Tuesday, August 7, 2007

'Baby Einstein' Makes Babies Stupid

Anyone with children, young siblings, or nieces/nephews has probably seen the 'Baby Einstein' DVD's or some variant of them. For those of you who don't know the joys of 'Baby Einstein', it is a series of DVD's that young children (newborn and up) watch and supposedly get smarter. The company that makes 'Baby Einstein' is very careful to avoid claiming that their product actually makes babies smarter or develop more quickly. They instead claim that their DVD's and other products "encourage discovery and inspire new ways for parents and little ones to interact" (see their website here). Despite the legally safe claims, the name of the product clearly indicates that these DVD's should make your kid a genius.

That's why I was very amused to read a story from Time magazine titled "Baby Einsteins: Not So Smart After All" which reported on the research of two University of Washington professors whose research has shown that watching 'Baby Einstein' DVD's actually stunts babies development. The DVD's are especially damaging to the verbal development of 8-16 month olds, and can limit the vocabulary developed by children in that age group by up to eight vocabulary words per hour watched. As anyone who has tried to watch that mind-numbing mush knew a long time ago, these DVD's aren't some magic smart pills.

Ironically, the two things that actually improve babies intelligence more than just letting them play by themselves are extremely low-tech. The second best method is simply talking to the baby and the best method is reading/storytelling. Who would have guessed that reading to a child is better than having them watching TV, even if 'Baby Einstein' is playing?


  1. This is why I am developing "Baby Ed Whitten." Even if it doesn't make the baby smarter at least it will have a better imagination.

  2. This is of course a very complex issue. Because if you measure intelligence just on the kid's ability to say words, then I would say that that is not a very good measure of intelligence. The kids may be stunted in their verbal intelligence but they did not measure other types of intelligence, such as spatial, musical or other intelligence. There is more to intelligence than learning words.

    Having said that there is a critical distinction between learning something from a TV, which does not interact with the child, and learning something from another person, in person. At that stage of development the most important thing for children to learn is not just words, but how they are used. That is, they need to learn the nuances of conversation. Newborns even a few days old have the capability to pick up on the nuances of conversation, even if they do not understand any words, they can pick up that when a noise is made there is a response expected, or that when they make a noise a response is given. At this point of development, (0-3 years) the interaction (inter-action and inter-action) is crucial.


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