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Monday, November 7, 2011

The Harmful Effects of Watching Too Much TV

Used around the world by millions, arguably one of the most popular modern inventions created, television has changed the way people spend their evenings. The first television system that could both transmit and receive images was invented by Vladimir Zworkin in 1929 (Bellis). By 1936, roughly 200 television sets were receiving television broadcasts worldwide (Bellis). Since then, television has gained in popularity and appeal. Today, hundreds of television channels exist and millions of people around the world spend a lot of time watching TV. An important question arises: is all this time spent watching television beneficial or harmful?

One obvious result of watching television is the time it takes away from doing other things. According to a study conducted by The Nielsen Company recently, the average American watches 153 hours of TV each month ("Americans Watching More TV Than Ever”). That is roughly five hours per day. Using a little algebra, it is not hard to determine that a 75-year-old who, at the age of 10, started watching TV 5 hours per day will have spent a little more than 13 years of his or her lifetime in front of a television set. More than a decade of this senior citizen’s life would have gone by in front of a glowing screen.

The time spent in front of a television screen also includes time spent watching acts of violence, sex, vulgar actions, and profanity. According to the American Psychological Association, a 15-year study of 329 youth revealed that men who have watched violent TV shows as kids have been convicted of crimes at a rate triple the rate of other men ("Childhood Exposure to Media Violence”). Women who watched violent TV shows as kids were more likely to punch, choke, or beat another adult at a rate more than four times the rate of other women (“Childhood Exposure to Media Violence”). A study headed by Professor Jeffrey Johnson of Columbia University has recently come up with some astounding results. It was revealed that only 5.7 percent of children at the age of 14 become violent a few years later if they only watch an hour of TV per day ("Teen TV viewing 'linked to violence'"). But, 22.8 percent of the children who watch between 1 and 3 hours of TV each day become violent when they get older ("Teen TV viewing 'linked to violence'"). The percentage increases to 28.8 percent when the children watch more than 3 hours of TV (“Teen TV viewing 'linked to violence'"). This trend is disturbing, but not incredible, given that violent, R-rated movies are popular for both adults and even children.

Alarmingly, a September 2000 Federal Trade Commission report stated that 80 percent of all R-rated movies were being marketed to children under 17 years of age ("Media Violence: Facts & Statistics"). And, two-thirds of all Hollywood movies released in 2001 were rated R ("Media Violence: Facts & Statistics"). Therefore, two out of three movies were R-rated and most of them were being marketed to underage children. Is this really what society wants for the next generation?

Another disturbing fact is that the average 18-year-old has witnessed 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders ("Media Violence: Facts & Statistics"). Interestingly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has claimed that 7,225,800 people, in total, were incarcerated, on parole, and on probation in the year 2009 (“Key Facts at a Glance”). In the year 1980 the total was 1,840,400 (“Key Facts at a Glance”). That is a significant increase. In less than three decades, the total has risen by nearly 293%. Part of this growth in the prison population could be due to the increasingly violent television shows, video games, and movies, among other things.

Besides influencing people to become more violent, television has had harmful and undesirable affects on the brain. According to the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a study on the affects of TV on young children indicated that children under the age of 3, who watched an average of  2.2 hours of TV daily, did not perform very well on various reading tests for children in their age group (Zimmerman). The conclusion was that children younger than two years old should not be exposed to television at all (Zimmerman).

Aside from the harmful affects the television has on young children, TV produces a state in the brain that causes one to be highly receptive to suggestion (Moore). Scientists have measured the brain activity of people watching TV. It appears that a person’s brain slows down when one is watching a television screen, even if the screen is only displaying text (Moore). Because of this, people watching TV may be more likely to purchase a product advertised in a commercial since their brain is more open to suggestion.

