Children better at recognising Pokemon characters than British wildlife

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The Independent Online

The typical eight-year-old is better at recognising Pokémon characters than at identifying the common plants and animals of the British countryside, scientists have discovered.

An experiment involving 109 primary school children aged between four and 11 found that by the age of eight most were able to name 78 per cent of the 150 Pokémon characters such as Pidgeotto, Pikachu and Jigglypuff. The same age group could manage correctly to identify only about half of the pictures of animals and plants, such as "beetle", "deer" or "oak tree", displayed on cards shown to them by the scientists.

Pokémon was originally invented by Satoshi Tajiri in Japan as a way of giving urban children the opportunity to collect insect-like animals in the way he did as child living in the countryside. Now it seems that Pokémon is doing better then the real thing, according to Andrew Balmford and Tim Coulson, two Cambridge zoologists who publish their findings in the journal Science.

"Our findings carry two messages. First, young children clearly have tremendous capacity for learning about creatures, whether natural or man-made, being able at age eight to identify nearly 80 per cent of a sample drawn from 150 synthetic 'species'," Dr Balmford said. "Second, it appears that conservationists are doing less well than the creators of Pokémon at inspiring interest in their subjects."

The study found that at the age of four, children could correctly identify 32 per cent of British wildlife, but this only rose to 53 per cent at the age of eight, which then dropped slightly – compared to 78 per cent correct identification of Pokémon characters.

"During their primary school years, children apparently learn far more about Pokémon than about their native wildlife and enter secondary school being able to name less than 50 per cent of common wildlife species," Dr Balmford said.

Dr Coulson said: "It is not difficult to encourage a child's interest in wildlife. It is also important that we do – why should a child care about the extinction of a species if he or she has no idea what it is?"