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Pioneering study into whether or not babies learn from touchscreens

Families invited to participate in worldwide research project

A research project launched by Birkbeck’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development - the Babylab - will be the first scientific study to investigate how infants aged from 6 months to three years are using touchscreen devices. The study aims to show how this use – or lack of use – is influencing their cognitive, brain and social development.

The Leverhulme Trust-funded TABLET (Toddler Attentional Behaviours and Learning with Touchscreens) project reflects the huge increase in touchscreen devices in family life, and the enthusiasm most children show for using them, but also the concerns that parents express. A recent survey showed that family ownership of touchscreens has increased from 7% in 2011 to 71% in 2014.

Birkbeck’s researchers are inviting families around the world to participate in the study through a series of online questionnaires. For those families living near London there will also be a follow-on study at the BabyLab to gain more detailed insight into infants’ cognitive and brain development.

The eventual aim of the TABLET project is to provide an evidence base for parents, policy makers and scientists to better understand the relationship between how the current generation is developing in their media environment and to inform future guidelines for what may be appropriate use of touchscreen devices.

Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith, who is co-investigator on the project led by investigator Dr Tim Smith, said: “We know many parents are concerned about how using touchscreen devices may be affecting young children.  However, the reality today is that tablets are part of a baby’s world from birth, and we know from earlier studies that babies’ visual systems are attracted by movement.

“This is why it’s possible that babies might sometimes learn faster from tablets, with their moving pictures and sounds, than from static books. However, this is pure speculation at this stage. Contrary to some recent media reports, we don’t yet have any findings to confirm this!

“Our research has only just got under way – and we are appealing to parents to contact us to participate in the study. Studying how babies develop and learn is very important to their later education.  We want to find out whether interactive use of tablet might indeed improve fine motor control, hand/eye co-ordination and visual attention.”

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