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Why is learning language from video harder than learning from live interaction until age 2?

By Aparna Nadig

In my last post I discussed evidence that children under age 2 tend to learn new words better when an adult labels a new object during interaction, than when watching the adult label the object via video. This phenomenon has been called the video deficit (Anderson & Pempek, 2005).

Why would this be the case? One straightforward explanation is familiarity; infants and toddlers interact with adults and learn from them day in and day out, whereas they traditionally have had much less exposure and interaction with screen representations in the first years of life. They may need to acquire experience with screens before they can learn from them as easily as they learn from a live person.

This simple difference in familiarity seems to be linked with at least two deeper kinds of differences that set live interaction apart from information presented on video: how socially relevant or meaningful the content is, and the ability to understand two-dimensional representation of the real world (see Barr, 2010 and Troseth, 2010 for reviews).