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“Just because they stare at a screen doesn’t mean they are interpreting it, decoding it, understanding it,” Rich said.

”Back at Georgetown, Mc Clure and her team conducted a survey across Washington, D.C., asking parents of infants and toddlers how many of them had ever participated in a video chat like Face Time.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 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 Mc Clure, a researcher who focuses on children and media at Georgetown University. You see, for example, with Elmo, or on This is meaningful for a few reasons, not least of which is cultural.Researchers have found that toddlers are more comforted by their mothers via video chat than they are through audio alone.

And video chat appears to be, conceptually, much easier for babies to grasp than a phone conversation.“It turns out that babies are really bad with phones,” Barr said.“Given the plethora of screens and uses for those screens that we have now, I think that we have to be a little sanguine about how much we can extrapolate,” he said.Of course, babies being babies, it’s hard to know what they’re thinking just by watching how they act.Extended families are increasingly spread across greater geographic distances.Video calls are how many babies first meet their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, and other people who love them.Trying to figure out what’s in the world and who's in the world—this can be done in creative ways across a screen.