You can feel a little less guilty about setting up the bouncer in front of the TV while you’re cooking dinner — a new study says a little TV might actually be helpful to baby.
Fair warning: standard cartoons might not cut it. The Emory University study, published in the journal Child Development, only looks at how supposedly educational commercial videos effect infant learning. Researchers found that children under two picked up certain communication skills from videos, such as sign language. Babies who watched an instructional video for 15 minutes, four times a week for three weeks were just as capable of understanding signs as those who were taught by their parents.
“This is the first controlled study to show that babies as young as 15 months can learn communicative skills from commercial videos just as well as from parents,” says lead researcher Shoshana Dayanim. “They could recognize a novel photo of an object and label it using signs that they had only been exposed to from the video.”
The study separated 92 15-month-olds (and their parents) into four groups: video with parent, video only, parental instruction only and a control group. And no — this wasn’t an experiment on the effectiveness of Baby Einstein. “The content was deliberately varied, so we can’t speak to the effectiveness of any given video or company,” says researcher Laura Namy.
The researchers emphasize, however, that this study isn’t an endorsement of video watching for young kids. The AAP actually advises against it, indicating interacting with people, not screens, will benefit their changes brains the most.
“We can’t speak to the short-term or long-term cognitive effects of video exposure for infants overall — only the potential for instruction,” Namy says. “There are many caveats to our research: the nature of the learning material matters and a lot may depend on the learning context and the formal features of the video.”