your connection to The Boston Globe

Study faults 'Einstein' videos for infants

Babies who watch have fewer words

LOS ANGELES -- Parents hoping to raise baby Einsteins by using infant educational videos instead might be creating baby Homer Simpsons, according to researchers.

In a study published yesterday in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers found that, among babies ages 8 months to 16 months, every hour spent daily watching programs such as "Brainy Baby" or "Baby Einstein" translated into six to eight fewer words in their vocabularies as compared with other children their age.

The makers of the videos have sold hundreds of millions of dollars' worth to parents aiming to put their babies on the fast track.

Unfortunately, it's all money down the tubes, according to Dr. Dmitri Christakis, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Christakis and his colleagues surveyed 1,000 parents in Washington and Minnesota. They determined the babies' vocabularies using a standard set of 90 common baby words, including mommy, nose, and choo-choo.

The researchers found that 32 percent of the babies watched the videos; of those, 17 percent watched more than an hour a day, according to the study.

The videos, which are designed to engage a baby's attention, hop from scene to scene with minimal dialogue and include mesmerizing images.

Christakis said children whose parents read to them or told them stories instead of showing them videos had bigger vocabularies.

"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.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children younger than 24 months.

The Brainy Baby Co. and Walt Disney Co., which markets the "Baby Einstein" videos, did not return calls Monday.