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Does Watching Tv at an Early Age Cause Attentional Problems?

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Does watching TV at an early age cause attentional problems?

The article I read discussed the results of a developmental research study conducted by Dr. Dimitri Christakis. The article explains that Dr. Christakis, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital in Seattle and a professor at the University of Washington, believes that television viewing at early ages, when the brain triples in size, may be harmful to a child's development. In 2004 Christakis helped conduct a study to examine to what extent television exposure at ages 1 to 3 is associated with the development of attention problems by the age of 7. This study found that regardless of the programs watched, exposure to TV at early ages was in fact correlated with attention problems by age 7.

The research referenced in this article was conducted to examine the hypothesis that very early exposure to television during the critical periods of synaptic development is associated with subsequent attentional problems. The hypothesis was tested using observational data from a nationally representative longitudinal data set. Researchers used the hyperactivity subscale of the Behavioral Problems Index (BPI) to characterize attentional problem status in children at or around the age of 7. Within the index is a survey of 5 areas; is the child easily confused, does he or she have trouble concentrating, does he or she act impulsively, have trouble with obsessions, or is he or she restless. The available responses to each of the 5 areas are: often true, sometimes true, and not true. The responses are then converted into binary scores consisting of often or sometimes true or not true. The binary scores from each area of the survey were then added together, resulting in subscale scores that when coupled with national norms created age-specific percentiles and standardized scores. The researchers then created a binary classification to signify whether attentional problems were or were not present in the children surveyed. Using the standardized BPI subscale scores, compiled as explained above, it was determined that children who were 1.2 standard deviations above the mean were classified as having attentional problems.

The research concluded that early exposure to television was indeed associated with subsequent attention issues. More specifically, analysis of the compiled data showed that an increase of one standard deviation in the number of hours of television viewed at age 1 related to a 28% increase in the probability of developing attention issues by age 7. The results obtained for 3 year old children showed very similar effects.

The research in this study was controlled to weed out other possible causes of attentional problems including, prenatal substance abuse, gestational age of mother, maternal psychopathology and socioeconomic status. The methodology and design of this study had several limitations. The criterion used to identify attention problems in this study was not necessarily consistent with those used for clinically diagnosed ADHD. Furthermore, the research cites that,

"in a population referred to a neuropsychology clinic, the overall accuracy of the Child Behavior Checklist [the subscale on which the criterion in this research was based] relative to structured interview for ADHD using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) criteria was 69%."

The doctors who conducted this research also admit that they have not in fact studied or found a connection between watching television and clinically diagnosed ADHD. Another possible limitation results from the level of accuracy in determining the amount of television watched by each child. The data was compiled based on survey information provided by the children's parents and therefore was not entirely valid.

Perhaps the most limiting aspect of this study was the fact that it did not account for the influence of other aspects of the child's development. Even though the research was focused on children who were well below the age at which most experts believe ADHD symptoms are present, there is still no way to know for sure that attention problems were not already present in these children. Furthermore, if attention problems were already present in some of the children, could they have been caused by certain levels of television viewing? While it is correct to say that television viewing and attention problems are correlated, there is not enough data to sufficiently state that one causes the other.

The last significant limitation in this study is that no data was collected regarding the specific content of the television programs the children watched. As there is such a wide variety of program content on television it is hard to prove that watching television in general has a negative impact. While this may be true in regard to viewing some television, it is very possible that there is also content on television that may promote the development of attention, such as educational programs for example.

This study relates to the theme that there is interplay between individual

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