Viewing television represents an endless, purposeless, physically unfulfilling activity for a child. Unlike eating until one is full or sleeping until one is no longer tired, watching television has no built-in endpoint. It makes a child want more and more without ever being satisfied.
- Buzzell 1998
We love television because television brings us a world in which television does not exist.
- Barbara Ehrenreich and Spudding Out and Chicago Tribune
Heavier Users Feel Worse than Light Viewers Generally, and Particularly When Alone or During Unstructured Time. Heavier viewers generally reported enjoying television viewing less and feeling worse during the week than did light viewers (chapter 8). Some subjects reported significantly more negative feelings during both solitary and unstructured time and appear to be especially prone to using television to cope with loneliness, and to provide structure to experience.
Heavier viewing appears to perpetuate itself by causing psychological dependence in those who grow accustomed to having their experience so effortlessly structured. Both relaxation and distraction that television so readily provides leads many viewers to become dependent on the medium.
Television and the Quality of Life: How Viewing Shapes Everyday Experience (page 173)
"THE proposition that television can be addictive is proving to be more than a glib metaphor. The most intensive scientific studies of people's viewing habits are finding that for the most frequent viewers, watching television has many of the marks of a dependency like alcoholism or other addictions."
"For instance, compulsive viewers turn to television for solace when they feel distressed, rather than only watching favorite programs for pleasure. And though they get temporary emotional relief while watching, they end up feeling worse afterward."
- The New York Times (Oct 1990)
Addictive Power of Television
"Researchers got input from over 400 college students in the spring of 2008, when a writers strike meant no new TV shows. “You’re freaking me out.” You and some of the students. They were asked about how much TV they watched and why. Reasons for watching included to kill time, relax or escape. But people who watched for companionship were most distressed by the loss of their shows." - Scientific American (April 2011)
"In David Lipsky's absolutely fascinating book of interviews with the late author David Foster Wallace, which took place after the publication of Infinite Jest in the late 1990s, Wallace frequently discusses his stormy relationship with television—a bona fide addiction, to hear him describe it. Wallace confronted his own TV problem the most direct way possible: by getting rid of his set. Still, one senses the old love remained often on his mind." - Psychology Today (August 2010)
"The research provides evidence for the 'social surrogacy hypothesis,' which holds that humans can use technologies, like television, to provide the experience of belonging when no real belongingness has been experienced," says one of the study's authors, Shira Gabriel, Ph.D., UB assistant professor of psychology." - Science Daily (April 2009) and Live Science (April 2009)
"Television as escape from self: Psychological predictors of media involvement" - Science Direct (June 2007)
"One morning when he was 15, Takeshi shut the door to his bedroom, and for the next four years he did not come out. He didn't go to school. He didn't have a job. He didn't have friends. Month after month, he spent 23 hours a day in a room no bigger than a king-size mattress, where he ate dumplings, rice and other leftovers that his mother had cooked, watched TV game shows and listened to Radiohead and Nirvana." - The New York Times (Jan 2006)
Television Addiction Identification - Turn Off Your TV (2005)
"TV soothes low self-esteem - Health Day(Jan 2003)
"TV makes people feel like they have enough friends" - Psychology Today (Oct 2002)
"Am I Addicted to Television?" - Wise Geek
"In response, Volkow and other researchers are developing a new understanding of addiction. Rather than just telling us to feel good, dopamine tells us what's salient—the unexpected bits of new information we need to pay attention to in order to survive, like alerts about sex, food and pleasure, as well as danger and pain. If you are hungry and you get a whiff of a bacon cheeseburger, Volkow's research team has shown, your dopamine skyrockets. But the chemical will also surge if a lion leaps into your cubicle. Dopamine's role is to shout: "Hey! Pay attention to this!" Only as an afterthought might it whisper "Wow, this feels great." So maybe addicts aren't just chasing a good time. Perhaps their brains have somehow mistakenly learned that drugs are the most important thing to pay attention to, as crucial to survival as food or sex.
