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Toddlers Should Tune Out TV

Matt Lapierre, an assistant professor in the UNCW Department of Communication Studies, is breaking new ground in the relationship between media and children's cognitive health. In October 2013, he and a colleague from the University of Pennsylvania, where Lapierre earned his doctorate, published "Marketing Genius: The Impact of Educational Claims and Cues on Parents' Reactions to Infant/Toddler DVDs" in the Journal of Consumer Affairs.

As Lapierre explains, "Over the last decade, the baby video industry has grown while research has simultaneously shown that these videos do little to increase learning outcomes with infants and toddlers." In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has cautioned parents against the use of such videos.

The marketing strategies used by the producers of baby videos have been a source of concern for children's health organizations and consumer advocacy groups. "Specifically, the titles used on the videos suggest educational gains while the accompanying product claims are vague," Lapierre says.

The study tested whether changing the product's name and its claims influenced parental judgment of a video's educational worth and affected their decision to purchase the video. To gather data, the researchers conducted a survey of a nationally-representative sample of American parents.

Among the results presented in the article, their conclusions indicate that parents were significantly more likely to believe that a video named "Lil' Genius" was more educational than a similar video named "Lil' Munchkins."

Lapierre's baby video research follows up on a prominent study he co-authored about young children's exposure to background television. The results, published in the journal Pediatrics in October 2012, showed that U.S. children between the ages 8 months to 8 years are exposed to nearly four hours of background television each day.

"There is a fair amount of evidence suggesting exposure is harmful," Lapierre says. For example, television exposure correlates inversely with a child's ability to sustain his or her attention over time, which in turn is linked to academic success.

Findings from Lapierre's research reflect the reasons he chose to focus on children's health in the first place. His intent is not only to better inform parents, but also to provide policymakers with the information they need to legislate more responsibly.

"There's something worthwhile in making kids' lives better," he says.