In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Video Deficit

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Journals
  • Developmental Course
  • Contextual Factors That Affect Screen-Based Learning

Communication Video Deficit
Heather Kirkorian, Roxanne Etta, Seung Heon Yoo, Mengguo Jin, Elizabeth Skora
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0187


The percentage of infants and toddlers who use screen media in a typical day has increased dramatically since the 1990s. This is due in part to the introduction of television programs (e.g., Teletubbies) and DVD series (e.g., Baby Einstein) that target this young audience. In more-recent years, this increase has also been due to the proliferation of mobile touchscreen devices (e.g., smartphones, tablet computers), which—compared to laptop computers, video game consoles, and other interactive devices—are relatively easy for infants and toddlers to use. Despite growing access to and use of such media by the youngest viewers, research suggests that toddlers have difficulty learning from screen media. The term “video deficit” refers to the phenomenon in which toddlers show better learning from in-person demonstrations by a live teacher than the same demonstration presented on video. The video deficit appears to be a domain-general phenomenon insofar as it has been observed using a wide range of tasks, including (but not limited to) imitation, object retrieval, and word learning. While the video deficit is generally observed between about fifteen and thirty months of age, there is some evidence of a video deficit among slightly older children when they complete more-challenging tasks. There are several complementary hypotheses for why the video deficit exists, including the hypothesis that the video deficit reflects a more general transfer deficit related to toddlers’ generalization of information from one context to another, regardless of the direction of transfer (e.g., from two-dimensional to three-dimensional or vice versa). While a substantial body of research has demonstrated the existence of a video deficit during toddlerhood, a growing literature has identified specific child characteristics, task conditions, and contextual factors that ameliorate the video deficit and, by extension, increase toddlers’ learning from screen media.

Core Texts

While there are no books focusing specifically on the video deficit, there are some books on general media effects on young children that contain sections relevant to the video deficit. The most relevant of these books is Barr and Linebarger 2017, which addresses media in the lives of infants and young children, particularly as it relates to learning and educational media. This book is the only one to focus exclusively on infants and young children (i.e., audiences most likely to exhibit a video deficit). Valkenburg and Piotrowski 2017 adopts a wider developmental lens in its discussion of media effects, covering infancy through adolescence; the authors include positive effects of educational media as well as potential negative effects of violent, sexual, or other potentially objectionable content. More-general texts on media in the lives of children and adolescents include Singer and Singer 2011 and Calvert and Wilson 2008, both of which are handbooks. Again, these books primarily address media effects on older children and adolescents, although each handbook contains at least one chapter dedicated to the effects of educational media in early childhood. Finally, readers who are interested in cross-cultural considerations related to media effects can read Lemish 2015; the specific topic of the video deficit is mentioned only briefly in this book, but it represents the most in-depth analysis of international research on media effects.

  • Barr, Rachel, and Deborah Nichols Linebarger, eds. 2017. Media exposure during infancy and early childhood: The effects of content and context on learning and development. New York: Springer International.

    The authors of this edited book address research, theory, practice, and policy related to media exposure among infants and young children. This is the only book to focus exclusively on such a young audience, and several chapters address the video deficit in depth. These chapters include descriptions of the video deficit generally, possible explanations for the video deficit, and research on ways to ameliorate the video deficit.

  • Calvert, Sandra L., and Barbara J. Wilson, eds. 2008. The handbook of children, media, and development. Handbooks in Communication and Media. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    As with other handbooks on media effects, this edited volume covers a wide range of ages and outcomes. However, there are two chapters dedicated to understanding the cognitive processes involved in comprehending and learning from media, as well as the effectiveness of educational media for young children.

  • Lemish, Dafna. 2015. Children and media: A global perspective. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

    This book is the most comprehensive analysis of media effects research from around the world. It considers media effects on cognitive, social, emotional, and health outcomes in a global context. The video deficit is mentioned briefly in the context of a wider consideration of media effects on learning and literacy.

  • Singer, Dorothy G., and Jerome L. Singer, eds. 2011. Handbook of children and the media. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This is the second edition of this edited volume, which was originally published ten years earlier. The second edition reflects research on new media and devices. While the emphasis is on older children and adolescents, there is one chapter on cognitive processes and the impact of educational media on young children. This text also provides an in-depth analysis of many other outcomes, including effects of media on emotion, identify formation, prosocial and antisocial behavior, and health.

  • Valkenburg, Patti M., and Jessica Taylor Piotrowski. 2017. Plugged in: How media attract and affect youth. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    Plugged In considers media in the lives of infants, children, and adolescents. The authors consider both positive and negative effects regarding cognitive and social development. Such effects include the impact of screen media during infancy and early childhood, and the extent to which educational media can be effective at this early age.

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