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Can You Supercharge Your Baby?

for Scientific American

When Seth Pollak’s son was a year old, he and his wife, Jenny Saffran, took a trip to the Babies “R” Us store near their home in Madison, Wis. They wanted to buy a teething ring—nothing special, just a frozen band to numb the baby’s gums. Passing through the bears and bicycles, they found the correct display. They pulled a pricey package off the shelf, which read, “Promotes oral motor and language development.”

The couple had never heard of such a claim, although it sounded important. Typical parents—worried about their child falling behind—might have bought the product without thinking. But Pollak and Saffran are not typical parents. “My wife is one of the world’s leading experts in language development, and we are both Ph.D.s in developmental psychology,” Pollak explains. “We are looking at this, and we’re like, ‘What the hell? How in the world does chewing on a cold thing promote language?’”

There is little evidence to say it does. And the claim is just one example of the disconnect between the research and marketing of child development.

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