| Dr. Sheikh Arshad Saeed | Children, aged 11 to 15, now spend 55 per cent of their waking lives — 53 hours a week, seven-and-a-half hours a day — watching TV and computers. More than half the three-year-olds now have a TV set in their bedrooms.
However, biological sciences are fast becoming the new arena for examining the effects of society’s favourite pastime. And in industrialized societies, the findings are set to recast the role of the television screen as the greatest unacknowledged public health issue of our time.
Attention and Cognition
The general guidelines recommend that children under the age of two should not watch TV or any form of screen entertainment at all because television “can negatively affect early brain development” and that children of all ages should not have a television in their bedroom.
Early exposure to television during critical periods of synaptic development would be associated with subsequent attention problems. Little thought has gone in to the potentially crucial role that early childhood experiences may have on the development of attentional problems.
Children who watch television at ages one and three had a significant increased risk of developing such attentional problems by the time they were seven. For every hour of television a child watched per day, there was a significant increase in attentional problems. New brain-imaging studies have found that different parts of the brain deal with different types of attention and so there can be types of attentional damage.
Television elicits our instinctive sensitivity to movement and sudden changes in vision or sound. The orienting response to television is apparent almost from birth: infants, when lying on their backs on the floor, will crane their necks around 180 degrees to watch. Twenty years ago, studies began to look at whether the medium of television alone — the stylistic techniques of cuts, edits, zooms, criticism, sudden noises, not the content of the program — activates this orienting response. This was done by considering how electroencephalogram (EEG) responses were affected.
It is known that these stylistic techniques can indeed trigger involuntary physiological responses of detecting and attending to movement — dynamic stimuli — something television has in abundance. These techniques also cause us to continue to pay attention to the screen.
Most of our stares at a television screen are highly prone to termination, lasting less than three seconds. But as we continue to stare, it becomes progressively less fragile, gaining a powerful attentional inertia after about 15 seconds. By increasing the rate of edits — camera changes in the same visual scene — one can increase the subject’s physiological excitement along with attention to the screen.
The actual currency used to pay off and corrupt the reward system may come in the form of the neurotransmitter, dopamine. The release of dopamine in the brain is associated with reward. In particular, dopamine is seen as rewarding us for paying attention, especially to things that are novel and stimulating. This under-functioning of dopamine may fail to reward the brain’s attention systems, so they do not function effectively.
Television viewing among children under three years of age is found to have a negative effect on mathematical ability, reading recognition and comprehension in later childhood. Along with television viewing displacing educational and play activities, it is suspected that this harm may be due to the visual and auditory output from the television actually affecting the child’s rapidly developing brain.
A 25-year study, tracking children from birth has recently concluded that television viewing in childhood and adolescence is associated with poor educational achievement by 30 years of age. Early exposure to television may have long-lasting adverse consequences for educational achievement and later, the socio-economic status and well-being. Source
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