Research News

Babies learn best from parents, not video

Georgene Troseth

Sorry, Mom and Dad: that virtual babysitter you hoped was providing educational information for your tot is no match for interaction with you. New research from Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia finds that infants learn little to nothing from popular educational videos and learn the most from face-to-face interactions with their parents and other familiar figures.

The research is in press at the journal Psychological Science.

“After watching a video designed to teach vocabulary for a month, the infants did not know any more of the words than children with no exposure to the video,” Georgene Troseth, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development and co-author of the new study, said. “Babies enjoy watching the videos, but don’t expect your child to learn much from them.”


American parents spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on videos and DVDs

designed and marketed for infants, a trend that began in 1997 with the release of the first Baby Einstein video. Parents also tune in to regular television with their children, with over 70 percent of mothers of young children reporting that they believe children learn from television. But little research has been done on whether or not babies are actually learning from their time in front of the screen.

To determine if babies were learning from video, Troseth and co-author Judy S. DeLoache, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, conducted an experiment to measure how many new words 12- to 18-month old children learned from viewing a popular DVD.

The researchers set up four conditions. In the first, parents watched the video with their child at least five times a week for four weeks in their home and were told to interact with their children in whatever way seemed natural as they watched the video. In the second group, the children watched the video alone for the same amount of time as the first group. The third group of children did not watch the videos at all. Instead, their parents were instructed to try to teach their children the same words found on the video during their everyday activities. A fourth, control, group of children did not watch the video and did not receive any special vocabulary instruction from their parents.

The children were tested before and after the experiment for their knowledge of the 25 words presented in the video.

The researchers found the highest level of learning among the children taught by their parents. The children who watched the videos learned no more than the children in the control group who received no special exposure to new words.

The researcher also found parents who liked the video tended to overestimate its benefits, saying that their children were indeed learning from it.

“During these months of late infancy, children undergo a ‘vocabulary spurt’ when they learn new words on a daily basis,” Troseth said. “[lquote]If children have been watching videos, parents may attribute normal vocabulary growth to media exposure.[/lquote]”

The parents’ overblown concept of their children’s learning from the video could be due to the children’s attention to it.

“Representative comments from the logs of parents whose children were in the video groups include the following: ‘She was practically glued to the screen today’; ‘She was very quiet today—stared intently at the screen and ignored me when I asked her to talk’; and ‘She loves the blasted thing. It’s crack for babies!’” the authors wrote.

The research supports previous work that indicates infants fail to use information communicated to them through media, including video, photos and models.

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