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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 06:59 GMT
Thomas sending children off the rails
Thomas the Tank Engine
Thomas the Tank Engine has been popular for generations
The children's hit television programme Thomas the Tank Engine may be making children frightened of going on trains because of the number of crashes in its stories, according to a British psychologist.

The animated series, based on children's books by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry, feature the adventures of a little steam engine who has been popular in Britain for almost 20 years.

But Brian Young, a psychology lecturer at Britain's Exeter University, says the large number of accidents in the programmes could have a negative influence on children.

"Thomas the Tank Engine is aimed at a pre-school audience who tend to be more likely to see the programme as a reality," he told the Times newspaper.

Mr Young, an expert on how children react to TV programmes, said there was evidence that children who watch programmes that consistently portray the same image tend to think there is more danger than normal.

"As a result there is a possibility that the sheer amount of crashes they see on Thomas could frighten them," he said.

"Seeing lots of crashes on TV means they could end up absolutely terrified of going on a train."

A spokesman for ITV, which broadcasts the show, told the Times it was confident the series was suitable for children.

Thomas is owned by British media company Hit Entertainment, along with Barney the Dinosaur, Bob the Builder and other animated characters.

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