Watch With Mother

girltvWith names like “Baby Einstein,” “Baby Bach,” and “Baby Newton” is it any wonder that new parents and especially new grandparents are going to be tempted to buy into this fad for “hot-housing” babies with DVDs designed to enhance brain development? Simply plonk infant down in front of TV, insert stimulating DVD and watch as brain grows. Simple.

Last year, developmental psychologist Andy Meltzoff got into trouble with the Disney Company who own the Baby Einstein range for publishing a study that showed that rather than enhancing infants’ brains, these DVD’s actually impaired language development. Disney threatened to sue the University of Washington for publishing the press release of the study though I doubt they could have found a better expert opinion than Meltzoff’s to refute his findings. 

However a study by a team from Harvard Medical School, published this month in “Pediatrics,” did not find that increased TV viewing in infants under  two years related to poorer cognitive development when all the socio-economic factors were considered. But there was no benefit either. Maybe they needed to be watching “Baby Einstein.”

I often get asked about the role of early environment on brain development as so many parents are concerned when they read about the effects of deprivation that come mainly from the animal research. Yes the early environment is important but the deprivation has to be pretty extreme to cause permanent problems. Moreover, giving extra stimulation is not going to create super-smart babies.


Filed under Research

17 responses to “Watch With Mother

  1. I think you are just seeing wishful thinking: smarter children without any apparent effort on the parents’ part. Coupled with the “Buy This!” mentality.

  2. brucehood

    Yes, even my wife bought one of those black & white baby mobiles even though she is a doctor and I explained to her that there was no possible added benefit.

    I think companies are fairly cynical at exploiting parental anxiety. .. it is after all the Disney Company!

  3. That’s interesting because I think they (the companies) particularly target women and then they think “Well, all the other moms are doing it!”

    As for the baby mobile, well…I’m sure your child will be the exception 🙂 Just being cheery here.

  4. Arno

    “Baby Newton”? Why would one want to be like him? That guy was an absolute jerk! Have they found any relationship between Baby Newton DVDs and the development of antosocial behaviour, Bruce?

    Though, if I ever get offspring (..or spawn.. or whatever you want to call those small wrinkly things) I would show them a Baby Darwin DVD. So why is there no Baby Darwin DVD?

  5. Gus

    I read ‘black and white baby mobile’ and pictured your daughter chatting to her friends from her cot on a monochrome Nokia.

  6. Frightening isn’t it? In my search to find out at what stage babies can hear from (now apparently!) I came across this…

    FOR IN THE BLOOMIN’ WOMB! I can’t help thinking these Mums who are anxious to bring up a tiny genius should be more informed about the effects of prenatal stress!

  7. brucehood

    Karen, I looked out this link and in my professional opinion, Dr. Philip De Fina, Director of Neuropsychological Research at the NYU Brain Research Laboratories and a member of the faculty of the NYU School of Medicine is talking BS. He’s absolutely right about the gestational age at which hearing operates, and yes the fetus can hear and learn sounds in vitro but to then leap to enhanced early cognitive capacity is simply, well, just simple.

  8. Karen — that’s scary! That prenatal “learning system” should be outlawed.

  9. brucehood

    Good one Gus!
    and Arno focus on your PhD, not procreating!

  10. Agreed, I did even feel a sneaking admiration for the subtle way in which actual evidence about in utero sensory development morphed seamlessly into nonsense about enhacing cog capacity. Clever bit of writing.

    The thing is Diane people might argue that things like that aren’t doing any harm, but I worry it creates undue presssure on Mums-to-be (as if there isn’t enought already!) so yes! Outlawed!

  11. poietes

    Well, at least we no longer have people doing studies on deprivation by using the old “baby in a box” method . . .

    As for in utero, I can only tell you that after carrying four babies, I don’t know if sound has any effect on them, but Mexican food definitely does.

    Seriously, anyone who plops their child down in front of a television and expects said child to develop better cognitive abilities really needs to get a grip. It’s a television for god’s sake, not a parent.

    Sorry, lost it there for a moment.

    As to the music in utero, I just know that listening to Mozart and Bach relaxed me. That two of my children love Mozart and classical music has probably less to do with hearing it in utero than hearing it on my stereo for years afterwards.

  12. Some of the thickest kids I know were hot-housed as babies. Mine used to watch a lot of Scooby Doo DVDs and are now able to unmask villains posing as supernatural entities on a daily basis.
    They could be a case study in your next book.

  13. Putting a mobile above the crib may not directly correlate to increased cognitive performance later on, but generally speaking, wouldn’t it be more advantageous to have a stimulus filled environment, rather than one lacking in things to observe/interact with/figure out?

    Intuitively, I’d worry a little about TV based programs, perhaps it’s really just conditioning the child to focus on one particular stimulus. That’s a pretty effective marketing strategy for Disney, get ’em young, get ’em for life.

    Children should be stimulated by the environment around them in general, rather than specific objects in their environment placed there for that purpose. Or, so it would seem from the comfort of my laypersons armchair.

  14. brucehood

    Insig.. yes there is plenty of evidence that depriving the brain of input has negative consequences but the point is that the environment is so rich with stimulation that you would have to deliberately alter it to create the sort of deprivation that impairs development. Modern civilization is only 12,000 yrs old, yet modern humans have been around for at least 100,000 yrs. What did we do in between? The human brain is supremely evolved for social interaction – take that away then you are asking for trouble.

  15. Arno

    On your own author page:
    “I completed my Ph.D. in two years in 1991. That year I got married with a “Dr.” in front of my name to my wife who is a real doctor and would not marry me until I was doctored.”

    And you tell me:
    “and Arno focus on your PhD, not procreating!”

    Don’t know. Sounds like an excellent stimulus to me.

  16. Arno

    “Modern civilization is only 12,000 yrs old, yet modern humans have been around for at least 100,000 yrs. What did we do in between?”

    Recovering from the mother of all hang-overs, I think. Oh, and hunting-gathering stuff, which requires social interactions, understanding theory of mind etc etc etc.

  17. brucehood

    Call it a big incentive Arno…

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