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For example, babies watching television or movies tend to be confused when broadcast sound is even slightly out of sync.

“A 4-month-old can barely hold their head up but if there’s a tape delay, they’re not as responsive and they get upset by it,” said Georgene Troseth, an associate professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University.

And video chat appears to be, conceptually, much easier for babies to grasp than a phone conversation.“It turns out that babies are really bad with phones,” Barr said.

Researchers have long studied how passive television viewing affects young children, and how well children can learn from watching educational programming, but scientists are only just beginning to figure out how babies understand screen interactions with another person in real time.

Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health and a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School, said that the latest findings help illustrate how the concept of “screen time” is too broad.

“Just because they stare at a screen doesn’t mean they are interpreting it, decoding it, understanding it,” Rich said.

“Can a baby decode the pattern of light and dark on a two-dimensional object as a symbol of Grandma’s face, and perceive that the noise they hear is generated by Grandma talking to them?

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