How buggies shape babies’ brains
In 2008, I read a piece of small piece of research that caused an international storm. It tried to make a simple point: that the design of strollers shapes our children’s emotional and brain development. The study was, at the time, the only piece of empirical research that I could find that had even tried to explore that possibility.
I thought that parents and manufacturers deserved to know that strollers were important. So did the National Literacy Trust, who commissioned the research, and the Sutton Trust, who funded it.
That shows the far-ranging interest in this issue. The National Literacy Trust is an organization interested in reading, and the Sutton Trust is an educational charity. Yet both of them were interested in baby buggies. They had teachers behind them, urging them to give serious consideration to the idea that strollers could be influencing language development. Primary teachers have been witnessing a steady decrease in children’s linguistic abilities upon starting school, and they had wondered if the fact that so many strollers are now designed to face outward, rather than toward the adult, might be one of a variety of possible factors contributing to that decrease.
So the aim of our 2008 study was simple: to be able to confirm whether or not the direction that a stroller faces has a significant impact on how adults interact with their baby. The take home message of the study was that it does. We found that simply turning the buggy around doubles the amount of conversation that babies experience. The most surprising thing we discovered, once we looked closely at what was happening for children on High Streets in Britain, was just how infrequently babies seemed to be taking part in conversations with parents. Of the nearly 3000 observations that volunteers made of parent-child pairs, talking was observed in only 22% of those observations. Talking was twice as likely to be happening when children were being carried or walking (more than 40%) than when they were in strollers (less than 20%). >> read more