Update: Baby Einstein DVDs to be refunded

Baby EinsteinBreaking News: Two years ago, in August 2007, AHP reported the finding that “infants don’t learn language well from instructional videos.”  This has since led to legal claims against Walt Disney Corporation and its Baby Einstein DVD product.

Now Disney is offering to refund all purchases made in US, going back five years.  This provides an opportunity to look back at our original coverage, which examined the issue from the perspective of parents’ hopes to help their children become as gifted as possible.  This also included a detailed bibliography of histories of giftedness.  What has happened since?

Most notably, in terms of linking this story to the typical interests of AHP readers, Kathleen Ann Scott (2007) completed a dissertation comparing print and video as educational media for teaching the development of historical thinking.  Although her efforts were not directed at infants, the resulting study can be conceived as setting some limits on how much the scepticism regarding the value of instructional videos can be generalized.  She concludes: “readers manifested more and deeper historical understandings in their responses than did their counterparts in the movie group.”  And she suggests this is as a result of the greater investment of attentional effort in reading as compared to watching television, which seems consistent with the criticisms of the instructional DVDs.

Several other studies have also been published in the past two years, including three books with material extending our original bibliography of histories:

  • Balchin, T., Hymer, B., & Matthews, D. J. (Eds). (2009). The Routledge international companion to gifted education. New York, NY: Routledge. A collection of fully-referenced chapters written by many of the most highly-respected authorities on the subject from around the world. These 50 contributors include distinguished scholars who have produced many of the most significant advances to the field over the past few decades, alongside authorities who ask questions about the very concepts and terminology embodied in the field.
  • Pfeiffer, S. I. (Ed). (2008). Handbook of giftedness in children: Psychoeducational theory, research, and best practices. New York, NY: Springer. Mention “special needs children”, and most people think of students struggling to overcome learning and physical disabilities as well as problem behaviors that interfere with achieving full academic potential. But there is a hidden population of special needs children–the gifted and talented–and their teachers, parents, and other professionals are often not well equipped to respond to their unique academic and developmental needs. In one comprehensive resource, the Handbook of Giftedness in Children brings together leading experts from the fields of psychology and education, combining theory and applied empirical research on such crucial topics as conceptualization, types of intelligence, developmental considerations, and ethical and legal concerns. Particular attention is given to social and family contexts, and evidence-based strategies and interventions offer solid guidelines on assessment, curriculum design, and encouraging and nurturing talent–from preschool through adolescence.
  • Simonton, D. K. (2009). Genius 101. New York, NY: Springer. Genius 101 examines the many definitions of “genius,” and the multiple domains in which it appears, including art, science, music, business, literature, and the media. Dr. Simonton introduces the study of genius theory and the research supporting it, using non-scientific, accessible language—fit for a non-genius. Chapter 1 provides the history and background of the study of genius and describes the impact of the individuals who were pioneers in this field. Chapter 2 provides an in-depth definition of the word “genius” and implications for its use. Chapter 3 attempts to answer the question of whether or not genius is a generic/universal concept or if it is domain specific. Chapter 4 presents the question of whether or not geniuses are born or made? The author explains that some believe that genius is an innate ability while other believe it can be learned. Chapter 5 poses yet another question: Are geniuses mad? The notion that genius is linked to insanity is described in this chapter. In chapter 6, the difference between individual genius and collective genius is explained. In the last chapter, the past and future of genius science is discussed.

A new article and a new chapter have also been published:

  • Hagner, M. (2008). Genius, gender, and elite in the history of the neurosciences. In N. C. Karafyllis & G. Ulshofer (eds), Sexualized brains. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. In the following, I would like to focus on this historical dimension. I have tried to argue in a number of studies that since becoming an object of scientific research in the early nineteenth century the brain has developed into an object laden with psychological, moral, cultural, social, economic, and political meaning (Hagner 2004). Long before the present-day discussions about free will and cerebral determinism began, fundamental anthropological questions about freedom and necessity, primitiveness and civilization, autonomy of the subject and mechanically interpreted behavior and cognition and feeling (formerly referred to as understanding and disposition) were being discussed with regard to the brain. There is nothing new about the observation that the brain is an entity contaminated by symbols. However, there is a not altogether helpful tendency to view this as a purely cultural problem, which doesn’t directly concern the natural sciences. For too long, people have been content with a simple division of labor, according to which the natural sciences produce facts and knowledge, which are then culturally consumed in one way or another. In contrast to this claim, I would like to pose the following question: What are the historical situations that have given rise to certain theories and value judgments in the cognitive neurosciences? The historical examples I will present in the following are drawn mainly from German sources, but similar cases are also familiar in French, British, and U.S. brain research.
  • Jolly, J. L. & Kettler, T. (2008). Gifted education research 1994-2003: A disconnect between priorities and practice. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 31(4), 427-446. This research project employs a historical methodology to analyze and characterize the growth of the knowledge base in gifted education following the U.S. Department of Educations (1993) report, National Excellence: A Case for Developing America’s Talent. Topical priorities and descriptors of inquiry are compared against the recommendations of the National Excellence report. During the 10-year period from 1994 to 2003, a disconnect is evidenced between recommendations and actual research priorities and practices.


About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.