The side-effects of television

Television has a hypnotic effect, doesn’t it? We often find ourselves sprawled out on the settee, too captivated by the program we are watching to bother to tend to our natural needs. The very colorful images and constant movement keep us enthralled, and this applies to both adults and children. But what is the effect of these hours spent in front of the television screen during our childhood?

While many studies have demonstrated the harmful effects of television on the development of some cognitive capacities, in particular verbal, a Japanese team looked into the effects on the structure of the developing brain.

The researchers measured the volume of grey matter and white matter in certain regions of the brain in 276 boys and girls aged between 5 and 18. They then looked for a correlation between the volumes found and the time spent watching the television. The structural changes during development were also studied, while observing the brain of the same children at different stages of development.

The scientists found a thickening in various regions of the brain, in particular the frontopolar region associated with certain intellectual capacities (planning and multi-tasking). However, this thickening does not appear to be connected with an improvement in brain capacities. On the contrary, during normal development (from early childhood until adolescence), some cortical regions become thinner.

The researchers, having also confirmed the negative correlation between the time spent watching television and verbal intelligence, concluded from this that the structural modifications found thanks to this study could be connected with the known deficits in cognitive and emotional capacities in children overexposed to the television.
Source: Takeuchi H. et al. (2013). The Impact of Television Viewing on Brain Structures: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Analyses. Cereb. Cortex. 2013. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht315

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