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Babies Prefer Bach

While conducting infancy research in Miami, Alexandra Martinez Tornek, C'90, kept hearing mothers talk about how their babies loved to watch television.
   Knowing what an important role sensory stimulation plays in infants' cognitive and emotional development, she decided to "reinvent" the way the medium was being used. The result is So Smart!, which plugs itself as "the first infant-stimulation video created by an infancy researcher." It's the first product of Tornek's new business, The Baby School Company.
   Babies are naturally attracted to television because it offers sound, light, and motion. But Tornek says that most of the videos for babies she's seen "are just entertaining and mindless." Hers features a classical-music soundtrack (including selections by Bach and Beethoven) and a progression of images that infants seem to prefer, such as symmetrical shapes and pictures with sharp contrasts.
   Music, which features patterns similar to human speech, has been proven to enhance babies' language-processing development. "What classical music has going for it," Tornek explains, "is that it's fairly complex, and it's high in treble. That means it's similar to 'motherese'" -- the sing-song talk that babies prefer.
   Infants are a tough group to survey, Tornek admits. "You can't ask them, 'What do you like? You don't like it? Okay.'" So researchers rely on cues like heart-rate to measure their interest.
   Babies tend to pay more attention to things that vary slightly from what they already know. So her video begins with simple shapes, like circles and squares, and gradually transforms them into more complex images, like a face or a butterfly. To limit the time parents spend with their infants in front of the TV, the half-hour video is divided into shorter segments.
   Tornek, who is completing her doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Miami, plans to use her research on infants and the cognitive and emotional effects of under-stimulating environments to create additional developmental videos, books, and toys.
   For more information, call the company at 1-800-663-2741, or visit its Web site at sosmart.com

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 12/11/97