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Of Mice and TV

Mouse1

Until now, animal studies have never been done on the effects of television. I guess for the obvious reason that animals just aren’t interested in watching TV. This has been a huge disadvantage as animal studies have been essential for establishing that a whole host of things, from abuse, to cigarettes, to lead poisoning, to malnutrition are all bad for the developing brain.

But then, Dr. Dimitri Christakis made a brilliant leap, and thought why not look at the effects of background TV on young mice. Since 2008 a handful of studies have shown that even background TV has at least short-term negative effect on young children. But what about the long term effects of background TV? It would be unethical to do experiments on young human children looking the effects of large amounts of background TV throughout their early years. And yet, in real life there is a substantial subset of young children who are being exposed to 4 to 8 hours of background TV every day.

http://esciencenews.com/articles/2008/07/15/parents.should.limit.young.childrens.exposure.background.tv

http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Kids-in-U-S-Exposed-to-4-Hours-of-Daily-Background-TV.aspx

Correlational studies and longitudinal studies have found that children exposed to large amounts of television do worse academically, emotionally and academically. But critics have dismissed these studies as not taking into proper consideration other potential causes (such as poor parenting and/or genetics), with large TV exposure being a symptom rather than a cause.

A mouse study has the potential to discover exactly what the effects are background TV really are and prove that these effects are caused by background TV and not by something else.

So what did Dr. Christakis and his mouse study actually find out?

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How Background TV Undermines Well-Being

Background TV

Background TV

 

As Linda Wasmer Andrews points out in her excellent article “How Background TV Undermines Well-Being”, there are two main ways that background TV is bad for you, it makes it harder to communicate, and it makes it harder to concentrate.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201305/how-background-tv-undermines-well-being

Harder to Communication

The importance of parents and caregivers talking to, and interacting with their young children has been well documented:

After four years these differences in parent-child interactions produced significant discrepancies in not only children’s knowledge, but also their skills and experiences with children from high-income families being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life.”

http://centerforeducation.rice.edu/slc/LS/30MillionWordGap.html

And it turns out that background TV reduces and interferes with these all important interactions:

“A new study looks for the first time at the effect of background TV on interactions between parents and young children. Using an experimental design, researchers found that when a TV was on, both the quantity and quality of interactions between parents and children dropped. This study challenges the common assumption that background TV doesn’t affect very young children if they don’t look at the screen.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090915100951.htm

“For every hour in front of the TV, parents spoke 770 fewer words to children, according to a study of 329 children, ages 2 months to 4 years, in the June issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Adults usually speak about 941 words an hour… Parents may not realize how little they interact with children when a TV is on, Christakis says. A mother may think she’s engaged with a baby because they’re both on the floor playing blocks. But if a TV is on in the background, the two of them talk much less, he says.”

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-06-01-TVandkids_N.htm

“These findings suggest that TV co-viewing produces a relatively detrimental communication environment for young children, while shared book reading encourages effective mother–child exchanges.”

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2011.01413.x/abstract

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