Turn off TV and talk to babies

VANDERBILT (US) — Infants gain little to nothing from watching popular educational videos, according to a new study, which finds they learn best with face-to-face interaction with parents and other familiar figures.

“After watching a video designed to teach vocabulary for a month, the infants did not know any more of the words than children with no exposure to the video,” says Georgene Troseth, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University.

“Babies enjoy watching the videos, but don’t expect your child to learn much from them.”

The research is in press at the journal Psychological Science.

American parents spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on videos and DVDs designed and marketed for infants, a trend that began in 1997 with the release of the first Baby Einstein video.

Parents also tune in to regular television with their children, with more than 70 percent of mothers of young children reporting that they believe children learn from television. But little research has been done on whether or not that is actually true.

To determine if babies were learning from video, Troseth conducted a four-group experiment to measure how many new words 12- to 18-month old children learned from viewing a popular DVD.

In the first, parents watched the video with their child at least five times a week for four weeks in their home and were told to interact with their children in whatever way seemed natural as they watched the video.

In the second group, the children watched the video alone for the same amount of time as the first group.

The third group of children did not watch the videos at all. Parents were instructed to try to teach their children the same words found on the video during their everyday activities.

A fourth, control, group of children did not watch the video and did not receive any special vocabulary instruction from their parents.

The children were tested before and after the experiment for their knowledge of the 25 words presented in the video.

The highest level of learning was among children taught by their parents. The children who watched the videos learned no more than the children in the control group who received no special exposure to new words.

Parents who liked the video tended to overestimate its benefits, saying that their children were indeed learning from it.

“During these months of late infancy, children undergo a ‘vocabulary spurt’ when they learn new words on a daily basis,” Troseth says.

“If children have been watching videos, parents may attribute normal vocabulary growth to media exposure.”

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