Reading Research

So, here’s the article from the the Boston Globe reporting findings of a recent study of infants and educational videos. The article seems to suggest a cause/effect relationship between watching videos and a reduction in vocabulary. They interview one of the researchers. “I would rather babies watch ‘American Idol’ than these videos,” Christakis said, explaining that there was at least a chance that the parents would watch with them — giving the babies contact and perhaps interaction that would have developmental benefits.”

Here’s the abstract of the actual article. It indicates an association but concludes with a call for more research to determine the reasons for the association. And, the results come from a telephone survey of parents so the data is mostly self-report. Other less mainstream media do a better job of cautioning readers about the limitations of the study.  For instance, the Machinist blog at Salon says,

The researchers are careful to note that their study doesn’t prove that the DVDs are the cause of reduced infant vocabularies; it could be that parents who are buying such DVDs are doing so because their own verbal skills aren’t strong, and that this weakness is being reflected in the kids’ confusion over words like “cookie.”

And, The New Scientist writes,

But she cautions that the researchers did not eliminate the possibility that parents who show their child baby DVDs interact less with them, and she says it is that lack of interaction that sets back their child’s learning.

No such cautions appear in the newspaper articles, however, and it is much more likely that most people will read it there than at a blog or a more off-the-beaten track publication.   I suppose it is good that the researchers are trying to determine if the videos really do help put children on the fast track, but the way it gets translated in the media is frustrating.

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