So, how does the television set cause the brain to slow down and be more receptive to suggestion? The brain emits electromagnetic waves all the time as electro-chemical signals pass through its complex neural network. When the brain is in a normal state of alertness and consciousness, it emits beta brain waves (Heyrman). During a state of less activity, the brain emits alpha waves (Heyrman). Alpha brain waves are emitted when a hypnotist induces a person into a hypnotic state used for suggestion therapy (Moore). The brain also emits alpha waves when a person is watching television (Moore).

If this is not enough, the results of a recent study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, indicates that for adults 25 or older, every hour spent watching TV will lower life expectancy by 22 minutes (Fiore). And, adults who spend a lifetime average of 6 hours in front of a TV set lose 4.8 years of their life expectancy (Veerman). So, not only is television harmful to young children’s developing minds, but it is also physically harmful to adults, causing them to have lower life expectancies. For many years, people have been aware of the physical consequences of smoking, but that was not always the case. Similarly, scientists have now revealed that what has appeared to be a harmless pastime is not as harmless as it seems.

A technology that has existed for more than seventy years, television has entertained millions of people around the world, from young children to the aged. If its early inventors could see the world today and the programs being watched on television sets, they would most likely be appalled. The time people spend watching television shows is time that can never be regained. A father who spends most of his evenings in front of a glowing screen is a father who is absent from his kids. If his children grow up watching a lot of violent programs on TV, they might end up with a criminal record later as an adult. Sadly, this has been the case for many households and is due, in part, to the influence of the television.

Imagine that someone uses a time machine to travel back to the time that the television was being invented and takes the inventors of the TV to the present time. If they were to see toddlers who are not developing their brains properly, the increase in violent crimes, and the statistics that adults would lose years of their lives because of their invention, what might the inventors of the television do? Would they continue working away to create a television set, or would they decide to burn their notes, drawings, and designs and forget about creating a device which would display moving images and sounds? Perhaps, if they had seen the future and had chosen the latter option, our world would be a better place.

Works Cited

Bellis, Mary. "Philo Farnsworth." Inventors., n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

Bellis, Mary. "The Invention of Television." Inventors., n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

Fiore, Kristina. "Time Watching Television May Shorten Life, Study Says." ABC News. ABC News Internet Ventures, 16 April 2011. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

Heyrman, Dr. Hugo. "Brainwaves.", n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.

Moore, Wes. "Television: Opiate of the Masses." The Journal of Cognitive Liberties 2.2 (2001): 59-66. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.
Veerman, J. Lennert. Genevieve N. Healy, Linda J. Cobiac, Theo Vos, Elisabeth A. H. Winkler, Neville   Owen, David W. Dunstan. "Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis." British Journal of Sports Medicine. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd & British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine, 15 Aug. 2011. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

Zimmerman, Frederick J., PhD. Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH. "Children's television viewing and cognitive outcomes: a Longitudinal Analysis of National Data." Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 159.7 (2005): 619-625. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

"Americans Watching More TV Than Ever; Web and Mobile Video Up too." nielsenwire. The Nielsen Company, 20 May 2009. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

"Childhood Exposure to Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According to a New 15-Year Study." American Psychological Association, 9 March 2003. Web. 3 Oct. 2011.

"Key Facts at a Glance." Bureau of Justice Statistics. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

"Media Violence: Facts & Statistics." Media Education Foundation. Media Education Foundation, n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

"Teen TV viewing 'linked to violence'." BBC News. MMIII, 29 March 2002. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.

1 comment:

  1. #1 I'm a very strict parent when it comes to TV. They watch it, but I limit it quite a bit. Actually, the commercials are worse than the programs

    #2 Correlation does automatically imply a causation. In other words, you statistically can't say that the increase in TV watching caused an increase in incarcerations. That's a logical fallacy.

    There could easily be some sort of relationship between an increase in watching violent programs and an increase in crime. But that does not mean causality exists.

    #3 I love neuroscience. SPECT brain scans show that there is actually more total brain activity during sleep compared to watching the "boob-tube."


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