Many Parents Believe That Watching Videos and DVDs May Help Bring Out the Budding Genius in Their Babies

Washington Post October 9, 2007
The titles lure aspirational parents eager to do what’s best for their infants: Baby Einstein, Baby Galileo, Baby Shakespeare and even Brainy Baby with its original motto, “a little genius in the making.” But do these enormously popular and profitable videos and DVDs devised for viewers too young even to sit up provide educational enrichment, as supporters contend? Or are they a skillful marketing scheme for products that may actually impede cognitive development, as critics say?Those questions have been reignited by a highly publicized study by veteran child development researchers at the University of Washington. The Seattle team surveyed more than 1,000 families in February 2006 and found that infants between 8 and 16 months who regularly watched Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby videos knew substantially fewer words — six to eight out of 90 — than infants who did not watch them, according to parental reports. The deficit, which increased with each hour of video viewing, was not seen among babies who watched other programming, such as “Sesame Street” or “SpongeBob SquarePants” or adult shows such as “Oprah.”The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, is the first to examine the impact of videos that have been heavily promoted as educational, according to lead author Frederick J. Zimmerman, a University of Washington associate professor of public health and pediatrics. Zimmerman called the negative effect “large and significant” but said the study stopped short of establishing a causal connection. “Parents should not panic,” Zimmerman said. Fifteen minutes of video viewing, he said, is unlikely to matter. But some babies in their study watched as much as four hours per day — a circumstance facilitated by the automatic replay feature on Baby Einstein DVDs.