DVDs don’t help infants learn language

Originally published in MedPage Today

by Kristina Fiore, MedPage Today Staff Writer

Infants don’t learn a great deal from language-acquisition DVDs, and may in fact be hindered from learning vocabulary, researchers have found.

Tots who watched such DVDs over a six-week period didn’t have better language knowledge scores than youngsters who didn’t watch, and those who first tuned in at a younger age had lower language scores, according to Rebekah A. Richert, PhD, of the University of California Riverside, and colleagues.

They reported their findings online in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“Apart from the gains in word knowledge we would expect from developing children, there was no evidence that children learned words specifically highlighted in a DVD focused on teaching children those words,” the researchers wrote.

Claims that infant-directed media, such as Baby Einstein DVDs, can teach children vocabulary have gone largely unsubstantiated, researchers say. (See Duration of TV Watching Has No Cognitive Effects on Children Under 2)

So to further examine whether children between ages 12 and 25 months learn words from a DVD, the researchers conducted a study of 96 tots between those ages.

Half of the children received a DVD to watch over a six-week period — Baby Wordsworth, a DVD from the Walt Disney Company’s Baby Einstein DVD series. The 35-minute DVD highlights 30 English words for common objects and rooms in the house.

All participants came to the laboratory for vocabulary tests every two weeks, whether they watched a DVD or not.

The researchers found no evidence that kids were learning the words highlighted in the DVDs.

For example, there were no significant differences in cognitive ability scores as measured by standardized tests or parent report.

Also, scores on general language knowledge tests weren’t significantly different between the two groups, the researchers said.

Regression analyses found that language scores couldn’t be predicted by how often the child watched DVDs in general, how often they watched baby Einstein DVDs specifically, or the age at which they had first watched a DVD.

Yet the age at which kids had first watched a Baby Einstein DVD did significantly predict language scores (P=0.05), the researchers said — only the younger they were at first viewing, the lower the language score.

They said this suggests that an “‘early-viewing’ home may be different in important ways than a ‘late-viewing’ home.” For instance, parents concerned about their children’s poor language abilities may use baby DVDs to try to teach them, or they may be less likely to engage in behaviors that promote language development.

It could also be that early viewing of such DVDs could actually impair language development, the researchers suggested.

Overall, and regardless of which group they were in, children understood and said more target words at the end of six weeks, according to parent report.

The researchers attributed this to “general gains in word knowledge attributable to time and age.”

They noted that language acquisition research has shown that infants are more likely to learn words if a speaker is looking at an object rather than at the child — a scenario completely different from how the speaker on the DVDs looks directly at the child.

They called for future research as to how parents can use DVDs effectively to teach their children, given that “infant-directed media have become nearly ubiquitous aspects of many infants’ lives.”

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