Does Television Rot Your Brain?

Your Brain On Television

I’m sure you have heard the old adage television will rot your brain. There might just be some truth to that. First, there is the obvious. Watching television is a sedentary and passive activity. Watching TV is a choice, and like most choices, there is an opportunity cost. When you watch television you forsake other activities that could engage the brain, such as physical exercise or reading. But don’t just take our word for it. The science backs this up. Many thought leading neuroscientists have delivered the message that excessive use of television can be unhealthy. One of the most notable is Dr. Amen who believes watching television is a leading contributor to the rise of ADD in our society.

In this month’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine a new study (Television and Screen-Based Activity and Mental Well-Being in Adults) added more support that watching too much television can have an adverse affect on the brain. The study examined the connection between recreational sedentary behavior (based on TV- and screen-based entertainment) and mental health.

The study was conducted by reviewing the survey data of 3920 men and women from the 2003 Scottish Health Survey. This sample group was given the General Health Questionnaire which contained a mental health component (a 12-Item Short-Form Survey) which was administered to obtain information on their respective mental health. Self-reported TV- and screen-based entertainment viewing time, physical activity, and physical function was also measured.

Approximately a quarter of the participants in the study engaged in at least four hours a day of watching screen-based entertainment. After all other data points were factored out, participants in this group had the highest instances of mental health problems. This led the researchers to conclude that this type of leisure time activity is independently associated with poorer mental health scores than the participants that watched less television.

We are not suggesting that you completely cut out your favorite shows, but more and more research is pointing towards the benefits of getting off the couch and partaking in activities that engage both your body and your brain.

By Michael Rucker, posted on avril 16, 2010 at 12:06 , Posted in Cognitive Science

13 Comments

  1. bruce anderson

    I think that society, Western society for now, is trying to come to grips with what virtual reality does to our minds, and resultantly, how we organize and value what types of behaviour. What’s really good about the screen time that takes place while I read and blog this entry? I get a certain satifaction yes, but would I be better off staying at home gardening? Steven Johnson argues that television (in « Everything Bad is Good for You ») indeed id good because we have to actively engage our brains to follow the scripts, that today, are more complicated, layer-wise. But virtual, or symbolic reality as Socrates argued, certainly wrenches our development individually and it remains to be seen what antidote exists for too much virtual other then being placed into fundamental experience.

  2. Mikejlacey@gmail.com

    Thanks for this research summary. The evidence against TV is both based on common sense and it is great to see the science backing it up. One are that my wife and I are always debating the value of is whether screen based Web games, logic puzzles etc. like your website are the same as TV – I believe that if it is well done and engages the kids in fun problem solving and active research and learning it is no different than if it similar tasks done using other media. In fact I think that the computer versions and research resources are so vastly superior for kids education that it clearly outweighs any down sides. She counters that lots of research shows that « screen time is screen time » and both need to be limited. What does the research show? I love this website and wondered if anyone has an evidence-based opinion as to where the research is leading?

  3. joanne snow

    I am an AIT (auditory integration therapy) practitioner. I work with mostly children. Many are ADD/ADHD or autistic. I have one client a 65 year old man with dementia (left frontal lobe) not ALZHEIMERS. He acts like an autistic child in that he has limited speech. Only 3 years ago he was outgoing and gregarious and a public speaker. Do you have any suggestions beyond what I am doing? We have seen an increase in his speech from one word answers that did not make sense to 4-5 word ‘spontaneous’ speech. His posture, facial features, and voice quality have improved with AIT. Thank you.

  4. Joe

    « After all other data points were factored out, participants in this group had the highest instances of mental health problems. »

    Claiming to have factored out ALL other data points (confounding factors), e.g. comorbities, family history of mental illness, nutritional factors, seems a bit of a stretch.

    I say a prescription for mental health problems is disconnecting yourself from popular entertainment and abstaining from television. Of course, 4 hours is a lot considering much of that time could be allocated to tasks that will yield more long term rewards.

  5. Luis Martinez

    Excelent article.

  6. Eleanor M. Smith

    I only see with my left eye. What do you suggest that would help me compensate for missing clues on the right side, especially when the lighted clues are shown rapidly? Comments refer to the game of learning paths with stepping stones.


  7. Thanks Luis, I appreciate the positive feedback.

  8. Terry Fuller

    At age 75 watching TV is the last form of relaxation or education or entertainment I choose. I have always loved to read, I love to garden, I love to work out,I love to sing and am in a chorus where we just performed an a fantasic original musical based on the life of Dr. Seuss — what could be better than that!!


  9. I admire your zest for life Terry. Keep up the good work!


  10. Eleanor, you may want to research if there are activities designed especially to accommodate your seeing condition or try other activities that don’t rely so much on seeing with your left eye. This game may not be the best option for a person with vision in one eye only.


  11. Joanne, improvement is great to realize and we always would like to see even more. You should note that the games and program at HAPPYneuron are designed for healthy adults. As a professional, the product that may be more useful for you and your patients is the Rehabilitation program at ScientificBrainTrainingPRO.com. It will give you a higher degree of control over the administered cognitive therapy and analysis of the patient’s performance.


  12. Hello Mike, to your point the issue is with ‘passive’ screen time, where the brain is receiving images and information but doing very little to actively engage with the material and problem solve. This type of screen time is of very limited value (apart from relaxed entertainment of course). Active screen time, such as interacting with a cognitively stimulating exercise, have been demonstrated to be more beneficial. We fully expect ongoing research to further reinforce these past findings.


  13. I think this is one of the most important information for me.
    And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on some general things, The website style is great, the articles is really excellent : D.
    Good job, cheers

One Trackback

  1. By Is TV making you dumb? | Noah Fleming on avril 28, 2010 at 10:58

    [...] I’m not going to be preach to you about watching TV versus not watching TV, even though new research shows that TV not only causes ADD, but also increases the risk of mental health [...]

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