Effects of online advertising on children's visual attention and task performance during free and goal-directed internet use: A media psychology approach to children's website interaction and advert distraction

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


This dissertation consists of four eye-tracking studies that investigate how salient online advertising and children's level of executive function contributes to their advert distraction. In Study 1, children aged 9 were instructed to surf freely on the internet while all advert material appearing on-screen was registered. The analyses examined how perceptual prominence in each online advert was related to children's visual attention. In Study 2, a mock-up advergame website was designed with controlled advert conditions, and children aged 9 and 12 were instructed to solve a number of in-game tasks. This study investigated the combined effects of perceptual prominence (e.g. abrupt onset) and content relevance (e.g. personalized content) on children's advert distraction. The results of the first two studies showed significant positive effects of advert saliency on children's visual attention. Due to the task-oriented research design used in the second study, it was possible to interpret these effects on visual attention in terms of advert distraction. Both studies showed that higher levels of inhibitory control in children significantly decreased the effects of advert saliency on visual attention and advert distraction.

The following two studies, investigated how advert animation affected children's online reading comprehension and information search on commercial websites. In Study 3, children aged 9 were presented with factual texts that they were instructed to read in order to answer comprehension questions. Each text was presented on a web page which also featured static or animated online adverts. In Study 4, children aged 9 were instructed to solve two online task types featuring concurrent online advertising: reading and information search. The results of these studies showed that animated online advertising had significant negative effects on children's task performance. In the third study, it was found that animated adverts had a negative effect on children's reading comprehension, and that this negative effect was stronger among children with low levels of inhibitory control. The fourth study found that advert animation had a significant positive effect on children's cognitive load across task types. Taken together, this dissertation project has studied children's online advert distraction in a wide range of realistic internet usage situations.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Media Studies
  • Communication Studies
  • Applied Psychology


  • online advertising, children, website interaction, visual attention, distraction, cognitive load, eye-tracking, task-orientation, media effects, visual saliency, executive functions, media literacy, inhibitory control
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Thesis sponsors
  • Swedish Research Council
  • Crafoord Foundation
Award date2016 Dec 9
Place of PublicationLund
Print ISBNs978-91-7753-052-7
Electronic ISBNs978-91-7753-053-4
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2016-12-09 Time: 10:00 Place: room 104, Pufendorfinstitutet, Biskopsgatan 3, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Taylor Piotrowski, Jessica Title: Associate Professor Affiliation: University of Amsterdam ---

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