"Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson, both of the University of Virginia's department of psychology, wanted to see whether watching fast-paced television had an immediate influence on kids' executive function -- skills including attention, working memory, problem solving and delay of gratification that are associated with success in school. Television's negative effect on executive function over the long term has been established, the researchers wrote Monday in the journal Pediatrics, but less is known about its immediate effects. To test what those might be, Lillard and Peterson randomly assigned 60 4-year-olds to three groups: one that watched nine minutes of a fast-paced, "very popular fantastical cartoon about an animated sponge that lives under the sea;" one that watched nine minutes of slower-paced programming from a PBS show "about a typical U.S. preschool-aged boy;" and a third group that was asked to draw for nine minutes with markers and crayons. Immediately after their viewing and drawing tasks were complete, the kids were asked to perform four tests to assess executive function.  Unfortunately for the denizens of Bikini Bottom, the kids who watched nine minutes of the frenetic high jinks of the "animated sponge" scored significantly worse than the other kids." -  Los Angeles Times (Sept 2011)  and  Pediatrics (Sept 2011)  and Medical News Today (Sept 2011)  and  USA Today (Sept 2011)  and  Science Daily (Sept 2011)  and  Mail Online (Sept 2011)  and  PsychCentral (Sept 2011)  and  Earth Sky (Sept 2011)  and  Obesity Panacea (Sept 2011)  and  The New York Times (Sept 2011)  and  San Francisco Chronicle (Sept 2011)  and  Psypost (Sept 2011)  and  sott.net (Sept 2011)  and  Psychology Today (Sept 2011)  and  Live Science (Sept 2011)  and  US News Health (Sept 2011)  and  MedPage Today (Sept 2011)

"Christakis's mice were divided into two groups, one in a normal environment and one in which the mice were overstimulated. After the first 10 days of the mice's lives, the overstimulated mice's cartons were bombarded with audio from cartoons and flashing lights that were in rhythm with the audio for six hours a night. Their mothers also remained in the cartons with them. Then they tested cognition, behavior, and activity in the mice. They found that the overstimulated mice were hyperactive, took more risks, and had learning problems.” - Medical Daily (July 2012)  and  Scientific Reports (July 2012)  and  Seattle Mama Doc (Jan 2012)  and  You Tube (Dec 2011)  and  NCBI (July 2012)  and  International Business News (Feb 2012)  and  Neuro Research Project (July 2012)  and  Roots of Action (2012)  and  tvSmarter Blog (March 2014) 

"Middle-class 6-year-olds matched for sex, age, pretest WPPSI IQ, and TV-viewing time were blindly assigned to a restricted TV-viewing group or an unrestricted group. Restricted parents halved subjects' previous TV-viewing rates and interacted 20 min./day with subjects for a 6-week period. Unrestricted TV parents provided similar interactions but did not limit viewing. Results tentatively suggest that TV restriction enhanced Performance IQ, reading time, and reflective Matching Familiar Figures scores." - Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (Winter 1980)

"Watching too much television can change the structure of a child's brain in a damaging way, according to a new study. Researchers found that the more time a child spent viewing TV, the more profound the brain alterations appeared to be. The Japanese study looked at 276 children aged between five and 18, who watched between zero and four hours TV per day, with the average being about two hours. MRI brain scans showed children who spent the most hours in front of the box had greater amounts of grey matter in regions around the frontopolar cortex - the area at the front of the frontal lobe. But this increased volume was a negative thing as it was linked with lower verbal intelligence, said the authors, from Tohoku University in the city of Sendai. They suggested grey matter could be compared to body weight and said these brain areas need to be pruned during childhood in order to operate efficiently. ‘These areas show developmental cortical thinning during development, and children with superior IQs show the most vigorous cortical thinning in this area,’ the team wrote."  -    Daily Mail (Jan 2014)  and  Washington Post (Dec 2013)  and  Cerebral Cortex (Nov 2013)  and    Science News (Dec 2013)

"Subsequent work by Malach and colleagues has found that, when we're engaged in intense "sensorimotor processing" - and nothing is more intense than staring at a massive screen with Dolby surround sound while wearing 3-D glasses - we actually inhibit these prefrontal areas. The scientists argue that such "inactivation" allows us to lose ourself in the movie" - Frontal Cortex (Jan 2010)

