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TV Influences Infants

TV Influences InfantsA Tufts study shows TV carries messages that influence the behavior of children as young as 12 months old. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.22.03] Television, reports a newly-released study, may have more of an impact on infants than many parents once thought. According to Tufts child behavioral expert Dr. Donna Mumme, new research shows TV carries messages that influence the behavior of infants as young as 12 months old.

"[Very young] children ... are making decisions based on the emotional reactions of adults around them," Mumme said in a Reuters news report that appeared in media outlets around the world. "It turns out they can also use emotional information they pick up from television."

Her conclusions are based on a study of 10-month-old and 12-month-old infants who watched a videotape of an actress reacting to a toy with a positive or negative emotion.

"When the actress responded to a toy with fear, the babies avoided playing with it and were more likely to appear worried, frown, scowl or cry," reported The New York Times. "When the actress was enthusiastic, the infants were more apt to play with the toy."

The findings - which were reported across the United States, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa - mark important progress in the relatively new field of infant emotional communication.

"The study, which appeared in the journal Child Development, adds to the increasing evidence that children can distinguish and decode specific social and emotional cues much earlier than scientists once thought," reported the Times.

The research also revealed a great deal about how much information infants can absorb from a television program.

"They are able to pick up where a person is looking, and of course, they pick up the emotion," Mumme - an assistant professor of psychology at Tufts - told the Times. "It was quite striking to us that 1-year-olds were able to gather that much information from a 20-second television clip."

Parents may want to keep that in the back of their minds.

"Adults might want to think twice before they speak in a harsh or surprising tone or let an infant see television programs meant for an older person," she said in an ABC News report.

The evidence, Mumme said, indicates that toddlers are likely soaking it in.

"It wouldn't surprise me if infants could pick up negative emotions from television," she told the Boston Herald. "It might make them wary or scared. Why make them distressed if you don't need to?"


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