Dr. X (another commentor who is reluctant to use a name) made an important point in responding to my August 14 entry considering a recent study in which Baby Einstein was found not to improve, and to possibly modestly delay normal language development — a claim that I argued was simplistic. In Dr. X’s words:

Aside from the possibility that these videos strengthen alternate [to language] …. capacities, I wonder if a non-responsive environment alone could have a negative impact on developing vocabulary and expressive fluency? I also wonder if there is anything about the relational dynamics of families who choose to use these videos that might account for any of the differences in verbal abilities seen in this research?

See but don’t talk as a habit, from a very young age, DOES seem like a rather unnatural way to set up a baby’s interactions with the world. It does not exactly exercise all of those very important ‘action loops’ that relate reception to response and to elaborated, feedback-controlled expression — brain exercises that must ultimately provide the the neurological bases of generation of ‘voluntary’ mental and motoric actions. ‘Tis a good point, Dr. X!

I agree that there is almost certainly some selection involved, in the relational dynamics of families that pony up for Baby Einstein videos, and that these must be controlled for, in any definitive study of their impacts. Thinking about it speculatively, it probably goes two ways: 1) The very good parent, trying to give their infant every early advantage, is on the statistical average a parent paragon, filling every day chock full of parent-baby-parent interactions. The study results therefore actually greatly understate how much Baby Einstein exposure is impeding the kid’s language development. OR 2) The parent who is looking for a good, cheap, TV-console source of entertainment to shut the kid up because they don’t want to have their life disturbed by them discovers Baby Einstein. The study results therefore actually greatly overstate how much Baby Einstein exposure negatively impacts the kid’s language development.

Gee, this is why scientists conduct controlled outcomes studies following “gold standard” protocols that consider factors like these that might strongly influence measured outcomes.