The scientific reason toddlers go crazy for Elmo

Big Bird just can't compete

Chelsea Ritschel
in New York
Tuesday 27 February 2018 17:18 GMT
There is a scientific reason children love Elmo (Instagram)
There is a scientific reason children love Elmo (Instagram)

Sesame Street’s colourful and loud-voiced Elmo may grate on the nerves of adults, but it turns out the reason toddlers adore the bright red monster comes down to science.

As the stand-out talent in the Sesame Street line up, other characters like Big Bird and Cookie Monster just don’t compare to beloved Elmo. But what is it about the furry red creature that makes toddlers go crazy? It turns out there are some reasons - backed by science - why kids love him.

The first reason has to do with Elmo’s garish colouring. While red is a nice enough colour, the reason it turns toddlers into Elmo stans is because it is actually one of the first colours they can see.

According to the American Optometric Association, babies are not born with all the visual abilities they need in life. Rather, these abilities need to be learned and improved over their first few years of life.

But, after just a few weeks of life, babies are able to see some vivid colours, including primary colours red and orange, according to

Additionally, eye care company Bausch confirms that the first colour a baby can see is red.

So when you turn on the TV and the oversized bright red monster starts speaking, it makes sense toddlers and babies become star-struck.

However, babies aren’t completely focused on looks - they also like sounds.

Elmo happens to combine these two things with his “Parantese” way of speaking, the typically high-pitched language used by parents to communicate with their babies.

According to Dr Lauren Gardner, administrative director of the Autism Centre at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital who spoke to CafeMom: “The high-pitched voice, dragged-out vowel sounds, and exaggerated inflexion is how most children are spoken to by caregivers in our culture.”

So for children, Elmo is a combination of their two favourite things come to life - red and the sound of their parents.

If that isn’t adorable, we don’t know what is.

And, Elmo also incorporates a child-like way of thinking, speaking, and exploration. To toddlers, this behaviour mimics their own limited self-understanding and understanding of the world around them - which makes Elmo feel like a friend.

But most importantly, Elmo is good. He says “thank you” and “please,” and is “always kind.”

According to Shanna Donhauser, a child and family therapist and founder of The Happy Nest, this appeals to children because “children are usually drawn to these characters because they reflect the positive feelings they know personally and the characteristics, like kindness, they appreciate” - characteristics they are learning through their parents.

So the next time your child demands Elmo for the millionth time, remember Elmo reminds them of a red furry version of home.

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