"There was greater frontal lobe activation in children when they were engaged in a picture book reading task with their mothers, as opposed to passive viewing of a videotape in which the story was read to them. Social and verbal engagement of the mother in reading picture books with her young child may mediate frontal brain activity in the child." -  Pubmed (Oct 2009) 

"The EEG studies similarly show less mental stimulation, as measured by alpha brain-wave production, during viewing than during reading."  -  Scientific American (Feb 2002)

"Does TV Make You Smarter?"  Steven Johnson, writing in the New York Times, argues that TV does indeed make you smarter.  He writes that the new complex TV plots take more brain power to follow and comprehend.

But is it true?

The average American spends over 4 hours in front of the TV every day.  With all this TV, we should be experiencing an intellectual renaissance. But are we?

Children Are Doing Worse in School

"Professor James Flynn, of the University of Otago in New Zealand, the discoverer of the Flynn effect and the author of the latest study, believes the abnormal drop in British teenage IQ could be due to youth culture having "stagnated" or even dumbed down. " - Telegraph (Feb 2009)

"Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary discovered this in May, after analyzing almost 300,000 Torrance scores of children and adults. Kim found creativity scores had been steadily rising, just like IQ scores, until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have consistently inched downward. “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant,” Kim says. It is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”" - Newsweek (July 2010)

"A new global study of educational systems in major nations ranks U.S. 15-year-olds 14th in the world in reading skills, 17th in science and 25th — below average — in math." - NPR (Dec 2010)

"At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “we scour the country looking for young builders and inventors,” says Kim Vandiver, dean for undergraduate research. “They’re getting harder and harder to find.”" - Psychology Today (June 2012)

"Nearly two-thirds of students in Virginia and Maryland do not read proficiently by the time they finish third grade, a pivotal milestone when material becomes more complex and children are more likely to slip behind, according to a national report released Tuesday." - The Washington Post (May 2010)  and  Psychology Today (July 2014)

"4th grade reading achievement levels (Percent) – 2011  -  At or above proficient 32%"  -  The Annie E. Casey Foundation - Data Center (2011)

"American High School Students Are Reading Books At 5th-Grade-Appropriate Levels" - Huffington Post (March 2012)

"Bright teenagers are a disappearing breed, an alarming new study has revealed. The intellectual ability of the country's cleverest youngsters has declined radically, almost certainly due to the rise of TV and computer games and over-testing in schools. The 'high-level thinking' skills of 14-year-olds are now on a par with those of 12-year-olds in 1976." - Daily Mail (Oct 2008)

"In math, only four countries had average scores lower than the United States. Students in 23 countries had a higher average score, and those in two countries did about the same as the Americans." - The Washington Post (Dec 2007)

"US high school students are taking tougher classes, receiving better grades, and, apparently, learning less than their counterparts of 15 years ago." - The Boston Globe (Feb 2007)

"An expert explains why students today work and learn less than previous generations -- and what we can do about it" - Outside the Beltway (Feb 2011)  and  Salon.com (Feb 2011)

"After leading the world for decades in 25-34 year olds with university degrees, the U.S. is now in 12th place. The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction in 2010. Nearly 50% of all graduate students in the sciences in the U.S. are foreigners, most of whom will be returning to their home countries." - Psychology Today (March 2011) 

"The study, perhaps the most detailed of its kind, shows that the well-documented pattern of several other countries surging past the United States in students’ test scores and young people’s college graduation rates corresponds to a skills gap, extending far beyond school. In the United States, young adults in particular fare poorly compared with their international competitors of the same ages — not just in math and technology, but also in literacy.” - The New York Times (Oct 2013) 

"Students at the 90th percentile in the United States — the very top — are below the average student in Shanghai. Top U.S. students scored 600 in math. The average score in Shanghai was 613."  - Education by the Numbers (Dec 2013) 

"In their painstaking research project Adey and his colleague, psychology professor Michael Shayer, compared the results of today’s children with those of children who took exactly the same test in the mid-1990s and also 30 years ago. While most exams have changed (been made easier, if you listen to the critics) this one is the same as it was in 1976 when pupils first chewed their pencils over the problems...The intelligence of 11-year-olds has fallen by three years’ worth in the past two decades.” - The Times (Jan 2006)   and  The Guardian (Jan 2006)