The salience theory of dopamine also provides new explanations for other self-destructive human tendencies, from binge eating to gambling. It may explain why we crave the stimulation of new information. The experiments that Volkow and her team are conducting may also reveal some of the most powerful behavioral machinery in our brains, the equipment that motivates and inspires us. If they are right, dopamine is more than a joyride. It's more like the drug of life. Its mission is more profound and philosophical: to connect us to the world and supply us with the will to stay alive." - Psychology Today (March 2012)
"The reason a behavioral addictions like gambling and potentially others, will be recognized is because the research results (including neurological evidence) are now irrefutable. It turns out that there is a "pleasure pathway" in the brain that lights up when we experience pleasure. The body releases a combination of neurochemicals, including dopamine and the opiates, which are picked up by receptors in the brain and elsewhere in the body. These chemicals make us feel good. If a lot is released and picked up, we call it feeling "high". This high occurs through the ingestion of certain psychotropic chemicals, like alcohol, and also through behaviors and thoughts. When we "fall in love" we are high on these neurochemicals. When we enjoy playing video games or get caught up in gambling, we experience a similar euphoria. These highs are not something to be worried about, in moderation. The addiction begins to take hold, however, when we do it too much. Then the brain is forced to withdraw neuro-receptors in an effort to restore balance. This is what we call tolerance, and we no longer get the high from the same level of activity or drug use. Now, we need more. And if we go without, we go into withdrawal. In the case of behavioral addictions, that withdrawal involves primarily psychological symptoms (irritability, restlessness, poor concentration, increased anxiety and depression, etc)." - Psychology Today (Nov 2011)
"Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information" - The W Blog (Nov 2009)
"Let me back up. We tend to identify THINGS as addictive—heroin, cocaine, porn, videos, tobacco-nicotine. But we overrate the object and discount the context—in this case the delivery system. Sure, people became addicted to opiates; but opiates were not noted historically as special objects of addiction even though they have been used since antiquity.
What raised the addictive stakes with the opiates was the hypodermic syringe, which became standard medical equipment in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Intravenous injection allowed concentrated doses of narcotics to be introduced directly into the bloodstream.
Then there was tobacco. Native Americans viewed tobacco as a sacred substance. But they were never addicted to it. How could they be, when it was smoked in a ceremonial pipe passed from brave to brave around a circle? In the twentieth century came the machine-rolled, nicotine-packed delivery system know as the commercial cigarette—and our most widely addictive drug habit was born.
And, sure, you could become addicted to Playboy. But the potential was limited—how many times could a person masturbate to a single still photo? Then came ubiquitous Internet porn, and porn addiction flourished." - Psychology Today (April 2012)
The Universal Appeal of TV
"At the same time, hidden from the scrutinising eyes of the Secret Police, Irina Nistor dubbed over 5,000 foreign blockbusters that entered Romania illegally. A sprawling horde of American films was unleashed into Romanian homes featuring everything from Megaforce and Bloodsport to Taxi Driver, from Ninja Death Squad and Fist of Fury to Brazil, from low-budget slasher films to Hollywood blockbusters. They allowed millions of Romanians to have contact with the West and escape their grim everyday life." - Hey You Guys (May 2013)
Addiction and Exercise
"Trivedi is in the middle of a two-year randomized clinical trial to study the effects of intensive exercise to treat addiction to cocaine, amphetamines, and other illegal stimulants." - Alternet (Jan 2012)
"The results: Participants who had gone for a walk ate half as much chocolate as those who had simply rested." - Psychology Today (Jan 2012)
"Now new evidence that suggests a way to make their efforts easier: exercise. In a study involving 233 teens aged 14 to 19 in West Virginia (which has one of the highest smoking rates in the country, at more than 22%), teens who participated in a smoking cessation program combined with exercise were on average up to three times more likely to quit smoking than those who were provided only minimal stop-smoking counseling. - Time Healthland (Sept 2011) and Psychology Today (Oct 2011) and Reuters (Sept 2011)
"Aerobic exercise may protect against binge-like patterns of cocaine use, suggests a new study. Rats allowed access to running wheels self-administered less cocaine than did rats that were not." - Science Daily (Nov 2010)
Addiction & Bad Habits - Tips
"Socially Isolated Rats are More Vulnerable to Addiction, Report Researchers" - University of Texas (Jan 2013)
"They had stimulant abusers repeatedly perform a working memory task, "exercising" their brains in a way that promoted the functional enhancement of the underlying cognitive circuits. They found that this type of training improved working memory and also reduced their discounting of delayed rewards." - Science Daily (Jan 2011)
