According to a recent Indiana University study, parents who pay more attention to playtime with their infant children have kids with longer attention spans. Basically it works like this: when a child or other caregiver plays with an infant, the more they pay attention to that interaction and to specific actions within it, the more the children do as well.

Using head mounted cameras that allowed the researchers to track what both caregiver and child were looking at and paying attention too, they found that when a caregiver looked at the same thing as the child, the child paid attention to that item for a few sends longer after the adult looked away, longer than other children as well.

They found that caregivers who let the child direct play by paying attention to things the child looked at first had encouraged the longest attention spans, while parents who tried to guide the children didn’t do as well, and caregivers who were easily distracted or not engaged encouraged the worst attention spans.

This is an interesting study because attention span has been linked to a number of indicators of success in later life. The ability of children to pay attention in school or stick with an activity or problem can have a huge impact on how they do later in life, and it seems that caregivers can reinforce a child’s tendencies. Earlier science had assumed that attention span was largely individual, and that it developed as it does within children with little environmental input. But this new study challenges that assumption and supports engaged playtime with infants, something that has a number of other health and developmental benefits. It is especially important in a world with an increasing number of distractions, which are routinely blamed for reducing children’s attention spans.