"The "center" was no longer 500 by 1995, so they moved it. In other words, a student who receives a score of 680 on the Critical Reading in 2011 would have scored a 610 had they taken the test prior to 1995." - Psychology Today (March 2011) 

"Mystery of the Declining SATs" - Marie Winn

"Schoolbook Simplification and Its Relation to the Decline in SAT-Verbal Scores" - American Educational Research Association (1996)  Note: perhaps schoolbooks have been gradually simplifyed because children are doing much less "reading for pleasure" (replaced by TV watching), and are thus poorer readers.

"The decline and fall of American English, and stuff" - City Journal (Winter 2011)

"... in 1966-67, of the approximately 1.4 million students who took the verbal portion of the S.A.T. a score of 700 or higher was attained by more than 33,000 students. In 1986-87, over 1.8 million students took the test, and a score of 700 or higher was attained by fewer than 14,000." - The New York Times (Oct 1987)

"When the test was last administered, in 1992, 40 percent of the nation's college graduates scored at the proficient level, meaning that they were able to read lengthy, complex English texts and draw complicated inferences. But on the 2003 test, only 31 percent of the graduates demonstrated those high-level skills. There were 26.4 million college graduates." - The New York Times (Dec 2005) and The Washington Post (Dec 2005)

"American high school students have a poorer mastery of basic math concepts than their counterparts in most other leading industrialized nations, according to a major international survey released yesterday." - WashingtonPost (Dec 2004)

"Of the 21 countries participating in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, American high school seniors outperformed only students from Cyprus and South Africa" - Tomorrow's Workforce Tour

"I remember a time when many grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education. I used to think how sad it was that these elderly people were so educationally deprived in their youth. Educationally deprived? Perhaps not. I wonder how many college graduates today could pass an eighth-grade final exam from 1895?" - The Creativity Post (March 2012) 

Note: Johnson argues in his book "Everything Bad Is Good for You" that the Flynn Effect is evidence that TV is making us smarter. He fails to mention that the Flynn Effect started in 1918 (in the U.S.), while TV wasn't invented until the 1940s and didn't become common until the 1950s.

Note: Richard Lynn argues that cultural factors cannot typically explain the Flynn effect because its gains are observed even with infant and preschool development and IQ tests at rates of increase about equal to those seen in school students and adults. Lynn argues that "This rules out improvements in education, greater test sophistication, etc. and most of the other factors that have been proposed to explain the Flynn effect. It is proposed that the most probable factor has been improvements in pre-natal and early post-natal nutrition." -  Wikipedia 

And, of course, the more TV you watch, the smarter you should be (according to Mr. Johnson’s theory).  But that doesn’t pan out either:

How TV Effects Schoolwork

"No matter what your intelligence or social background, watching a lot of television during childhood means you are a lot less likely to have a degree by your mid-twenties, according to new University of Otago research." - University of Otago (July 2005)

"Too much TV-watching can harm children’s ability to learn and even reduce their chances of getting a college degree, three new studies suggest in the latest effort to examine the effects of television on kids." - MSNBC (July 2005)

"Middle school students who watch TV or play video games during the week do worse in school, a new study finds, but weekend viewing and gaming doesn't affect school performance much." - USAToday (Oct 2006)         More on the same study - Telegraph (Oct 2006)

"The results also showed that for seven- to 12-year-olds, the more TV they watched, the less time they spent doing homework, and among kids of all ages -- especially among those younger than five -- more TV meant significantly less creative play." - MedPage Today (Feb 2006)  and  Pediatrics (Feb 2006)

More on TV & Schoolwork...

But how could this be, people are using their brains to follow complex plots, fast moving images and quick-witted dialog, shouldn’t TV be making us smarter?

The brain, like a muscle, only develops through use. So the question is, are people actually using their brains when they watch TV. 

EEG readings of people as they watch TV show less of the faster brainwaves (Hi-Beta and Gamma) than EEG readings of people reading, or other  activities.

But, why would the brain generate slower waves (instead of Hi-Beta or Gamma waves) during television watching?

