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Boob Tube Doesn’t Make for Brainy Babies

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Watching television is an ineffective way of stimulating an infant's intellect. That's the conclusion of a just-published paper that reports quality time spent with SpongeBob and his friends does not help children under 2 develop their cognitive skills.

Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School monitored more than 870 infants over a three-year period, measuring their television viewing patterns as well as a variety of other factors. They then tested the 3-year-olds' language and visual motor skills.

After controlling for other factors believed to contribute to cognitive development, including the mother's education and income, they found television viewing between birth and age 2 "did not have measurable effects on cognition," said lead author Marie Evans Schmidt.

"Contrary to marketing claims and some parents' perception that television viewing is beneficial to children's brain development, no evidence of such benefit was found," she added.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, confirms previous research on the topic, which was compiled into a comprehensive review in January. That report on 78 studies concluded that there are no demonstrable benefits associated with infants viewing television, and noted that the "preponderance of existing evidence suggests the potential for harm."

Schmidt's study does not express an opinion on the harm issue, but it notes a series of "potential benefits of limiting exposure to TV in early childhood," including a lower risk of attention problems and obesity and improved sleep quality.

From the evidence to date, it appears television viewing is more likely to turn infants into Baby Couch Potatoes than Baby Einsteins.