"Fortunately, these failures are not inevitable. In fact, a paper published last week in the journal Psychological Science suggests that failures of executive control can be diminished by training our working memory." - Psychology Today (July 2011)
"Working memory, housed in the prefrontal cortex, is strongly related to executive control. People with less working memory have poor executive functioning and training working memory improves executive control. Because of this, Katrijn Houben and her colleagues at Maastricht University in the Netherlands set out to test whether strengthening people's working memory might help them control their impulses." - Psychology Today (July 2011)
"The researchers suggest a different take - that social bonds may reduce the risk of addiction, especially the supportive bonds found in long-term relationships. This is consistent with previous human research, which has shown that both perceived social support and adult attachment style - how secure you feel in close relationships- predict lifetime prevalence of substance abuse. The less social support and less relationship security, the greater the risk of addiction." - Psychology Today (June 2011)
"I don't feel drawn to abstinence from my gut, but I can name one good reason it works. When you do choose abstinence rather than moderation, you shift from a framework of "how much" behaviors to "yes/no" behaviors. Some behaviors, which I'm calling "how much" behaviors here, demand a small-scale internal debate each time they pop up. Examples include "How much should I eat for breakfast?" and "How much time should I work on my novel today?" The privately conducted debates behind these questions can give you a sense of freedom. Here you get to tinker with how you act, with what you ingest, with what you produce. You can feel liberated from external rules. But the fact is that these "how much" questions also tax us. - Psychology Today Blog (July 2009)
"The bottom line: when you're trying to make a difficult change, save your strength for what matters most. If both a cigarette and candy bar are calling your name, let the candy bar sweet talk you into indulgence. You can kick that habit later." - Psychology Today Blog (July 2009)
"People who grow up in stimulating, engaging surroundings are protected against addiction, Volkow believes, even if they don't have a naturally responsive dopamine system. If you connect to the world in a meaningful way, and have more chances to get excited about natural stimuli, you're less likely to need an artificial boost." - Psychology Today Blog (Nov 2004)
"Falling off the wagon—whether by bakery binge or drug bender—doesn't mean total defeat. In fact, relapse is the best teacher on the road to recovery." - Psychology Today Blog (July 2010)
"Does An Early Development of Empathy Prevent Addiction?" - Psychology Today Blog (June 2010)
"7 Essential Steps to Mastering Temptation" - Psychology Today Blog (Nov 2010)
"The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) blew the whistle on these deeply held notions with its official release of a new document defining addiction as a chronic neurological disorder involving many brain functions, most notably a devastating imbalance in the so-called reward circuitry. This fundamental impairment in the experience of pleasure literally compels the addict to chase the chemical highs produced by substances like drugs and alcohol and obsessive behaviors like sex, food and gambling." - Alternet (Aug 2011)
Everyone talks about the drug problem in our country and, you know, the War on Drugs, but then how come we embrace... even encourage... the use of our most widely abused narcotic. By the age of five, virtually all of our citizens are already addicted to it. Our congressmen and women and Senators allow this drug to guide their debates. You can not go out in public without being exposed to this drug; virtually none of our citizens can bear to be home without using it.
The Moderate Independent (March 2005)
A man does not work only for the sake of producing, but to set a value on his time. We feel more satisfied with ourselves and with our day if we have stirred up our minds and made a good start, or have finished a piece of work.
- Eugene Delacroix
"Why is it that addiction and fanaticism (including fandom) are so widespread in our time? I think Alexander comes as close as anyone does to answering that question: Just as fanaticism and addiction grow by crowding out a person's other values, a person who is firmly committed to a broad range of personal values is better able to resist addiction or fanaticism. In its relentless pursuit of economic growth and profit, contemporary society erodes people's commitments to their families, their traditions, their communities, and their ideals. And in so doing, our society leaves people more vulnerable to addiction and fanaticism." - Psychology Today Blog (March 2011)
Does Watching TV Make Us Happy? - Opportunity Costs & TV
"In a review paper published last fall in Perspectives on Psychological Science, cognitive psychologist John Eastwood and his team suggest that all boredom may result from essentially the same thing: a conflict of attention, or attention misfocused in a way that disrupts our engagement. Sometimes the problem is that there is too much competing for our attention, sometimes too little. In all cases, they argue, boredom has as much to do with our inner response to our circumstances as to the circumstances themselves."
