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Original Investigation |

Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication

Anna V. Sosa, PhD1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff
JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(2):132-137. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753.
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Importance  The early language environment of a child influences language outcome, which in turn affects reading and academic success. It is unknown which types of everyday activities promote the best language environment for children.

Objective  To investigate whether the type of toy used during play is associated with the parent-infant communicative interaction.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Controlled experiment in a natural environment of parent-infant communication during play with 3 different toy sets. Participant recruitment and data collection were conducted between February 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014. The volunteer sample included 26 parent-infant (aged 10-16 months) dyads.

Exposures  Fifteen-minute in-home parent-infant play sessions with electronic toys, traditional toys, and books.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Numbers of adult words, child vocalizations, conversational turns, parent verbal responses to child utterances, and words produced by parents in 3 different semantic categories (content-specific words) per minute during play sessions.

Results  Among the 26 parent-infant dyads, toy type was associated with all outcome measures. During play with electronic toys, there were fewer adult words (mean, 39.62; 95% CI, 33.36-45.65), fewer conversational turns (mean, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.12-2.19), fewer parental responses (mean, 1.31; 95% CI, 0.87-1.77), and fewer productions of content-specific words (mean, 1.89; 95% CI, 1.49-2.35) than during play with traditional toys or books. Children vocalized less during play with electronic toys (mean per minute, 2.9; 95% CI, 2.16-3.69) than during play with books (mean per minute, 3.91; 95% CI, 3.09-4.68). Parents produced fewer words during play with traditional toys (mean per minute, 55.56; 95% CI, 46.49-64.17) than during play with books (mean per minute, 66.89; 95% CI, 59.93-74.19) and use of content-specific words was lower during play with traditional toys (mean per minute, 4.09; 95% CI, 3.26-4.99) than during play with books (mean per minute, 6.96; 95% CI, 6.07-7.97).

Conclusions and Relevance  Play with electronic toys is associated with decreased quantity and quality of language input compared with play with books or traditional toys. To promote early language development, play with electronic toys should be discouraged. Traditional toys may be a valuable alternative for parent-infant play time if book reading is not a preferred activity.

Figures in this Article


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Means and 95% CIs for Each Outcome Measure By Toy Set

AW indicates adult words; CSW, content-specific words; CT, conversational turns; CV, child vocalizations; and RESP, parent responses.

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Submit a Comment
An extension to Sosa, 2015: A report of effect sizes
Posted on December 29, 2015
Manish K. Rami
Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of North Dakota
Conflict of Interest: None Declared
This comment serves as an extension to the above investigation. For whatever reasons, the investigation does not provide any measure of magnitude of the effects of the different types of toys. Report of sizes of effects in experimental investigations has been recommended for years.1,2,3,4,5,6 Such reports aid prospective calculation of power in future studies.7 Lack of report of effect sizes in the discipline of speech-language pathology, however; is quite common.5 Using the sample size, confidence intervals, and the likelihood of .05 in the investigation, I calculated standard deviations from the relevant t distributions.8 These standard deviations were used to calculate the Glass’s Δ keeping the electronic toys as the basis of comparison.9 Glass’s Δ quantifies the advantage traditional toys and books have over electronic toys in standard deviation units. For example, a child’s vocalizations are one-half of one standard deviation more when parents used books as compared to electronic toys. A table showing the Glass’s Δ for traditional toys and books is provided below. I hope the readers find these values useful.

Glass’s Δ for each of the outcome measure for traditional toys and books as compared to electronic toys.
Outcome Measures;Traditional;Books
Adult words:1.05;1.79
Content-specific words:1.34;3.08
Child vocalizations:0.44;0.53
Conversational turns:0.64; 0.82

1. Cohen, JC. Statistical power analysis. Cur Dir Psy Sci. 1992b;1(3):98-101.
2. Cohen, JC. The Earth is round. Am Psy. 1994;49(12):997-1003.
3. Glass, GV. Primary, secondary, and meta-analysis of research. Ed Res. 1976;5(10):3-8.
4. Zumbo, BD, Hubley, AM. A note on misconceptions concerning prospective and retrospective power. The Statistician. 1998;47(2):385-388.
5. Rami, MK. Power and Effect Size Measures: A Census of articles published from 2009-2012 in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Am Int J Soc Sci. 2014;3(4):13-19.
6. Keren G, Lewis, C eds. A handbook for data analysis in behavioral sciences: methodological issues. (pp.461-479). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 1992.
7. Rosnow, R., Rosenthal, R. Statistical procedures and the justification of knowledge in psychological science. Am Psy. 1989;44(10):1276-1284.
8. Higgins JPT, Green S, eds. Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from www.cochrane-handbook.org.
9. Hedges, LV, Olkin, I. Statistical methods for meta-analysis. Orlando: Academic Press; 1985.
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