Friday, August 9th, 2013
A children’s advocacy group called the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that companies that produce videos and mobile apps aimed at babies and toddlers are fraudulently promoting the products as “educational.” More from The New York Times:
As mobile devices supplant television as entertainment vehicles for younger children, media and software companies increasingly see opportunities in the baby learning app market. But the complaint to the F.T.C. by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the same nonprofit group that helped prompt “Baby Einstein” to backtrack from its educational claims, challenges the idea that such apps provide more than simple entertainment value.
In addition to the complaint against Fisher-Price “Laugh & Learn” apps, which have been downloaded more than 2.8 million times, the advocacy group filed a similar complaint on Wednesday against apps for babies marketed by Open Solutions, a software developer.
According to the complaints, the companies say in marketing material that their apps teach infants spatial skills, numbers, language or motor skills. But, the complaints claim, there is no rigorous scientific evidence to prove that these kinds of products provide those benefits.
“The baby genius industry is notorious for marketing products as educational, when in fact there is no evidence that they are,” said Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which is based in Boston. “Parents deserve honest information about the educational value of the activities they choose for their children and they are not getting it from these companies.”
The group’s complaints also contend that using such apps “may be detrimental to very young children.” Ms. Linn said the programs could take time away from activities, like hands-on creative play or face-time with caring adults, that have proved beneficial for infant learning. She noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents avoid screen media for children under 2.
Image: Toddler using mobile device, via Shutterstock
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Monday, July 15th, 2013
At a mere five months of age, babies appear to be able to understand each other’s emotions, and identifying which sounds match with which feelings (for example, a happy baby laughs, an upset baby cries). More from Today.com:
The takeaway for parents is that babies are very much aware of emotion, said Ross Flom, as associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University and the co-author of the new study — the first to study “peer matching” ability with children this young. The research was published in the journal “Infancy.”
“It highlights the fact that babies are really sensitive to our communicative intent,” Flom told TODAY Moms.
“They can really understand how we’re saying something, so if you’re talking to a young infant, they might not understand exactly what you’re saying but they would certainly understand how it’s being conveyed.”
Researchers weren’t too terribly surprised at the results. Studies have shown babies can match emotions in adults at 7 months of age and younger. But there has been little research so far looking into infants’ perception of the emotional expressions of other infants.
Forty babies took part in the study: half were 3.5 months old, and the other 5 months old.
Image: Babies looking at each other, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, June 18th, 2013
Babies who have not yet had their first birthdays may be able to express sympathy, or the feeling of concern for the well-being of others. This is the finding of a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, which found that babies preferred the victim to the aggressor in a bullying-type encounter they watched on a video screen. More from LiveScience:
Because 10-month-olds can’t yet express sympathy verbally, Kyoto University researcher Shoji Itakura and colleagues turned to a common tactic in baby-brain research: using simple animations to determine what infants prefer. They showed 40 babies an animation of a blue ball and a yellow cube.
Half of the infants watched a short clip in which the blue ball chased the yellow cube around the screen, hitting it seven times before finally squishing it against a wall. The other half of the group saw the same movements, including the squishing, but the two shapes moved independently without interacting.
In some cases, the “bully” and “victim” roles were swapped, so that the yellow cube was the bad guy. After watching the show, the babies were shown a real yellow cube and a real blue ball, and given the chance to reach for one of the objects.
In cases where the babies had seen one shape beating up on the other, they overwhelmingly reached for the victim, 16 out of 20 times. In comparison, when the shapes hadn’t interacted, the babies’ choices were basically random — nine went for the shape that had gotten squished, and the other 11 went for the nonsquished shape.
The results could have simply indicated that babies preferred to steer clear of a nasty character, not that they felt sympathy for the bullied one. To rule out that possibility, the researchers conducted a second experiment with 24 babies, also 10 months old. These babies saw a show nearly identical to the first, except there was a third character: a red cylinder. The red cylinder was a neutral presence on-screen, neither bullying nor being bullied.
After watching the animation, the babies were again given a choice of two toys. Half could pick between the “victim” shape and the neutral shape, while the other half got to choose between the bullying shape and the neutral shape.
This time, 10 out of 12 babies given the neutral-or-bully option went with the neutral cylinder. Meanwhile, of the 12 given the neutral-or-victim option, 10 picked the victim.
In other words, even when there was no mean character present that a baby might want to avoid, the babies still picked the victim.
Though researchers caution this study should not be taken as solid proof of sympathy in babies, it does follow other recent research, including a study published in January that found that babies could demonstrate signs of empathy, or being able to guess what another person is feeling.
Image: Baby, via Shutterstock
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Friday, March 15th, 2013
Babies may prefer to be around individuals who pick on, or even mildly bully, members of a group who are different in some way from the others. Researchers at Yale University and the University of British Columbia have determined their findings based on a study of babies who were observing puppets, beans, and balls. The results may help scientists better understand the roots of violence and discrimination, the Boston Globe reports:
Led by scientists at Yale University and the University of British Columbia, the researchers posed a complicated social scenario to 9-month-old and 14-month-old babies: If they saw a rabbit puppet who was either similar or different from them in some fundamental way—in this case, preferring graham crackers or green beans—would they care how others treated the rabbit?
The researchers already knew two basic things about the choices and preferences of infants. Just like adults, who tend to like people who are similar to them, babies are drawn to others who share their tastes in food and toys. Hollywood movies leverage our impulse to cheer for do-gooder heroes over villains; babies similarly prefer a character that helps someone else climb a mountain rather than pushing them down it, a previous study had shown.
But would babies always, universally, prefer heroes to villains? Or would their preference depend on who was being helped or hindered? The researchers wondered: would they see the enemy of their enemy as a friend?
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“I was surprised, and my liberal bleeding heart sunk like a stone, when we found them actually choosing, really robustly, the puppet who punishes” the rabbit puppet that did not share the baby’s preference, said Karen Wynn, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale and senior author of the work, published in the journal Psychological Science.
Image: Rabbit puppet, via Shutterstock
Thursday, January 31st, 2013
Babies as young as a year-and-a-half can guess what adults are thinking and demonstrate remarkable empathy and “mind reading,” according to a new global study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society this week. This ability to understand other people’s perspectives, wishes, and feelings had previously been believed not to appear until children are much older. More from LiveScience:
The findings may shed light on the social abilities that differentiate us from our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, said study author H. Clark Barrett, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study used a form of the false-belief test, one of the few cognitive tasks that young children, but not primates, can do.
Humans are “very good at inferring other people’s mental states: their emotions, their desires and, in this case, their knowledge,” Barrett said. “So it could play an important role in cultural transmission and social learning.”
In the classic test of children’s understanding called the false-belief task, one person comes into a room and puts an object (such as a pair of scissors) into a hiding place. A second person then comes in and puts the scissors into his pocket, unbeknownst to the first individual. When that first person returns, someone will ask the child, “Where do you think the first person will look for the scissors?”
The task is tricky because the children need to have a theory of mind, or an ability to understand other people’s perspectives, in this case that of the individual who didn’t see the scissors being retrieved by another.
By ages 4 to 7, most children in Western countries can answer that the first person will look in the original hiding place, because the individual doesn’t know the scissors have moved. But children across the globe tend to give that answer at different ages.
However, past work showed that if researchers don’t ask babies the question, but instead follow the infants’ eye movements, the children seem to understand the concept much earlier. Barrett and his colleagues wondered whether cultural differences in dealing with adults could be obscuring the amazing cognitive leap children were taking.
Image: Baby and adult, via Shutterstock
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