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October 6, 2015

Teen attention issues linked to childhood TV viewing

by Richard Keller, posted Sep 5th 2007 11:01AM

Will this child develop an attention disorder. It's a strong likelyhood, according to a new surveyAnd now, an item from our 'Duh! It's kinda obvious' department . . .

A new, long-term study conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand says that watching more than two hours of television early in life can lead to attention problems later in adolescence. Symptoms of the attention problems included short attention span, poor concentration and being easily distracted. Um, sorry, what was I saying? Oh look, a pretty flower!

The study focused on 1000 children born in the Dunedin, NZ area between 1972 and 1973 (that's a looong study). Children ages 5 to 11 watched an average of two hours of television a day, while those ages 13 to 15 watched a little over three hours a day. Overall there was a 40% difference in attention span, equally divided between boys and girls, from those who watched less television than those who watched more.

What causes this sudden change? Well, the researchers had a few theories. For instance, the rapid scene changes common to many television shows could overstimulate the brain of a young child, making reality seem a tad boring. Frankly, those fast scene changes make me queasy. Another theory was that too much television watching takes the place of other activities that require concentration, such as sports, reading and playing the game Concentration.

Is this really news to us, especially parents of young children? We try to limit the amount of television they watch, but when you have 24-hour kid networks vying for your child's attention it can be a losing battle. Let me know what you think in the poll below and in the comments.

Is this study really telling us anything new?
Yes. It definitely opens my eyes to a potential future problem8 (9.8%)
Well, I had a feeling too much television caused this, but I never really saw it scientifically proven14 (17.1%)
It's fairly obvious. See the glazed look of my teeage son/daughter?13 (15.9%)
Please. We knew this since the first image appeared on the first television screen. Hey, look a pretty pony!47 (57.3%)

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So the guy who has decided he has Nerd A.D.D. (http://www.randsinrepose.com/archives/2003/07/10/nadd.html) is on to something. If television is bad, how horrible is the internet? And what happens when the two are combined?!?

I know I'm doomed.

September 07 2007 at 12:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Erik Landhuis

I thought I might add my 2 cents' worth.

You say, "is this really news to us?" Well, that is an interesting question. As you suggest, we have always believed that TV causes attention problems. However, in reality there is surprisingly little hard evidence for, or against, an association between TV watching and attention problems. Because we were lucky enough to have data available to look into this, we decided to do so. This data happened to support the widely held view that excessive TV watching may lead to attention problems. Is this a surprise? Perhaps not. It was more surprising that there wasn't actually much evidence to say so.

Chester and Burgoo, you are correct, correlation is not causation. However, because our data come from a very comprehensive longitudinal study with a high retention rate (96% of living Study members were assessed at age 32, our most recent assessment), we were able control for other factors that may explain the relationship. One in particular was attention problems at an early age (i.e. attention at ages 3 and 5). We found that early attention problems did not explain the association. This suggests that TV watching is causing attention problems, and not the other way round. Sure, this isn't conclusive proof and we would never claim that it is, but it is certainly compelling evidence.

To test a truly causal relationship, we would have to run an experiment in which one group of kids were made to watch TV and another group of kids were prevented from watching TV. This is hard to do, and unlikely to ever happen.

Erik Landhuis
(co-author of the paper on TV and attention problems)

September 05 2007 at 11:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sonia J.

This is news to me. That is totally me. No wonder I was diagnosed with ADD. This sucks.

September 05 2007 at 9:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Correlation not causation

September 05 2007 at 8:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is ridiculous. I watched TV all my life...

September 05 2007 at 5:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ex poor attention and easily distracted are linked to poor eating habits.

September 05 2007 at 12:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The problem with these types of studies:
How do they know it wasn't the fact these children ate a particular food or did not eat a particular food.
How do they know it wasn't a result of mum not breastfeeding or breast fed too long.
Studies such as these stop at a certain reason and do not look further back to rule out all possible cause and effects.

September 05 2007 at 12:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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