According to this 2002 cover article for Scientific American "Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor"  (Full Text) the explanation is that "the simple formal features of television--cuts, edits, zooms, pans, sudden noises--activate the orienting response, thereby keeping attention on the screen".

The faster these cuts, edits, etc. the more the brain is mesmerized. (If you watch older black & white movies and TV you'll notice that there are much fewer cuts, edits, etc.)

See Brainwaves & TV

Interestingly, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is associated with more slow brainwaves.

But Doesn’t TV Stimulate the Brain ?

Berkeley researcher, Marion Diamond has been involved with Rat brain research for nearly 40 years.  At a conference entitled "Television  and the Preparation of the Mind for Learning",   she presented her research showing the effects of stimulation on the brain. "She and her colleagues compared the growth of brain tissue in rat pups in enriched environments with those in impoverished environments. Rat pups in enriched environments large, multi-family cages with a variety of toys experienced significantly more brain growth than rat pups in smaller, single-family cages with fewer stimuli. The growth in brain tissue included blood vessels, nerve cells, dendritic branching, synaptic junctions and cerebral cortex thickness. Diamond found that allowing the deprived rat pups to observe passively the activity in the more stimulating cages yielded no measurable benefit in their brain development. Mere observation is not enough to bring about changes in brain growth. The animals must have physical interaction with their environment, she said."

"... mice at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., are showing how an enriched environment and plenty of exercise can encourage the growth of additional brain cells." - The New York Times (Nov 2000)

So TV provides less mental stimulation than staring at a blank wall.  At least with  a blank wall, people get bored very quickly, and become motivated to get up and do something (thus stimulating their mind).  Television, on the other hand, is designed to seduce viewers into staying, watching, and zoning out.

Reading, instead, does stimulate the mind.  Television watching is a direct competitor with reading for people's leisure time, generally the more you watch TV, the less you read.  And more reading is associated with better grades, being better informed, and better able to think.

Most people when reading a play can visualize that play in their "mind's eye".  But there is anecdotal evidence (read The Plug-In Drug ) that people raised on excessive TV never develop that ability.  The written word never comes alive for them, since they are used to million dollar studios doing the imagining for them.

So What Does Steven Johnson Really Think?

"I do believe, as the subtitle has it, that popular culture today on average is having a positive impact on our minds. But the truth is that I don't think that TV is driving that trend; I think that the interactive forms—games particularly, but also all the interactions of complex digital interfaces—are making us smarter, and TV has had to play catch-up with that newfound agility." Apparently, even Mr. Johnson doesn't believe his own argument.

Educational TV

Imagination is more important than knowledge, for while knowledge points to all there is, imagination points to all there will be - Einstein

But what about educational TV?  TV is an effective means of passive learning.  Unfortunately TV (educational or not) associates a very rewarding experience with no effort.  Before TV there was no equivalent experience other than day dreaming.  So kids get used to learning and being rewarded with no effort on their part, in other words watching TV is actually training their brain to be lazy. Then when it's time to start school, learning takes effort and is quite boring compared to TV.  Even play takes effort, hence the common observation that kids who watch a lot of TV are less interested in playing.

Well, why not just have the kids go to school and learn from educational TV? Education is about more than just info aquisition, it's also about learning skills, such as reading, writing, math, etc. And learning skills takes effort.  After thousands of hours of effortless learning (and being rewarded) kids are that much less motivated to make that effort. And that's something that makes life much harder for our nation's teachers.

For those kids not raised on TV, making an effort becomes second-nature.

This would help explain this study: ...watching a lot of television during childhood means you are a lot less likely to have a degree by your mid-twenties, according to new University of Otago research

Maybe it's the failed work ethic of todays kids

Self-Discipline More Important Than IQ ?

High IQ: Not as good for you as you thought

The secret of self-control

Passive Learning From Television (pdf)

Habit Learning - TV Makes Learning Less Efficient

Young Children Need to Play!

What Does Make Kids Smarter...

The Importance of Playing and Reading

Playing versus TV

Reading For Pleasure versus TV

From Death of Reading: 

For example, the following statements were presented to members of a mostly preliterate tribe in a remote area of the Soviet Union: "In the far north, where there is snow, all bears are white. Novaya Zembla is in the far north, and there is always snow there." Then these people were asked what color the bears are in Novaya Zembla. A typical response, as reported by Father Walter Ong in his book "Orality and Literacy": "I don't know. I've seen a black bear. I've never seen any others. Each locality has its own animals." These people could not solve this simplest of logical problems.