"In a 1989 experiment at Clark University, for example, participants had been asked to read and remember a moderately engaging article while a television played in the next room. If the TV was loud, people described themselves as frustrated — but not bored. If, however, the TV noise was subtle, more people reported feelings of boredom. In both cases, participants’ attention was disrupted. But whereas in the first scenario the cause of the disruption was clear, in the second, there was no apparent reason for the failure of engagement, and so subjects chalked their feelings up to boredom." - Daily Good (Jan 2013) and Dallas News (Jan 2013)
"We explored the relationship between boredom proneness, sustained attention and adult symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The results showed that high boredom-prone individuals (HBP) performed poorly on measures of sustained attention and showed increased symptoms of ADHD and depression." - PubMed (August 2012)
"Then there is a social price to be paid. Tolerance for boredom, particularly among adolescents, has been greatly reduced in a world where escape into the many screens of electronic entertainment is so easily accomplished. We have created a culture in which many young children and adolescents have grown used to being electronically over-stimulated from birth, a condition that makes meeting the offline routine and repetitive demands of home and school difficult for many of them to endure. And as on-line escape increasingly substitutes for off-line engagement, as virtual world competence is gained at the expense of real world experience, practice dealing with real life challenges, shouldering real life responsibilities, and developing real life skills can decline. Paying attention and sitting still for offline demands can feel really boring to do." - Psychology Today (Aug 2012)
"Recovery from Boredom - Part 1" - Psychology Today (July 2012)
"Recovery from Boredom - Part 2" - Psychology Today (July 2012)
"Encouraging children to entertain themselves in mentally active and imaginative ways and to avoid passive, quick-fix entertainment could also reduce boredom. “We provide children lots of entertainment in the form of television and iPods to prevent them from developing their inner skills to contend with boredom,” Sundberg says. Engaging in active entertainment, such as playing sports or games, is also much more likely to produce flow, Csikszentmihalyi says.
Developing ways to cope with boredom may even help cure other ills. For example, some research hints that if former drug addicts learn to deal effectively with boredom, they are less likely to relapse. In an ongoing study of 156 addicts at a methadone clinic at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, Todman found that the addicts’ reported level of boredom was the only reliable indicator of whether they would stay clean." - Scientific American (Dec 2007)
"Our culture's obsession with external sources of entertainment—TV, movies, the internet, video games—may also play a role in increasing boredom." - Scientific American (Feb 2007)
One argument for why alcohol and morphine are so addictive, is that as physical painkillers they also dull emotional pain. Could a similar mechanism help explain TV's addictive quality?
"A University of Siena study published in the latest issue Archives of Disease in Childhood, suggests that watching TV is more effective in alleviating pain for children than a mother's attention." - The Globe & Mail (Aug 2006) and The Sidney Morning Herald (Aug 2006)
"A new study concludes that children can become addicted to playing video games, with some skimping on homework, lying about how much they play and struggling, without success, when they try to cut back." - The Washington Post (April 2009) - More on this study - Cognitive Daily (May 2009)
"One type of game -- one of the most popular types, in fact -- hasn't been studied nearly as much as the traditional arcade-style game: massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs. One of the studies of this type of game seemed to find that players weren't more aggressive because the games foster cooperation between players."
"But we've also heard -- and seen, with Jim's game-play, that MMORPGs like World of Warcraft can be more engaging and distracting than other games, sucking away hours and hours in seemingly endless online quests. Even if it turns out these games don't promote violent behavior, is it possible that they have other detrimental effects?" - ScienceDaily (June 2008)
"South Korea Imposes Midnight Gaming Ban To Combat Addiction" - The Huffington Post (April 2010)