With the growing popularity of DVD series focused on improving the development of babies, like Baby Einstein, the question about the effectiveness of these DVDs to actually help a child’s brain development has not been well studied. The theory behind the DVDs is that by plopping your kid down in front of the TV, they’ll learn cognitive skills — focused mostly on language — faster than other kids.
So researchers at the University of California at Riverside designed a randomized controlled study to find out. In the most rigorous study done in this area to-date, the researchers set out to determine the value of a DVD called “Baby Wordsworth” (a part of Disney’s Baby Einstein series), which is designed to teach toddlers new vocabulary words. The researchers assigned a group of 96 babies aged 12 to 24 months old to watch the DVD for six weeks, and compared their results with a control group of babies who did not watch the DVD.
A group of 30 target words highlighted in the video were used to measure how much the DVDs helped the babies learn the words, as measured by the babies’ parents. At the end of the six weeks, babies who watched the DVD “Baby Wordsworth” knew no more words than those who hadn’t watched the DVD.
“We found that over the course of six weeks, the children watching the DVDs didn’t learn any more words than children not watching,” noted the authors in the study.
In fact, the researchers found that the younger the baby started watching a Baby Einstein DVD, the lower the language score — the opposite effect of what you’d expect. Baby Einstein is marketed as a way to help introduce your child to a world of sights, sounds and experiences in the world around them. Simply interacting with them with books, toys and your actual home full of objects would also seem to work just as well.
This study is in keeping with the past research that has looked into the effectiveness of these DVDs and educational videos and found them wanting. Past research has also shown that, for the most part, these DVDs simply do not work to help give a toddler a “leg up” in their educational development. In fact, in past studies, infants who watch educational DVDs actually learned fewer words and scored lower on certain cognitive tests than babies who did not watch the DVDs.
Baby Einstein claims they don’t market their DVDs to help make babies more smart (although at one time in their history, they did market the increased developmental skills brought about by their videos). Yet I suspect many parents purchase these products — in part, because of the name — thinking there’s some basis that the DVD will somehow help their child be smarter or learn more quickly.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended that toddlers under age 2 not watch any videos or television. Previous studies suggest that time in front of a TV or computer screen might actually hurt a child’s development rather than help it. For example, some research has found that children exposed to baby DVDs in the first years of life have lower language abilities between ages 7 months and 16 months.
This most recent research seems to support the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation — as do we — in that making an exception for an educational DVD will have no beneficial effect. While you’re not likely to permanently damage a child by putting him in front of a DVD or TV before age 2 from time to time, they should not be used in lieu of play-time with your toddler or as a babysitter.
The study was published in the online version of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
Richert RA, Robb MB, Fender JG, et al. Word learning from baby videos. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Published online 1 March 2010.