The extent of confusion about the relationships between what infants and young children spend their time doing, the development of their behavioral abilities, and the genesis of their ‘interests’ and ‘personality’ is massive, both in the lay and scientific communities. l was reminded of this once again when I read the comments of scientists (the use of this label is giving these individuals a considerable benefit of doubt) at the University of Washington, who had demonstrated that exposure of infants to ‘Baby Einstein’ didn’t help their language development, and probably set it back a tad. To which I say, “Well, duh.”
Let’s say that a child is engaged in largely passive, speechless activity (ala Baby Einstein) for one hour/day LESS than a second child. Will that have a measurable impact on their language development? How about 2 hours? 3? 8? 24 hours? OF COURSE IT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE. How, in their extravagant claims, can Baby Einstein and the public be so confused about what those differences (on the statistical average) can be expected to be?! Why does Disney scream like a stuck pig when someone suggests that taking a kid away from language and social interaction for one or two or three hours a day might result in a modestly smaller vocabulary?!
These kid videos DO richly expose a child to visual stimuli that move, in a happy framework, to the accompaniment of kid-modified music. Does THAT drive brain plasticity? OF COURSE IT DOES. Is it “good” for the child? It can be expected to do a powerful job of bonding the baby to passive engagement by electronic media, on a level that shall probably influence their behavior to the end of their days. It can be expected to bias the child toward visual-dominance at the expense of listening/language dominance in their later life. The child will probably have a measurably more facile ability to operate in visual recognition and visual movement (and possibly visual-cognitive) realms. The child’s listening machinery can be expected to be measurably elaborated in the rich domain of music reception and expression. To the extent to which these videos are engaging and rewarding, the machinery of the brain that controls those important aspects of behavioral control are exercised. It can be fairly argued that some of these impacts are clearly beneficial. It can be fairly argued that some of these impacts shall have enduring negative consequences. Both apply. Of course.
What infants are specifically exposed to and learn about matters. HOW they are exposed to, and learn about the things of the world matters. EVERYTHING that you know, and do, is a product of brain plasticity. In an infant, IT ALL COUNTS.
The sloppy University of Washington study that found that kids exposed to these videos have no better — and likely, poorer –vocabularies than kids who are not exposed to them has obtained an EXPECTED result. If its developers or the Disney corporation had spent a little of their billion or two dollars in revenue studying the consequences for infants of Baby Einstein use, they would have discovered this fact and corrected related claims all on their own, long before now. At the same time, they would have conducted other VISUAL measures and MUSIC-related measures, and shown clear differences indicating stronger, earlier development in the brain and behavior than in non-exposed kids. I suspect that they could also EASILY scientifically demonstrate that Baby Einstein graduates are particularly fond of visual media and are even more avid-than-usual video game players on the statistical average than are non-exposed kids. And I suspect that those later years of time spent away from language and social interactions at passive viewing and active video game playing shall exaggerate and widen the limitations in language and social development initially arising through video exposure in infants and toddlers.
The big question remains: ARE THESE KINDS OF VIDEOS GOOD FOR INFANTS AND TODDLERS? Alas, the answer is: Almost certainly, yes. And almost certainly, no. They CHANGE kids. YOU decide, for your kid, if the expected consequences of such heavy infant exposure are contributing to biasing them in what YOU regard as a positive or negative direction. On the whole, for my own children, thinking forward to the consequences of biasing the infant toward being in love with passive viewing and electronic media in later life, I would vote ‘no’. For YOUR kid, that could be the wrong answer.