Does watching television rot a person's brain?
April 9, 2009 11:39 AM   Subscribe

How does frequent television viewing affect the developing brain?

I heard someone say that children "should not watch television prior to age 5 or 6". I am interested in the veracity of this statement, so I am seeking scientific articles that explore the relationship between frequent television viewing and neurological development. Articles in academic databases welcome.

(Note: I am not interested in the effects of televised violence or the correlation between television and obesity.)
posted by Houyhnhnm to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's not watching television that's "dangerous" to a child's developing brain, but watching too much television that's bad. Too much of anything is bad for developing brains.
posted by at 11:46 AM on April 9, 2009

I do not know from brain development, but, behaviorally, kids who watch a lot of TV and whatever popular kid movies that are around tend to incorporate the characters and situations into their imaginations. Instead of making stuff up to play at, they will play at being Luke Skywalker or the Little Mermaid or whoever is on screens in whatever time period.

It robs kids of a lot of creativity, IMO.
posted by Danf at 12:03 PM on April 9, 2009

Best answer: Christakis et al. (2004) found that early television viewing (btwn 1-3 yo) was associated with attentional problems in childhood (7 yo). Landhuis et al. (2007) examined early television watching on attention problems in adolescence and also found an association.

And then there's the paper that proposed a link between early TV viewing and autism. Take that one with a grain of salt, though.
posted by puritycontrol at 12:11 PM on April 9, 2009

From my understanding, it's not as much that TV makes you less smart, as much as it means you're not doing other things like reading and playing outside that help you develop your brain in other ways.
posted by JauntyFedora at 12:17 PM on April 9, 2009

Best answer: The recommendation I've seen most often is from the Academy of American Pediatrics, suggesting that children under two do not watch television at all, and that screen exposure for older children be limited to 2 hours per day (and be quality educational content).

Clear, concrete science on this is not that great in my opinion. What has been suggested is basically:

1. Television watching pre-empts superior activities necessary to healthy brain development - general physical activity and motor development (television watching can be especially sedentary), interactive speech development (talking with others and engaging in self-talk), reading, creative/imaginary play, and so on.
2. The fast pacing, high-impact visual and audio nature of programming and passive nature of television watching predispose children to attention deficit problems (there are studies that claim to establish a concrete link - that white dot site has a lot of anti-television input but it has a clear bias).
3. Some suggest that the pre-frontal cortex has lower activity during television watching and that its development is thus inhibited. I haven't seen a real scientific analysis of this, although there was a suggestive study about video games.
4. Cornell did an alarming but dubious and patchy study suggesting a link between television and autism - but there are plenty of holes in it (a lively discussion previously at Metafilter).

A counterpoint illustrating some of the difficulty of this sort of analysis: a recent Time article describing research that suggests that while television has no developmental benefit, the supposed negative impacts vanish when corrected for family educational and income factors. Note that study didn't follow children past age 3, though, several years before the supposed attention issues are said to show up.
posted by nanojath at 12:42 PM on April 9, 2009

It's substituting parent interaction, presence, care for a box of entertainment that entrains the mind to think a certain way, where archetypal characters are identified with, internalized and become part of the child's internal dialogue and belief system. Some studies have shown that there is a certain pattern and rapidity to the flash rates of the broadcasts which makes the introduction of certain ideas, concepts and belief systems more readily absorbed by the the viewer at the receiving end. Some would call this subliminal brainwashing. Others mind programming.

The basic issue here still remains that all too frequently young children who instead of interacting with parents and other children are placed to vegetate in front of screens which create a very passive couch potato zombie existence from a very young age, where social isolation, obesity, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, poor self image and others all lead back to the constant drone of incessant persuasion, suggestion and luring with color, music and precise psychological wordings, rendering the brain devoid of free will and originality and thereby create the perfect dumb downed consumer.

How TV Affects Your Child
posted by watercarrier at 12:46 PM on April 9, 2009

Books which may be of interest to you:

Everything Bad Is Good For You by Steven Johnson (New Yorker article)
Playing The Future: What We Can Learn from Digital Kids by Douglas Rushkoff
posted by sharkfu at 12:47 PM on April 9, 2009

I pretty much cut my teeth on a channel selector. My Dad was (and still is, at age 84) a total TV addict. I was one of the only kids in my whole school who had a TV set in the kitchen (this was the late 1960s) and whose family watched TV while we ate meals. But I was also a voracious reader, and played plenty of games with siblings and friends, both indoors and outdoors. Perhaps the difference was that TV was not used as a "babysitter;" we usually watched as a family, and would talk about whatever was on, even if it was a commercial. I remember my Dad's standard response when I'd see something on TV that I didn't understand, or hear a word I didn't know: "Look it up." I remember being in the first grade and Dad pulling out the Almanac as he said "look it up" and showing me how to use it. If I didn't know how to look it up, or the words were too big for me, Dad would sit with me and prompt. So, the bottom line is, even though I watched far more TV than most of my peers as a kid, I also often had more interaction with my parents than they did.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:12 PM on April 9, 2009

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