The Atlantic

Do Babies Know the Difference Between FaceTime and TV?

Grandparents, take heart! Research suggests your little dumplings know they're interacting with you in a way that's more profound than watching Sesame Street.
Source: Kiselev Andrey Valerevich / Shutterstock

Long before most babies toddle or talk, they begin to make sophisticated inferences about the world around them. By as young as 3 months old, newborns can form expectations based on physical principles like gravity, speed, and momentum.

Scientists at several universities told me they now have evidence, to the likely delight of far-flung grandparents everywhere, that infants can also tell the difference between, say, a broadcast of Mister Rogers and a video call with their actual grandfather. The ability to discern between video broadcast and video-based chat from infancy, which researchers have only recently confirmed, could have a profound effect on our understanding of how the human brain develops—and specifically, how technologies can play a role in shaping abstract concepts early on.

“Babies who are pretty young are able to pick up, in particular, whether or not an adult is actually responding to them in real time,” said Elisabeth McClure, a researcher who focuses on children and media at Georgetown University. “Some television shows try to imitate this. You see, for example, with Elmo, or on , they look directly at the camera and pretend to interact with the child. There's evidence that babies

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