Focus on this: Babies can be trained to concentrate

Sep. 1, 2011 at 12:04 PM ET

Sam Wass /
The is one of babies in the concentration study. We are so glad the best FB comment was from this post, so we could use this awesome picture again!

Those Baby Einstein videos might have been a rip-off, but parents eager to stimulate a baby’s mental capacity may have some new justification to do so.

A new study finds that infants can be trained to concentrate, which  – down the road – could lead to more academic success.

In the study, published in Current Biology, 42 11-month-olds were put into two groups. The trained group was tested on how long they could visually track targets on a screen until they became inattentive.  For example, when the infants fixated on the target butterfly long enough, they were rewarded by seeing it fly across the screen. In another test, when they fixated on an elephant long enough, it would become animated. Meanwhile, a control group was monitored on how they watched infant-friendly TV clips.

Researchers found that the trained group, after several sessions, were able to improve their cognitive control and pay attention for longer periods than the control group.

So why is this noteworthy?  The results contrast research that finds that cognitive training in adults doesn’t necessarily improve performance.  (In other words, feel free to watch as many butterflies on a screen as you can – just  don’t expect to become more focused.)

One theory of why the babies in the study improved performance is that infant brains are, as the study noted, “more plastic and more readily amenable to training.”

Ultimately, the ability to control attention early on can parlay into useful skills later, such as learning how to speak, socialize and be successful in school.

So, go ahead, expose the little ones to things that will enhance their concentration -- from singing and reading to them or teaching sign language. Next thing you know, you may have a baby that's like…Einstein.

What do you do to help your baby learn to concentrate?

Kavita Varma-White is a Seattle-based mom of two very busy tweens. In between cheering at numerous soccer and baseball games, she's a contributing editor for TODAY Moms and 

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