» Health and Psychology
Television violence increases negative behavior. "Most researchers now believe that the evidence is about as strong as the evidence that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer."
Dr. Daniel R. Anderson
Professor of Psychology
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Television, popular in American homes since the 1950s, is the best-studied ICT. Evidence about its effects is mixed. The content of TV programs and the amount of time spent watching, rather than the medium itself, appear to be the primary sources of negative effects. However, many of the cognitive effects of ICTs, positive or negative, are not well understood. Here as elsewhere, further research is imperative.
- Intellectual development – Evidence suggests that educational television programming can have positive long-term effects on academic achievement, while violent programming can have the opposite effect. Some preliminary research on computer and video games shows that games specifically targeted at developing certain cognitive skills can be successful. However, excessive playing of violent video games correlates to some extent with poor scholastic achievement.
- Imagination – Research suggests that heavy television viewing can lead to less exercise of the imagination in children. However, more moderate watching can have a positive effect, particularly if content is specifically designed to encourage creativity and use of the imagination, as is the case with some educational programs. We were unable to locate any major research on other ICTs' possible effects on imagination.
- Attention span – Most research shows no tie between television watching and attention span, with two exceptions. For children, educational programming that attempts to teach attentional skills is often successful, while violent programming has a tendency to increase impulsivity. Here too, research on other ICTs has been quite limited, so their effects are unknown.
- Effect of violent content – Violent content, presented via both television and video/computer games, can have negative effects for some individuals, under some conditions, some of the time. Researchers have established at least six ways in which watching violence can produce later effects; there is no single mechanism that produces the negative effect. Particularly for younger children, viewing of violent content may lead to simple imitation of the violent acts. For older children and adults, viewing of such material may lead to short-term "priming," where tendencies toward violent or aggressive behavior (or their endorsement) are increased. Exposure to violent material may also lead to desensitization, rendering viewers less likely to feel empathy with real victims of violence.
- Addiction – Any technology that facilitates a given activity also opens the way for excessive or obsessive engagement in that activity — otherwise known as addiction. Web surfing, online stock trading, and email are examples of socially acceptable behaviors that can become genuinely addictive for certain individuals. In addition, people with existing illegal or socially unacceptable addictions may use networked ICTs to facilitate their addictive behaviors. Easy Internet access to pornography and gambling are obvious examples.
- Anxiety – ICTs can produce new levels and types of anxiety, often stemming from feelings of loss of control or of "information overload." The exact nature and extent of this phenomenon has not been thoroughly explored, though our bibliography points to some sources.
- Depression – Early research suggested that excessive Internet use could lead to loneliness and depression. However, subsequent research has called some of the conclusions from those studies into question.
- Reliance on external stimulation – Excessive use of ICTs can decrease the incentive to become active in the world around us, physically, socially and politically. In the context of television, both Jerry Mander and Neil Postman explain quite eloquently how ICTs can serve as a sort of "opiate of the masses."10 To retain users' attention, media developed for CRTs often rely on continuous perceptual stimulation, such as the "jump cut" technique of television11 and the frenetic action of video games. Researchers are concerned that children overexposed to ICTs at a young age will fail to develop important internal mechanisms for determining the relevance of environmental stimuli. For example, they might not notice an unexpected movement presaging danger.
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- Mander, 1978; Postman, 1985, 1992.
- Gleick, 1999.