It is not that such preliterate people are less intelligent than we are. They simply think differently -- "situationally." When words are written down, not just enunciated, they are freed from the subjective situations and experiences ("I've seen a black bear") in which they were imbedded. Written words can be played with, analyzed, rearranged and organized into categories (black bears, white bears, places where there is always snow). The correspondences, connections or contradictions among various statements can be carefully examined. As investigators such as Ong and anthropologist Jack Goody have explained, our system of logic -- our ability to find principles that apply independently of situations -- is a product of literacy. This logic, which goes back to the Egyptians, Hebrews and Greeks, led to mathematics and philosophy and history. Among its accomplishments is our culture.

And when written words are set in print, they gain additional powers. Our sentences grow even less connected to our persons as they are spelled out in the interchangeable letters of movable type. Our thoughts grow more abstract, more removed from the situations in which we happen to find ourselves. Superstitions, biases and legendary characters like dragons and kings have difficulty fitting into these straight, precise lines of type. Charts, maps and columns of figures can be duplicated exactly for the first time. According to seminal media theorist Marshall McLuhan and historian Elizabeth Eisenstein, the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment were both products of the printing press.

Recommended Books

Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think And What We Can Do About It (1999)

Packed full of research and quotes from brain researchers. Explain how the environment effects the development of young minds.

The Plug-In Drug : Television, Computers, and Family Life (2002)

Excellent and very readable explanations of why it is that TV is so bad for kids.

Recommended Websites

Bowling Alone 

Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood

Ellen Currey Wilson – The Big Turnoff 

Herber Valley Unplugged

I’m Missing All Of My Shows 

Instead of TV 

Kill Your Television 

Media by Choice

Media Violence Resource Center

People Unplugged

Plato's Cave

Play Unplugged

Screen Free Project

Screen Free Week

Television vs Children 

The New Citizen

Trash Your TV

Turn Off That TV

TV Smarter - Blog 

TV Stinks 

Unplug Your Kids 

White Dot 

White Dot – Forum 

Recommended Articles

"Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor"

University of Otago research - TV and Academic Achievement

University of Otago research - TV and Crime

Unplug Your Brain - by Jerry Mander

Why Turnoff Completely

The Dangers of TV

TV Promoting Guns

Television and Children (University of Michigan)

Strangers in Our Homes: TV and Our Children's Minds

Excerpted from Endangered Minds - Kids' Brains Must Be Different

How Background TV Undermines Well-Being

Electronic Screen Syndrome and the rise of mental disorders in children

1000 studies over 30 years

selling audiences to advertisers

How TV Teaches Stupidity

8 Changes I Experienced After Giving Up TV

Top 5 reasons NOT to watch TV this Fall

Spudding Out

Why TV Undermines Academics & Values

Newsweek is Bad for Kids

Bowling Alone - The Strange Disappearance of Civic America

TV Legitimizing Torture

The Assault on Reason

Twilight of the Books

Evolution Of Despair

Alzheimer's & TV

Preventing Obesity

Trained to Kill

Mind-altering media

Effects of TV - Before & After

A Powerful, Massive Protest: Diminish the Corporate Media's Power by Turning off Your TV for Good!

5 Ways Parents May Be Sabotaging Their Kids’ Health

Food companies manipulate kids and parents to create lifelong loyal customers

Is an overlooked source of childhood obesity staring us in the face?

Eight Reasons Why TV is Evil

"What most surprised me were the results I got from my study, which found that the more kids are exposed to consumer culture, they likelier they are to become depressed, suffer from anxiety, or experience low self-esteem. I would have thought it was the other way around — that consumer culture was the symptom, not the cause."

TV Limiting Technology

List & Comparison of TV blockers

Token Timer

Power Cop

Play Limit

Power Plug Lock

Time Machine

Eye Timer

TV Be Gone

TV Be Gone - Article

Stanford Student Media Awareness to Reduce Television (SMART) curriculum is being used in California and Michigan. SMART in San Francisco, SMART in Canada