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|Clinicians Digest Jan/Feb 2008 - Page 4|
In the DVD Baby's First Moves, from Disney's popular and immodestly named Baby Einstein product line, a baby, a loveable puppet insect, and some fanciful animated figures crawl around as the voiceover repeats "Crawl" and Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik" plays continuously. The DVD is marketed for a prelanguage age group.
Baby educational products like these, a $100-million-per-year business, don't make any promises beyond claims about helping parents spend "quality time" with children, or helping children develop, but there's an implicit message: such products make babies smarter. Even if they don't really help, one might think they can't hurt.
Now a study by University of Washington associate professor of pediatrics Frederick Zimmerman and others, reported in the October Journal of Pediatrics, finds they may actually impede language development. For infants aged 8 to 16 months, every hour spent watching one of these videos corresponds to a lost opportunity to learn six to eight new words--a 17 percent drop in vocabulary compared to children who don't watch the videos. The study also looked at older infants, aged 17 to 24 months, who watched children's (as opposed to babies') educational electronic media, finding that only the baby educational videos were associated with the drop in vocabulary formation.
Zimmerman suspects the drop may relate to what parents have instinctively known forever: babies' brains develop primarily through interacting with adults. Changes in the pitch, volume, and rhythm of adults' voices, their changing facial expressions, and games like peek-a-boo stimulate neural development. Videos and DVDs can't replace this type of interactive feedback during a critical period of neurolinguistic development.