There may be a kernel of truth to what your mother said when she warned that too much TV could rot your brain. Research from Iowa State University suggests that regular viewing of TV and playing of video games contributes to attention problems amongst children.
"Brain science demonstrates that the brain becomes what the brain does," says Douglas Gentile, ISU associate professor of psychology.
"If we train the brain to require constant stimulation and constant flickering lights, changes in sound and camera angle, or immediate feedback, such as video games can provide, then when the child lands in the classroom where the teacher doesn’t have a million-dollar-per-episode budget, it may be hard to get children to sustain their attention."
The research led by three Iowa State University psychologists including Gentile recommended that parents limit television viewing and video-game play for their children to keep them focused both at home and in the classroom.
This was an outcome of the study, which looked at 1,323 children in third, fourth and fifth grades over 13 months, taking into account TV and video-game habits, as well as teacher reports on attention problems.
Childrens’ hours of screen time
It was found that children who had more than two hours of screen time per day were 1.5 to two times more likely to be above average in relation to attention problems.
"There isn’t an exact number of hours when screen time contributes to attention problems, but the AAP recommendation of no more than two hours a day provides a good reference point," said Edward Swing, lead researcher in the study.
Swing found that at 4.26 hours the average screen time for children in the study was way above the recommended two hours but noted this was still low compared to the national average in the US.
"It is still not clear why screen media may increase attention problems, but many researchers speculate that it may be due to rapid-pacing, or the natural attention grabbing aspects that television and video games use," Swing said.
Specifically, the study found that TV and video games may be a contributing factor to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.
"ADHD is a medical condition, but it’s a brain condition," Gentile said.
"We know that the brain adapts and changes based on the environmental stimuli to which it is exposed repeatedly. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to believe that environmental stimuli can increase the risk for a medical condition like ADHD in the same way that environmental stimuli, like cigarettes, can increase the risk for cancer."