Scientists at Tohoku University in Japan decided to look at the brains of children (ages 5 to 18) and look for any differences between those who watched lots of TV and those who watched much less.
“MRI brain scans showed children who spent the most hours in front of the box had greater amounts of grey matter in regions around the frontopolar cortex – the area at the front of the frontal lobe. But this increased volume was a negative thing as it was linked with lower verbal intelligence, said the authors, from Tohoku University in the city of Sendai. They suggested grey matter could be compared to body weight and said these brain areas need to be pruned during childhood in order to operate efficiently.”
So what about the idea that more “grey matter in regions around the frontopolar cortex” is associated with “lower verbal intelligence”, is that really the case? I couldn’t find anything specifically mentioning the “grey matter in regions around the frontopolar cortex”, but did come across a couple of interesting articles that mention the topic:
“Adolescent brains normally reduce their size to become more efficient, so 14-year-olds with larger, more immature brain were more likely to become binge drinkers by 16 years of age. “There’s refining and sculpting of the brain, and most of the gray matter — the neurons and the connections between them, are getting smaller and the white matter is getting larger,” Garavan said. “Kids with more immature brains — those that are still larger — are more likely to drink.””
“The precise contribution of each of these factors to the development of cognition is not yet known; however, gray-matter thinning is thought to be critical for age-related cognitive improvements (Casey et al., 2005, Sowell et al., 2004 and Tau and Peterson, 2009). Here we explored the role of gray-matter thinning in age-related improvements in cognitive control and working memory span in children ages 5–10, using structural MRI.”
Anyway, this is a very interesting first step. Note, this is a correlational study, it could be that kids with excessive gray matter are drawn to watching TV, or that there is a third factor that causes both excessive gray matter and more TV watching, or that watching excessive TV really does cause too much gray matter in the brain.
Hopefully more studies will be done looking at the neurological effects of TV on the growing brain. Considering the huge amounts of time kids spend watching TV, the fact that these types of studies are just now starting to be done is pretty sad.