen. You can subscribe to the channel here so you don’t miss any opportunity for a living room singalong.

[h/t Broadway Direct]

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