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Debating the Impact of Television and Video Material on Very Young Children: Attention, Learning, and the Developing Brain


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mary L. Courage, Department of Psychology, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL, A1B 3X9, Canada; e-mail:


ABSTRACT—The debate about the potential of television and video material to enhance or diminish cognitive development in infants and toddlers has been complicated by speculation regarding the relation between early exposure to these media and the developing brain. Those on both sides of the debate draw on findings from developmental and neuroscience literatures to make explicit or implicit arguments that video experience during the first 2 or 3 years can have a unique and powerful impact on learning that cannot be readily duplicated or undone outside this sensitive period of development. This article tries to put such speculation into perspective by considering it within the framework of W. T. Greenough, J. T. Black, and C. S. Wallace’s (1987) distinction between experience-expectant and experience-dependent plasticity. Data from infant-learning and attention research are used to illustrate how this distinction illuminates both sides of the debate.