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Study: 'Smart Baby' DVDs Don't Measure Up

Children Taught by Parents Learned More Words, Research Finds
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 5, 2010 -- The so-called ''smart baby'' DVDs and videos are popular among parents trying to give their children an intellectual head start, but a new study of one such DVD suggests it didn't deliver.

Children ages 12 to 18 months  who watched a ''smart baby'' video meant to teach them 25 everyday words did not learn any more new words than did children with no exposure to the video, found researcher Judy DeLoache, PhD, the William R. Kenan Jr. Chair of Psychology at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

"Young babies, 12 to 18 months, don't seem to learn very much from even a substantial amount of exposure to a baby DVD that is made expressly for this age group,"  DeLoache tells WebMD.

Children in a group taught the same words by parents without a video actually learned the most, DeLoache found. She declined to say which DVD she evaluated.

The study is published in Psychological Science.

Smart Baby DVDs: Study Details

Previous studies have found the DVDs lacking, DeLoache says. Other researchers evaluating the smart baby videos ''were pretty skeptical in general," DeLoache says. "I don't think anyone in the field will be surprised by our data."

With her colleagues, DeLoache assigned 72 infants, ages 12 to 18 months, to one of four groups:

  • A video with interaction group, in which the child and a parent watched the DVD together at least five times a week over a four-week period.
  • A video without interaction group, in which the children watched the video alone for the same exposure period as the kids who watched with their parent.
  • A parent-teaching group, in which the parents were given a list of the 25 words featured on the video (common words of everyday objects) and told to try to teach their child as many words as possible in ''whatever way seems natural to you."
  • A comparison group in which the children had no intervention.

Researchers visited the homes of the first three groups three times, giving instructions and checking to see if the protocol was followed. Children were tested after the four weeks to see how many target words they knew.

The parent teaching group did the best, with those children getting nearly  50% of the target words correct, the researchers found.  Bottom line: "Children who had extensive exposure to a popular infant video over a full month, either with a parent or alone, did not learn any more new words than did children with no exposure to the video at all," DeLoache writes in her report.

Smart Baby Videos: Perspective

The new findings don't surprise Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD, the Fred W. and Pamela K. Wasserman Professor and Department Chair of Health Services, University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health.

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