Created on: February 23, 2013
Prolonged exposure to television can have serious and long-lasting effects on children’s behavior, according to two recent university studies. Reports published in the February edition of US journal ‘Pediatrics’ claim to have identified significant links between excessive time spent in front of the TV and increased aggression in young children.
One of the studies, carried out by the University of Otago in New Zealand, also suggests that too much childhood TV time may later be responsible for antisocial or criminal activity in adults.
According to research carried out by the Otago team, there is an astonishing correlation between watching more than two hours of television per night – the limit suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics – and aggressive personality traits. Results indicate that the likelihood of criminal conviction by early adulthood increases by an astonishing 30 per cent with each additional hour of nightly TV.
In their study, 1037 individuals born in the early 1970s were assessed at regular intervals from birth through to age 26. Particular attention was paid to the number of nightly viewing hours from 5 to 15 years, and subsequent indications of sociopathic behaviour. Using regression analysis, the Otago researchers identified disturbing associations between viewing time and criminality, diagnosis of antisocial personality disorders, and aggressive personality traits. The results remained statistically significant after factoring in controls for socioeconomic status, sex, IQ, parental control, and previous signs of antisocial behavior.
Robert Hancox, one of the co-authors of the paper, notes that although the research does not suggest that TV causes all anti-social behaviour, it does present evidence that changing childhood viewing habits could lead to a widespread reduction in negative behaviors. The paper theorises that children may be influenced in several ways by lengthy exposure to television. While noting that the quality of programming is an important factor, it also suggests that emotional desensitisation in children may be caused by social isolation from peers and parents. Prolonged viewing may also lead to lower educational achievement and an increased risk of unemployment.
The second study, directed by researchers from the University of Washington, has focussed more directly on the effects of poor programming choices. It notes that many young children are spending more than four hours each day
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