With Science Impuning Their Products' Value, Disney Goes on the Defensive
> 8/14/2007 11:10:44 AM

Baby Einstein, the purveyor of the eponymous children's educational products, may have finally met its "Unified Field Theory." In this case however, the failure is not so much a lack of theoretical know-how or time, but simply reality catching up with a marketing construct built on a laughable paucity of research. The company's facade of educational value took a major hit last week when a research team from the University of Washington released a report that showed that children who view "baby DVDs" actually know fewer words on average than their non-DVD viewing counterparts. In fact, as the University of Washington press release points out, for every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs, researchers found that children knew 6 to 8 fewer words than children who were not watching the DVDs. This comes only months after Newsweek ran a story calling into question the value of these same products.

Disney, who purchased Baby Einstein in 2001 and now reaps upwards of $200 million a year from the products, has not taken this attack lying down. Yesterday the company issued a press release of its own, condemning the quality of the research and what they perceived as the unfair slandering of their product. Much of Disney's criticism of the UW study holds water. The researchers utilized survey data from phone interviews with parents of children under 2-years-old to draw connections between media consumption and language development. It's difficult in that instance to draw distinct conclusions about causation, but the fact remains that there was a strong correlation between screen viewing time and a failure of vocabulary development.

While their opening salvo may appear a solid hit, when Disney's release is taken in the larger context of the dialogue surrounding these baby products, it would appear that they are merely trying to stem the negative attention. UW and its researchers have yet to respond to the corporation's call for a retraction, but at this time it would seem that they will stand pat and instead ask Disney to provide any evidence that its marketing claims hold water. The over-arching message to be taken away from what these researchers have done is that the first and best teacher for any child are its parents. Infants' language development is best fostered by inter-personal contact, and especially by parental attention. There are many reasons offered for why DVD time may lead to poorer vocab development, but mainly it boils down to the idea that any time spent in front of a screen is time not spent interacting with parents.

Disney has attacked the research methods here, but they'd be best advised to back off at this juncture. If forced, they will realize that doing this type of developmental research is not easy, and often must rely heavily on the very after-the-fact survey type of information that they are attacking. Proper research ethics—not to mention general good parenting—prevents any sort of structured study in this instance. Scientists can't simply ask parents to expose their children to practices that might indeed put them at increased risk for delayed development. Just as researchers struggle though, so too will Disney be hard pressed to present any real data that shows how Baby Einstin improves development. It's a little ludricrous that Disney would step out into a debate with a major educational institution when they have presented no information supportting their products' benefits. Instead of research, on their own website, Baby Einstein and Disney use dubious logic to support their product:

The Baby Einstein Company is aware of the ongoing discussions regarding children and television viewing, particularly as it pertains to infants under the age of two years old. And, while we respect the American Academy of Pediatrics, we do not believe that their recommendation of no television for children under the age of two reflects the reality of today’s parents, families and households – for example, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 68% of all babies under two years old watch screen media on any given day. The Baby Einstein Company believes that when used properly, developmentally-appropriate video content can be a useful tool for parents and little ones to enjoy together.

The implication seems to be that parents are ignoring the American Academy of Pediatrics anyway, so why not ignore doctors' orders with our product. This is horrible advice from an obviously self-interested party. There's a reason behind the AAP's guidelines, and it is supported by clinical data and experience. By trying to undercut this group, Disney is spoiling for a fight it thinks it can use it's marketing savvy and virtually unlimited resources to win. So far, they've been successful to that end. We don't doubt that Disney and Baby Einsten have worked to make their video product as benign, and potentially even helpful, as possible. But the early data is in, and for all their rhetoric and posturing, it looks as though these baby DVDs are at best useless, and at worst a real detriment to the children who view them on a regular basis.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy