The University of Portsmouth have launched a "clever baby" t-shirt for breast-feeding mothers (pictured, right), which they claim could make nursing babies "become smarter".
The University's press release says studies show "high contrast colours, especially black and white, register powerfully on a baby’s retina and send strong visual signals to the brain - the equivalent of a visual workout for the baby. It increases neurological connections in the brain and aids crucial cognitive development."
I'm not aware of any published research suggesting that babies' cognitive development is enhanced by them spending an unusual amount of time staring at swirly black lines against a white background, and the university's press release is not forthcoming in providing any references to properly controlled trials of this new t-shirt.
Of course development of the visual cortex is a dynamic, interactive process that depends on exposure to rich visual inputs. Indeed, David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel won the Nobel prize for Physiology in 1981 for their discovery of how the visual cortex of cats was shaped by their early visual experiences.
But crucially, with the world around us already full of so much visual variety - so many colours, shades and shapes, lines, corners, movement and shadows - it seems risible to suggest that a few black swirls on a t-shirt will make any beneficial difference at all to a baby's maturing cortex. I will gladly stand corrected (email me) if a properly controlled study has shown this t-shirt brings the benefits it claims.
Link to Portsmouth University press relesase.
Link to Nobel press release on 1981 prize for physiology (scroll down, Sperry also won the prize that year and an account of his work comes first).
Disclaimer: the views expressed here are mine, not the British Psychological Society's.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.