Educational DVDs aimed at teaching language to very young children cannot replace human interaction -- the most effective way that babies learn, according to a University of California, Riverside study.
Researchers who followed 96 babies, ages 12 months to 24 months, found no evidence that the children learned words from such videos, said the lead author, Rebekah Richert, assistant professor of psychology.
"Children have never learned language that way, and that hasn't changed with these types of videos," she said. "The video itself and what's happening on screen is not an adequate substitute for that live interaction that has always been important for child development."
The study, "Influences of Digital Media on Very Young Children," involved an ethnically diverse group of Inland children and their parents. One group of parents was assigned to have their children watch a Baby Wordsworth DVD by Disney Baby Einstein; the other was not. The DVD focused on words such as table, chair, kitchen and bathroom.
Both groups visited UCR's Child Cognition Lab every two weeks for six weeks. Those in the viewing group had their children watch the DVD five times in each two-week period; parents were allowed to decide who, if anyone, watched the DVD with their children.
Researchers measured knowledge of 30 words from the DVD. Parents reported words that their babies understood or said, and toddlers were tested on their recognition of pictures based on the words from the DVD.
Children in both groups who spoke new words were most likely to do so following their parents' use of the word or parents' discussions about what was happening onscreen, researchers said. The viewing group did not learn more words than the control group.
Richert said parents should not rely solely on the videos but could use them as teaching tools.
"If parents treated the videos like anything else -- walking through a new environment with children and labeling things, engaging them, reading books -- children were able to learn," she said.
A study last year at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School found that TV viewing before the age of 2 does not improve a child's language and visual motor skills.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for babies under 2 because it limits opportunities for adult-child interaction.
Last year, Disney issued a rebate on its Baby Einstein videos after the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood complained to the Federal Trade Commission, contending that claims the programs were educational could not be substantiated.
Baby Einstein officials said the company does not claim education outcomes from its DVDs.
"Baby Einstein's focus has been to provide parents with a product that promotes discovery and inspires new ways for parents and babies to spend time together," the company said in a written statement Wednesday.
Richert said such videos can be useful for children over 2 1/2 because, at that age, they have the ability to make the connection between information on screen and objects in the real world.
The study, funded with a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, was published online March 1 in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.