The Rise of the Talking Toys

By: Emma Carson–U0920535

The Problem:

I think most of us can agree that when a parent purchases their child a toy that is marketed as “educational” or “helpful for development” they are only trying to help. However, it may often be the case that their infant instead becomes the victim of their naïve consumerism as some studies have found these claims to be false. Far too many toy companies are taking advantage of parents good intentions and making false claims about their products. A big one of the last decade: talking toys.

Talking toys are electronic toys with lots of buttons to press that will greet the baby, sing the alphabet, or ask questions. To find a few examples of these types of toys all I did was google search “educational toys” and immediately a lot of talking toys popped up.  The first link I checked out led to the Fischer Price website where I found THIS toy. It is even called the “Laugh and Learn”, a colorful toy with numbers, letters, and shapes and a voice that recites these things to the infant. There it is, proof of these false claims. It is easy to see why a parent might think these toys will help. Interestingly enough I clicked on this specific toy because I recognized it as a toy at my parents house that they have for when their grand kids come over!  That is why I chose to write on talking toys, not only is it interesting and counter intuitive to learn that these toys aren’t actually helpful but it is interesting and frustrating to see how a great deal of their marketing promises are a lie and so many people give in to it.

The Evidence:

Talking toys are most often promoted as helping infants develop their language skills but these toys may actually be hindering this development. A study done by Ana V. Sosa, PhD was created to measure the quantity and quality parent-child communication based on the toy being played with. The study focused on 10-16 month children and their play with electronic toys, traditional toys, and books. The study found a decrease in vocalization made by the infant, parent interaction and conversation, and all around developmental quality of the play compared with the other toys. The study confidently concludes that electronic toys are not only not beneficial to infant language development but that these talking toys should be altogether discouraged.

So what exactly is the recommendation for helping infants with language development?

Now imagine for a moment the interaction had between a mother and baby playing with an interactive book, maybe one that has pop ups, pictures, and labels. How do you see this interaction going? Usually the mom will read the page out loud or point to animals and say their name or ask the baby what sound it makes. The mother playing along and asking the baby questions will usually elicit some sort of response. The baby will try to mimic the words their mother says or attempt to answer the moms questions. Baby books provide very good interactive time between the parent and the child, and it is these types of interactions that are best for helping a baby’s language skills!  In our textbook “Development in Infancy”(Bornstein, 2014, p.180) he says that imitation and observational learning are very important. When a parent directly interacts with her child, saying words and pointing to their meaning, an infant will watch and learn and when they are ready try to identify words to objects on their own. During observational learning mirror neurons are activated and this will help the infant to be able to perform the acts or say the words themselves. Taking a way the person to person interaction and leaving a baby with an electronic toy that is attempting to teach them the alphabet makes this impossible.

The answers are in the research: talking toys are out. Instead focus on the quality of your interactions with infants–rather than showy, loud toys– just talk to them ask them questions even if you think they won’t be able to answer just yet!



Bornstein, M. H., Arterberry, M. E., & Lamb, M. E. (2014). Development in infancy: a contemporary introduction. New York: Psychology Press.

Sosa, A. V. (2016). Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication. JAMA Pediatrics, 170(2), 132. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753



3 thoughts on “The Rise of the Talking Toys

  1. Amy Repko u0993337

    This post initially stood out to me because I see a lot of these types of talking toys at Primary Children’s Hospital. I really liked your distinction between interactive reading by the mother and simply setting the toy in front of the child to demonstrate how to effectively foster language development. Another issue that I have with these toys, besides lacking an interactive component with the parents, is the fact that noise is coming from a seemingly unknown source. As we learned in class, children spend a great deal of time looking at adults’ mouths in order to associate where sound comes from. Setting a child in front of a toy that makes noise without the accompanying visual cue would most likely cause some confusion. I completely agree with your conclusion that quality of interaction is an important thing to consider when determining how to care for your infant, even though they might not be old enough to properly respond.


  2. Hannah Rentz-u0991445

    These days, it seems like every child’s toy speaks, plays music, or makes some sort of electronic noise. So many toys now days are created to essentially distract your baby better. And for what reason is that? So the caretakers can spend a few fleeting moments on their own. Now there is nothing wrong with wanting a moment or two to yourself while your child is distracted. I’ve watched my mother raise four children, and with each one her moments of free time became more and more fleeting. Flashing lights, bright colors, and sound certainly do distract an infant, but at what cost? I agree with your comments on infant interactions between them, their caretakers, and their toys. To add on, I also think that these talking toys can take away from the interactions of the parents. It must be so confusing to hear two different voices but only one person. When it comes to a child at play alone, these toys may become a good distraction. However, with their caretakers, a non-talking toy can create the more personable and all-together better quality interactions you previously mentioned.


  3. Brooke Cherry

    Many advertised toys make noise and talk. Stating that it is educational of helpful for development takes advantage of naive parents. It makes me feel bad for first time parents that are just trying to help and buy into false advertising. Many toys are directed for the care giver to interact with the child. Or toys are use as distractions to entertain the child. Is the toy really actually needed? I dont think so. The important factors are your interactions, responses,quality time spent with the child.


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