TV reduces speech for both infants and their adult caregivers

June 2nd, 2009 - 11:10 am ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 2 (ANI): A new study has revealed that the use of language by young children and their adult caregivers decreases when they are watching television.

Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, of the University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, observed during the study that young children and their adult caregivers uttered fewer vocalizations, used fewer words, and engaged in fewer conversations when in the presence of audible television.

Published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the population-based study is the first of its kind completed in the home environment.

“We’ve known that television exposure during infancy is associated with language delays and attentional problems, but so far it has remained unclear why. This study is the first to demonstrate that when the television is on, there is reduced speech in the home. Infants vocalize less and their caregivers also speak to them more infrequently,” said Christakis.

The study involved 329 children aged two months to four years old. The children wore a small, business card-sized, two-ounce digital recorder on random days monthly for up to two years.

A specially designed vest with a chest pocket held the recorders at a specific distance from the mouth, and captured everything the child said and also heard during continuous 12 to 16 hour periods.

The researcher removed the recorders only for naps, baths, nighttime sleep and car rides.

The research team also used a speech identification software program to process the recorded files to analyse sounds children were exposed to in their environment, as well as the sounds and utterances they made.

According to them, measurements in this study included adult word counts, child vocalizations, and child conversational turns, defined as verbal interactions when a child vocalizes and an adult responds to them vocally (or vice versa) within five seconds.

The researchers found each hour of audible television to be linked with significant reductions in child vocalizations, vocalization duration, and conversational turns.

They said that, on average, each additional hour of television exposure was also associated with a seven percent decrease in the words the child heard from an adult during the recording session. There were significant reductions in both adult female and male word counts.

“Adults typically utter approximately 941 words per hour. Our study found that adult words are almost completely eliminated when television is audible to the child. These results may explain the association between infant television exposure and delayed language development,” said Christakis.

The researcher believes that eh findings of the study may be prove helpful in understanding attentional and cognitive delays, as language development is considered to be a critical component of brain development in early childhood.

“Audible television clearly reduces speech for both infants and their caregivers within the home, and this is potentially harmful for babies’ development. There is simply nothing better for early childhood language acquisition than the spoken and imitated words of caregivers, and every word counts. Television is not only a poor caregiver substitute, but it actually reduces the number of language sounds and words babies hear, vocalize and therefore learn. We are increasingly technologizing infancy, which may prove harmful to the next generation of adults,” added Christakis. (ANI)

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