Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby videos may reduce infants vocabulary according to new research
Over the last few years there has been an explosion of educational videos for very young infants (3 months+) such as Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby. However there has been little or no evidence of their effectiveness or any benefit for the millions of dollars parents are spending on these videos and toys.
In the first study on whether Baby Einstein videos work, Dr Frederick Zimmerman, examined the vocabularies of infants that watched baby training videos and compared them to infants that did not watch the videos. For every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants understood an average of six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them. Six to eight words doesn’t sound like very much but in children under 16 months of age that is a large percentage of their vocabulary.
This research is part of a much large project that is examining the effects of TV on young children’s involving over 1,000 families in the Minnesota and Washington areas. The researchers where surprised at the results showing Baby Einstein reduces vocabulary.
“The results surprised us, but they make sense. There are only a fixed number of hours that young babies are awake and alert. If the ‘alert time’ is spent in front of DVDs and TV instead of with people speaking in ‘parentese’ – that melodic speech we use with little ones – the babies are not getting the same linguistic experience,” said Meltzoff, who is the chair in psychology at the University of Washington.
In contrast to the Baby Einstein videos, babies whose parents read them books or told then stories had slightly better langauge skills. Whereas parents talking or reading to their children involves a range of language skills, the researchers believe the baby DVDs and videos tend to have little dialogue, short scenes, disconnected pictures and shows linguistically indescribable images such as a lava lamp.
Is it time to throw away all those Baby Einstein videos and toys? Well maybe. The research needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Firstly the actual study has not been published and all that is available is a press release from the university. Close examinations of the actual results or the methods used in the study may cast doubts over the research. Secondly, the makers of these products would say the videos are tools to stimulate interaction between parent and child. It must be suspected that many parents simply place their infant in front of the TV and expect the video to entertain and educate the baby all by itself.
Once the study has been scrutinized and further work done on the subject, then we may be able to say for sure if Baby Einstein videos make a positive or negative effect on a child’s development. As the researchers themselves put it:
“We don’t know for sure that baby DVDs and videos are harmful, but the best policy is safety first. Parents should limit their exposure as much as possible,” said Zimmerman. “Over the course of childhood, children spend more time watching TV than they do in school. So parents need to spend as much time monitoring TV and other media viewing as they do in monitoring their children’s school activities.”